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Digital Marketing Acceleration

2020 Will Change Holiday Shopping For Good

4 Ways The Pandemic Has Transformed Holiday Shopping Forever

As Christmas music filled the nearly empty aisles of physical stores and shoppers flooded eCommerce sites, the 2020 holiday season—like most things during the coronavirus pandemic—was like nothing we’ve seen before.

With the pandemic forcing retailers to accommodate a huge spike in online shopping while managing the complex logistics of meeting holiday shipping deadlines, businesses seized an opportunity to get people shopping earlier than ever. And with so many consumers shopping online for the first time, retailers also had to learn how to better support consumers in making the shift. As we look ahead to the 2021 season, studies suggest these changes could be here to stay.

A recent survey found that 31% of US internet users ages 16 to 64 will shop online more frequently after the pandemic ends, and 30% expect to visit stores less frequently. 

Let’s take a look at four key ways these purchasing shifts will impact holiday seasons to come.

Holiday promotions will kick off well before Black Friday

Perhaps triggered by Amazon’s decision to move Prime Day to mid-October, 2020 holiday promotions began in earnest well before Halloween. Retailers started trickling holiday sales into inboxes over a month earlier than usual. Looking back at the 2020 shopping season, analysis from Adobe shows that sales were spread out over a longer period than usual.

While total eCommerce rose 32% over the 2019 season, growth rates were actually down between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, with sales accounting for 18% of the entire season—a drop from 20% in 2019. According to Adobe, that means around $3.7B of sales (1.2 days' worth) were shifted to other holiday shopping days.

Going forward, the earlier kickoff to the shopping season will make future holiday sales more of a marathon than a sprint. Retailers will benefit from adding a bit of breathing room to the rush they face at the end of every year, making it easier to manage inventory for in-demand products and meet shipping date cutoffs.

Seasonal sales will extend into January

Along with starting earlier, future holiday shopping seasons will also last longer into the new year, thanks to the drastic rise in eCommerce in 2020. Much of this activity will be fueled by customers who are more likely to return and exchange purchases they made online. 

But some of the January sales will also be driven by retailers extending promotions into the new year to get rid of unsold inventory in categories that didn’t move as well as expected in the lead-up to Christmas. With consumers navigating new habits and lifestyles that continue to shift in tandem with public health orders, trends have become much harder for retailers to predict. Discounts may well extend into the end of January and February as retailers push to sell off excess merchandise.

Digital marketing will target older demographics

In 2021 and beyond, consumers who just entered the world of online shopping in 2020 will be targeted as new online customers.

This makes perfect sense considering a third of consumers aged 65 and older plan to increase their spending on goods from online marketplaces as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. Of an estimated 204 million people ages 14 and older making online purchases, two-thirds are 45 and older.

This older demographic will become an important audience for digital marketing in the coming years. In order to ensure long-term profit, retailers will need to consider how they can adjust their future marketing and sales channel mix to reflect new realities, including customers’ evolving shopping preferences.

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Retailers will leverage integrated online-to-offline marketing and sales 

With the shift in older audiences’ buying behaviors, a new challenge for retailers in 2021 and beyond will be migrating older customers to online shopping in a way that meets their unique needs. Among other expectations, senior shoppers prefer full transparency about what they’re buying, want an online shopping experience that’s easy and painless, and, particularly for new adopters of eCommerce, expect retailers to earn their trust.

Creating a positive customer journey for those less experienced with online shopping will require retailers to consider how they can further connect their online and offline processes. In an effort to provide deeper, more integrated support and service, many businesses will choose to work with an experienced partner. Particularly during these unpredictable times, a reliable outsourcer can provide online marketing management alongside inbound telesales to simplify and smooth the customer journey.

The future of holiday shopping

From getting an earlier start to the season in October to extending sales into the new year and reaching a brand new demographic of online shoppers, the next few years of seasonal sales will require many retailers to tread uncharted ground. But, like many disruptive upheavals we’ve seen through the coronavirus pandemic, these changes also represent significant opportunities to innovate new solutions and reach new customers.

holiday shopping

Get help navigating the next normal

Through a combination of digital marketing management and best-in-class inbound telesales, ibex can help you meet the demands of shifting customer behavior with experienced, cost-effective support. Get in touch at to optimize your sales channels for 2021 and beyond.


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