How different is the holiday shopping season in 2020? Analysis of key trends and challenges

The Drum 20 Nov 2020 12:51
By Antonio Wedral-20 November 2020 12:51pm

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Deck the halls, let the holiday shopping begin. Well, not quite. Temporarily, gone are the days when retail showrooms would deck up, spewing the holiday spirit and special offers to entice the shoppers for a visit in-store. Now, partly closed shops, click & collect queues, and adverts encouraging shopping online greet the shoppers instead. So, yes, this year, holiday shopping is ‘different’. But how different?

In this article, I analyse the various trends shaping up the busiest seasons for retail brands in the incredible year of 2020. The article also features insights from representatives of e-commerce brands who weigh in their preparations, expected growth, and challenges.

While traditionally, retailers expected the Christmas shopping to begin in December, Black Friday changed that a few years ago and brought it earlier, in November. And, this year, Amazon Prime Day, held in mid-October, has marked the beginning. The two-day long discount shopping event saw participation from 19 countries as the sales surpassed the $3.5 billion mark – indicating a 60% year-over-year increase for the eCom giant.

It’s all happening online

The pandemic has changed shopping habits causing a colossal tilt towards online shopping. So, it is not surprising to see shoppers spending hours online comparing different websites to find the perfect gifts at best prices – the time that they would have typically spent hopping around different stores to grab the best deals. As a result, we are also seeing and likely to see a further rise in subscriptions of money-saving newsletters, e.g. for coupons/discount codes each week.

The carriers are also gearing up. Royal Mail is having its biggest ever Christmas recruitment drive by hiring over 33000 seasonal workers — up by 40% from last year.

Growing retail sales amid the job losses and an economic slowdown may seem contradictory, but the retail sales this holiday season are predicted to show robust growth. According to Deloitte’s forecast, holiday e-commerce sales may surge by 25% to 35% in the US.

In the UK, thanks to an extended furlough scheme, the unemployment rate stands at 4.9% — only 0.9% more than the year earlier, and the disposable income has not been impacted significantly. In fact, the country saw a record increase in household savings with the households saving rate increasing to 29.1%!

Insights from the e-commerce brands


Sam Vinden, marketing lead, Thread:

Bloom & Wild

Gary Taylor, director of acquisition marketing, Bloom & Wild:

This Works

Joe Fletcher, e-commerce director, This Works:

There is always an element of seasonality to our business, and we’d expect in the run-up to Christmas for sales to be buoyed through gifting, as in any year. It is also reasonable to expect with tightening restrictions on the high street, that the gravitation online will continue apace and earlier than it may have historically. With This Works having an eCommerce dominant distribution, we are relatively well placed to manage that demand through our direct to consumer and third-party stores."

Wild Cosmetics is a DTC start-up selling sustainable, natural personal care products. They have sold over 300k bottles of their all-natural deodorants and have recently raised £2 million in funding.

"eCom has had a particularly strange year with most D2C companies actually benefiting quite heavily from the initial lockdown. Customer acquisition was very cheap over major channels such as Facebook and many companies saw record sales. Lockdown 2.0 and the holiday season is set to be a little bit different. This time, big retailers and small companies alike are prepared to go online and spend large amounts of cash. Typically offline retailers have had to rethink and scramble to be in a position to not lose out as we approach Black Friday and Christmas. This means that online advertising is going to be seriously expensive and, opposite to the first lockdown, acquisition costs are set to rise considerably.

Industrial Workwear

Shane Parkins, e-commerce & technical lead at Industrial Workwear said:

It is looking like Industrial Workwear will double in size for the 2020/2021 trading year. It sounds surreal as we’re not a supermarket nor Amazon but our unique position within the eCom world has driven this growth – along with our staff working tirelessly. We don’t operate like typical e-commerce businesses, failing to fulfil orders or any systematic breakdowns in procurement doesn’t ‘inconvenience’ our customers, it shuts down full manufacturing lines, building sites and key industries – through not having correct PPE or passing regulation.”

Nurture Brands is a food and beverage FMCG company that sells a range of plant-based products under 3 popular brands: Rebel Kitchen, EMILY, Ape & The Primal Pantry.

"In our sector (Food and drink) covid has played a huge part in driving shoppers online to get their groceries. Either due to lack of availability in stores, an inability to get to stores or a change in mindset to support small and local businesses. Due to the holiday season, I anticipate challenges in the supply chain, both in the supply of our goods to us and out from us to the end consumer. We sell through Amazon as well and since July there have been long delays at the fulfilment centres and this has had a huge impact on sales, this is unlikely to get any better in the runup to the holiday season."

About: Woodland Leathers are a 3rd generation family business. Specialising in the sale of leather garments and a variety of leather goods for over 50 years.

“If we learned anything from the first lockdown, it’s that consumer behaviour can be affected in a variety of ways and not all of these can be predicted. We were prepared for a drop in sales when lockdown was first introduced back in March. What actually happened, however, was a slight increase in sales, which we weren’t prepared to deal with. To avoid making the same mistake twice, we are implementing a more efficient “picking & packing” method, ensuring that all stocks are updated daily to avoid disappointing our customers with Out of Stock products.”

A Shopify-powered online clothing brand, YourLibaas offers an exquisite range of Asian apparel and has customers from around the globe.

"We have traditionally had a high returning customer rate as a set of loyal customers would regularly buy apparel as new catalogues were released. Due to the pandemic, offline events and parties are a rarity and the regular buyers have dwindled. A new wave of customers who shy away from brick-and-mortar stores and have shifted online have compensated and the sales figures are more or less similar to what they were pre-lockdown. We have added more information about the product on the category pages to educate the new customers about the product. For instance, Salwar Kameez category demonstrates how it is being done.


Jake Newbould, head of digital marketing at Piglet, said:

Gates Garden Centre

Bryan Hallatt, head of marketing & e-commerce at Gates Garden Centre, said:

We're expecting sales to be affected positively this season as people will want to enjoy a great Christmas to relieve some of the stress of the continued lockdown.”

Antonio Wedral, co-founder, Novos

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