December 24, 2020

3 shopping trends to watch this holiday season

Written By
Amy Vale

Heading into the traditional shopping season this year, so much had changed for retailers. First of all, everything started earlier. Amazon moved its Prime Day from July to October due to the pandemic, and the digital retail giant’s shopping event inspired early flash-sales campaigns from Guess, Old Navy, Walmart and others.

Such events have lengthened the holiday shopping season by several weeks, which has been a new kind of challenge for brands. Going forward, while “Black Friday” might not be a phrase that’s soon forgotten, it’s not the headline it used to be.

And, with all of these changes, marketers are starting to understand just how nimble they need to be. With that in mind, here are three notable trends that retail marketers should give their attention to for the remainder of the holidays and beyond.

Near-immediate gratification is here

How will the new standards of ecommerce delivery affect retailers’ revenues? After all, speedy retail services have gone from nice-to-have features to need-to-have options.

In 2015, Ulta Beauty CEO Mary Dillon acknowledged customer expectations have reset when it comes to speed and convenience. Five years later, Dillon’s words are prescient. Digital giant Amazon has since rolled out free, next-day shipping in June 2019 for Prime members and introduced same-day shipping in select markets during the pandemic. (Same day!)

In recent months, merchants have reacted to Amazon’s moves as well as to customers’ evolving delivery expectations that are now borderline immediate gratification. With the pandemic temporarily closing stores or limiting patron capacity, retailers have had little choice but to implement new services to drive sales and build loyalty. For instance, Target, Staples and Big Lots have partnered with same-day delivery startups like Instacart, Postmates and Shipt.

Will services like same-day or next-day delivery be a part of the holiday shopper’s mindset for years to come? The answer could be “yes,” because with people being busier than ever before, they value being able to check boxes and move on with their lives. Waiting around for emails or text messages to confirm your gifts are arriving does little to accomplish that idea.

Convenience, FTW

Sometimes, customers don’t want to wait for a delivery at all—no matter how quickly it might arrive—and prefer to pick up an order on their own schedules. It’s indicative of many customers who increasingly expect more and more convenient, to-go options.

For instance, curbside pickup is a service that half of holiday shoppers said they were going to use this year. Walmart deserves credit for helping pioneer this trend in 2019. Post-pandemic, brands like Apple, Best Buy and Home Depot are offering curbside pickup and drop-off going as they increasingly view contactless commerce as important.

Looking back a few years, this trend in retail has often been driven by direct-to-consumer brands such as TrunkClub and StitchFix, which offer self-service features like trying on items virtually or at home and returning orders at new kinds of locations. Easy-returns-as-a-service have taken hold more and more. For instance, heading into this season, shoppers for Everlane, Dressbarn, Rothy's and other brands have been able to return their orders at 2,000 FedEx Office locations and 340 Walmart stores.

Putting cash back into customers’ wallets

Thirdly, customers always want to be given convenient ways to save money. A recent Dosh user survey found that 42% of Americans have been spending less money, so whatever cash retailers can put back in their pockets has been greatly appreciated. And cash back will be equally cherished by customers in 2021.

Retailers should consider that 82% of Americans will shop more frequently with a merchant that offers cash back when they purchase by simply using their preferred payment method. It’s why brands from Target and Walmart to clothing subscription service Nuuly have offered 2% to 5% cash back this holiday season with card-linked offers that put a convenience-minded twist on rewards.

In summary, these three trends underscore how quickly holiday shopping and retail in general are changing. Customers expect to get items when they want to get them and how they want to get them, and they expect retailers to help them save money with cash back and other rewards. The merchants that adapt to these trends will be paid dividends on the balance sheet when this new kind of holiday season ends as well as throughout ‘21.

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