What the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season Has in Store

This holiday shopping season will be one for the books.

With the effects of a world-wide pandemic still unfolding well into the final months of 2020, things are going to look a bit different this year - and the holiday shopping season won’t be spared.

The good news: This presents a major opportunity for sellers with online stores. If that’s you, 2020 could be your best year yet, but there will be some planning required.

Here are four things that might be different this year (and how to be prepared for them).

More online shopping

With concerns about maintaining a safe physical distance in crowded retail stores at the top of shoppers’ minds this year, we can expect some changes in buyer behavior. The biggest change might simply be more online shopping; in fact, new data from daVinci Payments shows that 71% of US adults say they plan to do more than 50% of their holiday shopping online this year.

For online sellers, this presents a huge opportunity to make more sales than ever before - but it also means much more competition. To capture holiday shoppers who are opting out of in-store shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, start thinking now about how you can get their attention:

  • Draft up holiday email campaigns, social posts, and promos in advance so you’re not scrambling at the last minute
  • Offer special “early bird” deals and discounts to cater to shoppers who like to start their holiday buying early
  • Launch limited time or limited quantity holiday products to create a sense of urgency and scarcity

Along with your marketing plans, make sure you can support increases in traffic to your website, too. This means making sure your online store is up and running around the clock with a solid online storefront (Big Cartel, anyone?) and that you have ample customer support resources to answer questions and resolve order issues should they arise. Now is the perfect time to get a detailed policies page together - covering things like shipping times and return policies - and to make sure all your links and contact methods are in tip-top shape.

Longer shipping & delivery times

More people shopping online means more work for delivery and fulfillment operations, which are already overwhelmed. For your customers, this can mean longer delivery times or even the occasional item lost in transit.

Knowing that delivery times are already lagging, shoppers may start their holiday shopping even earlier this year, so you should be prepared. “Don’t get married to the traditional sale days,” suggests ecommerce marketer John Coyle. “Plan now to launch sales early.”

Data also shows that “When will my order arrive?” is the number one question asked by online shoppers during the holiday season, so when possible, make sure you provide a tracking number available to customers so they can keep an eye on projected delivery dates without having to check in with you.

You’ll also want to make sure your website clearly states the cutoff dates for holiday deliveries so last-minute shoppers know whether or not their orders will make it on time to its final destination.

Gifting from afar

With fewer people traveling this year, more people will be shipping gifts to their friends and family around the globe. Those who can’t deliver their gifts in person will be looking for a way to show they care from afar: Criteo data shows 88% of shoppers plan to buy gifts online and ship them to recipients.

As such, consider offering gift wrapping and the ability to include a personalized message to orders placed through your store. This way, no matter where a gift is being sent from, your customers can rest assured that you’re taking care of those important personal touches that make a gift feel special. Packlane has some ideas on making your holiday packaging something to remember.

For smaller, independent store owners, this is a moment to shine and a chance to win loyal, long-term customers. Big box stores often don’t have the bandwidth to deliver the personal touches that independent ecommerce brands can, so play to your strengths.

Increased returns

One potential concern when it comes to online shopping is that sometimes shoppers can’t be certain what they’re buying is the right thing. Maybe the sizing is a bit off, or the color is different in person - it happens. There are a variety of reasons that shoppers may need to initiate a return, so it’s best to be prepared with a fair policy on returns.

With more people buying online this year, that also likely means an uptick in returns, which can eat away at online businesses’ profits. Aside from knowing the costs associated with returned items, take steps to reduce them:

  • Be as descriptive as possible in your product page copy - include details on product materials, care, measurements, and specifications.
  • Be sure to include contextual images. It’s a good idea to include images and videos of the product in use, as this will provide helpful visual cues around sizing, colors, fit, etc. Mock-ups on a white background aren’t enough.
  • Be clear about your return policy. Make sure buyers know about return shipping costs, time limits on returns, and what is or isn’t accepted.

No one likes surprises when it comes to this aspect of buying online. Set a customer-friendly process (but keep in mind your profit margin) and be upfront about it. This will put shoppers at ease and reduce any back-and-forth around your return process.

And if you find that it’s more expensive to process returns than it is to simply offer a refund, consider encouraging the shopper to donate the item to a charity that can put the item to good use. This strategy helps inspire goodwill between you and your customers, and helps a person in need.

Get ready for an unprecedented shopping season

We can’t know for sure what the 2020 holiday shopping season will bring, but by planning ahead of time, you can enter it as prepared as possible. The holidays are a stressful time for you and your customers, so do yourself (and them!) a favor by taking a few proactive steps to get ahead of schedule.

But it’s not all stress ahead. Preparing your holiday season planning this year is a great way to get pumped up for what could very well be a record year for your online sales, establishing your store as a go-to place for the perfect gift. 2020 has teed up an exciting opportunity for online store owners who are in a unique spot to connect with holiday shoppers who will be doing more buying online than ever before.

Kaleigh Moore

Freelance writer specializing in the ecommerce and software industries.

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