An Outlook on the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season and Beyond



Deck the Halls! The 2020 holiday shopping season is upon us. How will the retail sector fare in these unprecedented times? We researched American retail behavior as well as feelings regarding shopping during the pandemic. The latest findings from Destination Analysts’ Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study indicate that in-person shopping is perceived as a relatively safe activity, with nearly half of Americans who consider it either “safe” or “very safe” (47.5%). Nevertheless, 8.4% state that they will shop for holiday gifts exclusively in-person, while 31.6% say they will only shop online for holiday gifts this year. When it comes to the absolutely necessary safety measures Americans require to feel comfortable shopping in a retail store, the top two are face masks required for all customers (68.8%) and staff (63.6%). Highlighting an opportunity for retailers, 46.8 percent of online-only holiday shoppers reported that they could potentially be convinced to go gift shopping in a brick-and-mortar store if stores improve their COVID-19 safety protocols.

As part of our weekly webinar presenting insights from our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study, Destination Analysts’ Senior Research Director, Myha Gallagher, interviewed a panel of retail professionals who shared their understanding of consumer behaviors and what they foresee for the short and long term.

You can watch the video of the discussion here, or continue reading for 5 takeaways that emerged from this insightful panel discussion.
The current situation of retailers varies by sector. Customer confidence and merchandise sales are slowly improving for most retailers thanks to their local followers and loyal customers. Nevertheless, the situation remains largely challenging for most retailers due to inventory expenses and quickly pivoting investments. The leisure and outdoor sector, however, has been experiencing an exponential increase in sales. As Keri Hanson of Theisen Supply Inc. explains, “These types of retailers have really benefited from that movement for a more outdoors lifestyle – sporting goods, home and garden. There is this whole trend, about getting a new smoker, getting a new grill, getting some patio heaters and hanging out with people in your backyard instead of a traditional tailgate. This sector has really seen a big growth.” For some sectors, the recovery will not be fast enough, especially for airport vendors and retail operators. As Rob Wigington, Executive Director of the Airport Restaurant & Retail Association, notes, “They are scrambling, trying to figure out how to serve the very few travelers that are coming through.” He elaborated by sharing that waiting out the pandemic and adjusting to new consumer needs appear to be the only options if Congress fails to pass a relief legislation for the aviation sector.

Brick-and-mortar stores are primarily seeing local business, however there are indications that out-of-towners are returning to shop. With road-trips currently the most common type of travel, many retailers are welcoming visitors. According to Taylor Safford, President & CEO of PIER 39, “There are a lot of road trippers out there and we’re actually seeing a lot of people coming from the Central Valley, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego in-state.” Similarly, Keri adds that the pandemic has contributed to a rise in consumers in the Midwest, “Traditionally about 10 to 15% are out-of-market, so out of our regional trade area. And we’ve definitely seen an uptick in that percentage, so closer to about 22%.”

The upcoming holiday shopping season looks promising. As some restrictions were lifted, consumers are increasingly going to stores to shop. In addition to observing the desire to interact with people and have human contact, Lorenzo Perez of Everlane commented that “It’s about giving little gifts for the holiday season and something that’s affordable and our prices are very transparent. There’s a higher conversion rate these days, especially because shoppers are much more purposeful when they come in and they are purchasing more.” These purposeful shoppers also consolidate their trips during the pandemic, focusing on conducting all their purchases in a single trip this holiday season. When it comes to safety, especially on Black Friday, clear safety guidelines around mask-wearing and social distancing should be established to ensure consumer safety and confidence.

Safety is key in attracting in-person holiday shoppers. Corresponding with our findings indicating that improved in-store safety protocols can sway 46.8 percent of online shoppers to shop in-person, Taylor recommends, “It is safety first when it comes to retail. People have to feel like they’re going to be able to have a safe encounter with the retailer. But they also clearly – and our numbers show this very strongly – people want to have fun. They are tired of being at home, they want to normalize their lives again to the degree that it’s safe to do so and so if you can create a space in your store, or in the appearance of your store location, so that it is enticing and skews to the safety factors, I think people will make a special trip to go and patronize your store.”

Change is inevitable. Having a profound impact on every aspect of commerce as well as our personal happiness, COVID-19 poses a challenge when it comes to remaining positive and optimistic about the future. Rob says, “I think folks have learned a lot of lessons and are still adjusting and adapting. Everybody who operates any kind of retail or export business has had to make some major adjustments, trying to preserve cash and trying to cut costs. They’ve got to really focus on what you can sell the people. It’s a good opportunity.” Lorenzo believes that, “People do want to get out! I want to get out! I do think it will change and will evolve next year and it’ll be interesting to see how that happens and what other changes companies will have in store for the retail employees and customers.”