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This past year has been filled with surprise after surprise — many of them unpleasant. The only thing that’s for sure in 2020 is to expect the unexpected. The disruptions of the pandemic made it harder than usual to prepare for this holiday shopping season. 

What we do know is that consumers will shift some or all of their holiday shopping from brick-and-mortar stores to online. It has, so far, been a banner year for eCommerce. The increase in online sales looks poised to continue through a record-breaking holiday season. This presents the challenge of dealing with a crush of holiday sales while keeping eCommerce workers safe. 

Holiday Shopping excerpt

It’s impossible to predict the future, but we do have some good clues. Subscription box marketplace Cratejoy has collected valuable data about consumer trends. We’ve added a few tips of our own to help you prepare for 2020 holiday shopping.

How the pandemic has already upended retail

Early in 2020, the novel coronavirus led to widespread lockdowns. That disrupted brick-and-mortar retail, as customers stayed home and many stores closed their doors temporarily. At the same time, COVID-19 shuttered factories in China and fractured transport operations, disrupting supply chains. Businesses of all sizes had to quickly cope with a surge in online shopping. At the same time, supplies were limited and shipments were delayed.

Many communities have learned to cope with the virus, and many businesses have reopened. Still, customers continue to shop in stores less. Unfortunately, a surge in cases in the US has arrived just in time for the holiday shopping season. That means more customers are likely to do their holiday shopping online. At the same time, the challenge of keeping warehouse workers and delivery drivers healthy and on the job will grow.

holiday shipping during COVID-19

The holidays are always busy for online retailers. This holiday shopping season comes with added stressors. Before you tear your hair out, however, read on. You can make the changes work for your eCommerce business, as long as you’re prepared for them.

3 ways COVID-19 will change this holiday shopping season, and one way it’s still the same

Cratejoy is an online subscription box marketplace. In September, the company surveyed 12,000 consumers to ask about their holiday shopping plans. The survey revealed some of the ways that the 2020 season will be a departure from the past. It also provided one metric that tracks with pre-pandemic data.

An early start to holiday shopping

early holiday shopping

Shoppers aren’t waiting till the last minute to do their holiday shopping this year. Only 9% of survey respondents said they would start on their gift list in December. A full 53% started in October or September (or earlier). Many retailers are jumping on this trend, offering Black Friday deals and special sales online long before Thanksgiving.

Changes in gift preferences 

Choosing gifts

The Cratejoy survey showed that what motivates consumers in their holiday shopping has shifted. Respondents said they were most likely to choose unique and thoughtful gifts (46%). The next most popular category is items that show they care about the recipient (32%). Few people cited convenience (8%), bargain prices (7%), or the ability to get a gift at the last minute (5%). Consumers plan on less impulse spending and more heartfelt purchases.

Types of gifts for holiday shopping 

types of gifts

Consumer spending has remained strong in 2020. However, the types of products people are seeking for gifts may be different this year. Not surprisingly, a theme of gift-giving in 2020 is home-based activities. The survey found that gifts relating to hobbies were the most popular category. This was followed by books, crafts, cooking, and games. Cratejoy has seen upward trends in sales of subscription boxes in these categories that bear this data out. 

Special deals are still an inducement for holiday purchases

Holiday shopping bargains

On the other hand, some things never change. Flash sales and one-time deals will still grab the attention of 79% of the survey respondents in 2020.

4 tips to keep your order fulfillment moving and your customers happy during the holidays 

ECommerce sales have steadily grown every year for the past several years. The online holiday shopping season starts on Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving). Online retailers offer a virtual version of door-buster deals and no longer wait for Cyber Monday. In 2020, expect even more. Holiday shopping will move online as consumers try to avoid the crowds.

Major carriers and fulfillment companies have worked hard this year to safely manage the extra volume. However, that doesn’t mean that everything will go smoothly. Here are four tips for keeping your eCommerce fulfillment on track and your customers happy this holiday shopping season.

Make the returns process easy

One of the biggest deciding factors for holiday shopping online is the returns policy. A generous returns policy and an easy returns process will help give shoppers the confidence to buy. This is especially true for people who are new to online shopping. Display a message about returns prominently on your website. A “Free Returns” banner is one of the best ways to boost sales.

handling returns during the pandemic

Communicate early and often about delivery expectations 

Consumers have gotten used to lightning-fast eCommerce shipping and delivery. During this holiday shopping season, however, you may not be able to turn around orders as quickly as you would like. There might be delays in the warehouse because of limits on personnel or space. That can limit the number of orders that order fulfillment centers can process in a day. Also, carriers that were already straining to keep up with extra deliveries may have less excess capacity for the holidays.

Consumers are willing to give eCommerce companies extra leeway this year. The key is to set expectations early and communicate if things change. Work with your 3PL company to find out how it will handle the holiday shopping rush. Check with your carrier to find out how the holidays will affect delivery times. Let your customers know about potential delays before, during, and after their holiday shopping process. Late delivery is less disappointing for customers if they know what to expect.

Offer more delivery options

Early shopping trends will help alleviate some of the stress of trying to get gifts delivered on time. However, there will still be last-minute holiday shopping. Also, consumers may need to get gifts early to accommodate travel plans complicated by the pandemic. Offer your customers expedited shipping options so they can be confident their holiday purchases will arrive on time.

Lean on the expertise of your 3PL company

Your order fulfillment company is your best ally during this crazy holiday shopping season. The fulfillment pros at your 3PL can help you understand the timing of holiday fulfillment, your best shipping options, and how to keep enough inventory on hand to meet demand. They can help you understand shipping and delivery times, so you can keep your supply chain humming and your customers informed.

holiday shopping fulfillment 2020

At Red Stag Fulfillment, we have implemented procedures to keep our staff safe, healthy, and on the job during the pandemic. Our dashboard lets you see the status of your holiday orders in real-time. We’d be honored to work with you to bring your customers top-notch fulfillment, during the holidays and throughout the year.