When imagining the start of the holiday season, you’re probably envisioning deal seekers lining up at stores at the crack of dawn on Black Friday, or last-minute shoppers frantically looking for the perfect gift. We all know holiday shopping is going to look very different this year – not even Santa knows what this season will bring!

Many people will be starting new traditions as a precaution against COVID-19, even if that means skipping out on your favorite night of shopping with friends and family. As someone who works in the Public Relations industry, I am constantly keeping up with the latest consumer trends for brands that I work on. Since the pandemic has put health and safety top-of-mind, what impacts on shopping can we expect to see this holiday season?

Shopping Online
More than ever before, consumers will be taking their holiday shopping online this year to avoid crowded stores and malls (even with capacity restrictions in place), and brands will pivot their efforts to e-commerce to match this demand. According to Adobe Analytics, online sales in November and December are expected to surge 33% in comparison to last year. To meet consumers’ needs this year, it’s essential for brands to build their digital experiences to help encourage spending in the absence of the in-store seasonal atmosphere and holiday cheer. We’re seeing brands tap into apps such as Instagram and TikTok to help enhance the online shopping experience and come out on top. Brands are also activating online campaigns that are personalized to consumers and create inspiring content for them to easily click and shop. With the change in consumers’ media and shopping habits, brands are rethinking how they can reach their audiences online to adapt to their preferences this holiday season.

Shopping Early 
While holiday shopping traditionally kicks off on Black Friday, consumers started as early as October this year. Coresight Research found that more than 25% of people are expected to start holiday shopping earlier than usual in 2020. Following this trend, brands including Macy’s, Kohl’s and Nordstrom rolled out holiday campaigns earlier than ever before to reach the consumer while also adding some holiday cheer to this unforgettable year. To kick off the holiday season early, Dicks Sporting Goods activated a “10 Days of Black Friday” campaign both in-store and online, ensuring consumers can shop safely over a 10-day period rather than on one specific day. Now, if you’re like me and have acquired an online shopping addiction during quarantine, you’ve probably experienced shipping delays. In anticipation of the high holiday demand, shipping services such as FedEx and Amazon are hiring more people to deliver packages on time. CNBC, even shared that Salesforce is projecting that delivery providers will exceed capacity by 5% globally during and before the week of Cyber Monday. Still, experts recommend getting holiday shopping done earlier to avoid any potential disappointment.

Shopping Through Influencers 
While consumers are cooped up at home and spending more time on social media than ever before, actively engaging with content creators has become a new norm. As influencer recommendations have always helped inspire purchases, consumers will likely turn to influencers’ authentic recommendations versus physically testing out different gift options in stores. Not only that, but consumers will be looking for more useful and meaningful experiences with trusted brands and will seek validation from influencers. Now more than ever, brands are partnering with influencers this holiday season to help lead consumers to purchase their products. Amazon launched its “Holiday Dash” event in early November and partnered with several influencers to share the news of this event on Instagram. The goal was to drive consumers to get their holiday shopping done early with new deals announced daily, and it did just that! Businesses are leaning on influencers to promote their brand and target those influential people to help build relationships with customers online this holiday season.

Shopping Small 
Small businesses have been impacted tremendously by COVID-19, with many having to completely transform their business model to adapt to a contactless world. During these uncertain times, consumers have made it a priority to shop small and plan to do so for their holiday shopping as well. This holiday season will be crucial for small businesses in hopes to end the year on a high note. According to a recent Business 2 Community poll, 70% of shoppers have visited a small business either online or in-store at least once a month since the pandemic began, and 71% plan to purchase items on their holiday shopping lists from local in-store or online businesses that may have been affected by the pandemic. Many consumers are shopping on Etsy for small and unique holiday gifts that are meaningful. Etsy released a holiday campaign of heart-tugging ads that show consumers emotional reactions to handmade and heartfelt gifts – you may want to grab a tissue box to watch them! Small businesses have taken notice of how consumers’ shopping habits have changed in 2020, and with people shopping with their hearts more than ever before, they are catering to a national audience by offering items that are worth holding onto.

The holiday season is always an exciting time of the year to be working in the Public Relations industry, as brands are activating fun and newsworthy campaigns. This year is clearly very different than others, but it’s still just as exciting to see how brands are adapting to consumers’ shopping needs and watching their campaigns come to life. 2020 is certainly a year that nobody could have ever imagined and will surely go down in history. While the excitement of holiday shopping will be very different this year, and we may not know what the next day will bring, one thing that will always remain the same is the joy of the holiday season. When all is said and done, we can always count on celebrating the holidays somehow, someway, with the people we love – whether in-person or digitally!


Here’s another blog post by Anna DePaul about the rise of Gen Z in the Workplace.