TapOnIt Founder + CEO
For the past month, as I’ve read news releases about the likes of Target, Best Buy and Kohl’s closing their shops for Thanksgiving, all I could think was: it’s about damn time.
That thought was quickly followed by: holiday shopping is going to look very different this year and, I expect, for years to come.
Historically, Black Friday was created to kick off the holiday shopping season. It served consumers by offering great deals. But mostly, Black Friday served retailers, who would bring their financials back into the black over the holiday season, after spending most of the year in the red. But it’s evolved. What was once a shopping day that started in the early morning hours, has expanded, and now takes over the entire weekend, starting on Thanksgiving Day. With that, retail employees are expected to take time away from their families to work the holiday so that shoppers can get in that Pre-Black Friday shop session!
I’m not worried about the Targets and the WalMarts closing on Thanksgiving, the coronavirus pandemic has actually led them to have massive spikes in online sales and therefore a pretty solid 2020. What I am concerned about are the smaller, local retailers that may miss out on holiday shopping this year because of the changes in shopping habits. Our favorite local businesses are negatively impacted each time a community member chooses to shop online, which is a massive disservice to our local economies. And thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, this holiday season will be unlike any other.
In fact, I believe we are already seeing the effects of COVID-19 on holiday shopping. With so much time spent online, many people have already started Christmas shopping. The pandemic has turned some serious crafters into true DIYers, so a lot of gifts will have the homemade touch this year. Many of these DIYers are even starting their own businesses by selling their creations through Etsy, which is great for the individuals but money spent online with Etsy means that it isn’t being spent in local businesses.
Additionally, holiday shopping has changed because of the varying individual comfort levels with COVID-19 safety protocols. Many families may be divided by distance this year, so physical gift giving may wane. Perhaps a loved one isn’t venturing into the community because they don’t want to wear a mask, or they don’t trust that a restaurant or retail store is a safe place to be. Our lives—and our communities—are rapidly changing. None of us are sure what our communities will look like a month or two down the road. Will local stores still be open? This makes me concerned that we will see a decline in the sales of local gift cards over the holiday season and those dollars shift to gift cards that can be redeemed online.
Holiday shopping may already be underway, but it’s not too late for businesses to take action in order to protect their share of the market:
Be Competitive: Businesses are going to have to work hard to earn their customers this holiday season. Not only are you competing with other local retailers, but the entire internet. And don’t forget about your neighbor who has started to make and sell candles or candies.
Our country’s unemployment rate is at an all-time high, leaving citizens across America concerned about their income. As a result, people are being increasingly cautious about their spending. Thoughtful pricing and good sales go a long way to give customers the value—or even the perceived value—they need to get them through the door.
Keep Customers Shopping: You can get a customer into your store to take advantage of a great offer, but what does your business do to keep customers coming back? I know I have a biased opinion, but if you can successfully encourage your customers to consent to receiving messages from your brand, preferably through text, you have an inexpensive way to communicate directly with consumers.
Not only does an MMS message thread send details about great promotions, but it can also provide customers with a way to window shop. Pictures of clothing, beauty products, and other products can be shared with consumers to capture their attention. Even more than that, imagery of families playing a game or wearing matching pyjamas can inspire customers to make purchases for their loved ones. It’s like the beloved holiday window displays you’d see at a fancy New York City department store, except on a phone screen.
Be Transparent: There’s an energy of uncertainty lingering in the air right now. Not only in terms of what businesses will weather the pandemic, but also in terms of protocols. If your restaurant or shop is open—let customers know. If masks are mandatory—let customers know. If your business’s cleaning protocols go above and beyond government recommendations—let your customers know. All of this information can be shared via email and social media, or even directly with consumers via text.
This transparency helps build trust with customers, because it reassures them that your business is doing what it can to keep them safe. Additionally, a demonstration of your business’s commitment to its employees, customers and community establishes responsibility and accountability. Directly telling your customers specific actions your business is taking and the actions you expect of them will go a long way in garnering consumer attachment and advocacy.
There’s no mistaking it, the 2020 holiday shopping season will be one for the books. But it could also be a successful one for the local businesses that aren’t afraid to provide value and thoughtfully engage with their customers. The extra care around pricing, communication and safety may be the differentiator your business needs to win this holiday season.