How COVID-19 Could Shift Holiday Shopping Behaviors This Year [New Data]

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Pamela Bump
Pamela Bump


In 2020, B2C businesses all over the world pivoted their strategies as consumers dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A person gives a gift they bought while holiday shopping online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only did the pandemic force people to live and work strictly from home, but it also put a financial burden on many households and businesses.

Now, as the holidays approach, both physical and online business owners are wondering if they'll still get the same level of booming business they saw last year.

Because we (unfortunately) can't predict the future, we decided to survey a sample of nearly 300 general consumers about their holiday shopping plans.

Specifically, we asked, "Compared to last year, how will COVID-19 impact your holiday shopping plans?"

As part of the Lucid survey, participants could check all the boxes related to how their holiday shopping would be impacted.

While you'll see that some of the responses align with research-backed shopping predictions, the overall results of the survey might surprise you:

We asked nearly 300 consumers how they thought covid-19 would impact holiday shopping this year.

Data Source

While you might not be shocked that many respondents are planning more online shopping than last year, you might be surprised that nearly one-third of them still plan to go to physical stores.

Additionally, with 41% of respondents planning to spend less money or buy fewer gifts this year, you might wonder if budget-conscious consumers will still spend money on your products.

Remember, this is just one small poll of general consumers. Had we zoned in on a specific audience target or location, the results might have been very different.

However, these responses are still worth keeping in mind as you navigate the holiday season. It also hints at potential trends that could continue in 2021.

Below, I'll walk you through the three biggest holiday shopping pivots consumers plan to make this year, as well as a few business takeaways for handling each shift.

Click here to access everything you need to design holiday marketing materials.

3 Pivots Holiday Shoppers are Making in 2020

1. Despite online growth, physical stores won't be vacant.

As you might expect, the number one holiday shopping change, cited by 47% of survey respondents, was, "I plan to do more online shopping."

This makes sense. In 2020, consumers who weren't tech-savvy learned how to buy almost everything they needed online. Meanwhile, those who already made purchases regularly online embraced it more heavily. Additionally, with holiday shopping seasons known for closely packed quarters stores, some consumers might opt to stay at home this year to avoid the crowds.

However, it doesn't seem like foot-traffic will cease completely.

To learn more about how abundant ecommerce would be this season, we asked, "Where do you plan to do your holiday shopping this year?"

As it turns out, lots of people still plan to shop in-person this season:

We asked nearly 300 respondents where they plan to shop this holiday season.

Data Source

While 33% of consumers plan to shop "mostly" or "completely" online, 34% plan to do an "even mix of both online and in-store shopping."

On the other hand, 33% percent plan to shop "mostly" or "completely" in-store this year.

Although this survey is just one small piece of data, and these results might vary by location, the responses hint that physical stores might still get business despite increased online shopping.

Takeaways for Business Owners

Ultimately, online shopping is growing -- and we see more online purchase revenue with each new holiday season.

Even if our survey results show that people still plan to shop at least partially in stores, you should consider building an online presence and -- potentially -- an ecommerce strategy.

When it comes to building an online presence, you could start with a business page on Facebook or Instagram, or a Google My Business listing to help internet users learn more about your brand and where you're located.

If you're ready and able to sell your products online, many digital tools, like HubSpot and Shopify, can help you create a simple, but effective online store.

For example, if you already promote your brand with a Facebook Business Page or Instagram Business profile, you could highlight and sell a few of your most popular products in a Facebook Shop. This will allow you to test the waters with ecommerce by selling a few select products online. Then, once you feel confident in your shipping and supply chain, you can launch a full ecommerce site with one of these tools.

2. Shoppers might not splurge -- even on gifts.

Due to the uncertain financial times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, shoppers were already tightening their budgets and protecting their assets. Now, with plans for in-person holiday gatherings uncertain for many folks, there are also fewer reasons to purchase gifts and other holiday items.

However, since holidays have been known to encourage people to splurge more than usual, you might think that this time of year could be an exception to current shopping trends.

When polling general consumers, 26% percent said, "I plan to spend less money." while 15% said, "I plan to buy fewer gifts due to limited holiday gatherings." In total, 41% of consumers indicated that they plan to spend less or buy fewer products this year.

The data above, although unsurprising, still reaffirms consumer predictions that might be concerning to business owners.

Takeaways for Businesses

By now, brands have already seen consumers tighten budgets and limit non-essential purchases. Not to mention, studies from McKinsey and other organizations predict that consumers will continue to spend more frugally through 2021.

But, even if you're up to date on the current market research trends, you might not be sure how to grapple with these consumer behavior shifts.

Right now, buyers need extra motivation to buy expensive or non-essential products. While the holidays might give them a reason to splurge a bit more than they have throughout the year, consumers will still want to invest in products with the best value -- whether they're buying for themselves or their families.

Because people are looking for essential products they need or items that offer the best bang for their buck, focus your messaging on answering questions like:

  • "Why does the consumer need this product?"
  • "How does this product or service solve one of their problems?"
  • "Why is the product worth its price?"

Aside from adjusting your messaging, you can also adjust your content to help you answer the questions above. For example, you can post content that highlights sales, deals, and promo codes that people with more stringent budgets might use.

If you can't offer a sale or deal, you could alternatively use testimonials, reviews, or user-generated content from your current customers in your marketing. When you share a happy customer's review or testimonial, you allow prospects to hear stories of people who benefited from your products. This can build a sense of authenticity and brand trust that ultimately leads to purchases.

3. Shoppers will take social distancing seriously.

Above, we noted that our respondents still want to shop at least partially in stores this year. But, many of them might also want to avoid bustling crowds that have historically been seen during holiday shopping seasons.

Because of this, the third biggest holiday shopping change -- which 33% of respondents cited -- was, "I still plan to shop in stores but will be more cautious of social distancing."

Takeaways for Businesses

While small business owners would love to see crowds line up to enter their stores during the holiday season, it's clear that things will be very different this year. Not only will customers be mindful about social distancing, but other research shows that they might be more concerned about their health and safety when shopping than ever.

If you want to embrace in-person foot-traffic opportunities this holiday season, it's important to know that people might be fearful of crowds or getting too close to others. Because of this, you should invest in PPE for your staff, while also considering protective barriers, one-way aisles, and other solutions to keep people far apart.

While this will not only make customers feel safer in your store, it could give you a competitive advantage over shops that take fewer precautions. After all, customers trust brands that care about them and their safety.

Navigating a Unique Holiday Season

While we can offer suggestions and basic data on how holiday shopping will change this year, it's important to keep in mind that results could be different for every business -- whether physical or online.

Although planning a holiday strategy in a pandemic can feel daunting or nearly impossible, keeping a few tips in mind could still help you get sales and intrigue consumers who are ready and able to shop.

  • Market your product's value: Now -- and in the near future -- consumers will need to be persuaded that your product is valuable, better than a cheaper option, and worth investing in. If your messaging, reviews, or online content fail to convey those things, a budget-minded shopper might very well buy something from a competitor -- or avoid buying any product in your industry at all.
  • Build an online presence: Even if you plan to rely on foot-traffic this year, you'll still want to develop an online presence so people can learn about your store, where you're located, and any deals you offer. If you're ready to step into the world of ecommerce, many easy-to-use tools can help you launch a scalable online store.
  • Care about your customer: This year, customers are paying extra attention to how brands treat them. When a brand makes an effort to ensure a pleasant and safe experience, shoppers will remember and trust them more. Even if your business is mostly online, you can still show customers you care through helpful and responsive customer service, answering customer questions on social media, and offering deals or content that solve for your ideal customer.

To learn more about how COVID-19 has impacted the overall business landscape, check out our six-month retrospective fueled by data from thousands of HubSpot users.

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