Holiday Shopping in a Pandemic: Fuel for Thought #7

Holiday Shopping in a Pandemic: Fuel for Thought #7

By: Dan Sweet

How Retailers Can Have a Happy Holiday by Ending the Shopping Season Strong 

One of the only good things we can say about this year is that it is almost over. However, the last few weeks of 2020 will be a make or break for many of our nation’s retailers.

With everyone spending more time at home, it is not surprising that most holiday shopping has been done online. In fact, this past Cyber Monday set a record for the largest U.S. online shopping day in history, with consumers spending $10.8 billion that day. This is a 15.1% increase in shopping over last year, according to Adobe Analytics data

But while we saw a big shopping surge on Cyber Monday, overall we did not see the usual shopping rush from Black Friday until Cyber Monday, which has traditionally been one of the busiest shopping times of the year. According to the National Retail Federation, there were four million fewer online and in-person shoppers during that period compared to last year. Shoppers also spent less on average, to the tune of a 14 percent drop in spending from 2019.

While the drop in shopping during the Black Friday to Cyber Monday period may in part be due to stores like Best Buy and Target starting their holiday deals as early as October, it could also mean that shoppers were holding off on their shopping until now. This means that these last few weeks of the season will be critical for retailers to boost their bottom lines. 

In fact, the National Retail Federation’s Matt Shay recently told reporters that consumers are still enthusiastic about celebrating the holidays and have indicated that they still have half of their shopping to finish. This is supported by their recent survey released late November that predicts December sales to increase over last year’s sales. 

To reach consumers during these last few critical weeks, retailers should consider the following:

Avoid cliches in your messaging

Consumers do not need to be reminded how this year has been “unprecedented” and “challenging,” but it is also not right to be tone-deaf and ignore world events by just focusing on products. Consumers are looking for empathy and a tone of voice that focuses on being warm, realistic and authentic. This is best done by not just promoting products, but by connecting the brand to consumers’ experiences and what they desire right now.

Focusing on traditions and rituals that people are yearning for this year is what inspired our holiday TV spots for Giant Food. Keeping with our ‘The Little Things Are Giant’ campaign, our holiday :30 hit on the “traditions that bring us together” and how “it's the little moments that connect us with those we love during the holidays.” We did not focus on the challenges of the year nor just push products, rather we created a strong brand-focused campaign that would truly connect with consumers.

Customers are looking for safety and brands that are purpose driven

With COVID-19 cases continuing to surge, the best way to get consumers through the door will be to promote a safe and comfortable shopping experience. Back in October when retailers started to promote holiday deals, an Oracle Retail survey found that a majority of consumers said they would still consider shopping in an indoor or outdoor mall, as long as there were “proper safety precautions.” Consumers today still need to see visible cleaning efforts, reduced occupancy levels in stores, and options for curbside pick-up and contactless checkout. 

Furthermore, now more than ever, consumers are looking to support purpose-driven brands that promote values close to their own. A global study conducted by Zeno Group reveals consumers are four times more likely to purchase from a company they believe has a strong purpose and are dedicated to achieving that purpose.

Audience targeting is more important than ever

The final few weeks of the holiday season are always a frenzy of last-minute shopping. Brands with large advertising and marketing budgets take advantage of this by blanketing the media landscape. But for most retailers, breaking through to consumers will mean aggressively targeting channels and sources they are already going to for their information. This starts with identifying non-traditional marketing opportunities, such as a podcast or even video games, that are influential to them. 

For example, to reach younger voters this year, the Biden campaign started advertising in video games. They recognized that they couldn’t hold large, in-person rallies to get out the vote, so they went where their target audience was spending a lot of their time already.  

Retailers who focus on the consumer experience, develop messaging that resonates, and make sure they use platforms where their target audiences live will likely find themselves having a happy holiday season.

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Dan Sweet

Dan Sweet

Director of Public Relations

Dan has spent 15 years providing strategic communications counsel and executing successful media relations campaigns for a variety of major corporate brands and advocacy clients including Microsoft, American Airlines and Genentech. He specializes in earned media, crisis communications and healthcare. He began his career in the fast-paced, “win-the-day” atmosphere of political campaigns, a philosophy he brings to each of his clients to this day.

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