How brands can thrive in the COVID-19 holiday shopping season

People across the country are facing a holiday season distorted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While cherished experiences like family dinners, visiting relatives, and Christmas celebrations will likely just skip 2020 (and reemerge relatively unscathed next year), the time-honored tradition of Christmas shopping has been changed forever.

The pandemic has led to massive changes in consumer behavior thanks to mask requirements and social distancing measures. As a result, e-commerce has jumped a decade or more into the future.

Combine this year’s unprecedented growth in online spending with the most critical sales period of the year for most retailers and you have the perfect conditions for a banner holiday shopping season for online retailers ready to seize the opportunity. For brands looking to capitalize on e-commerce this holiday season, there are three things to consider.

Keep your virtual shelves fully stocked
Few things will drive consumers to an ecommerce competitor faster than the dreaded “out of stock” label. Depleted product inventories have been a major concern for retailers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

To complicate matters further, recent studies suggest that ecommerce friction and optionality reduce brand loyalty and increase the number of brands a customer endorses. This change in behavior opens the door for customers to simply buy what they need from the most readily available and acceptable search results, rather than waiting for inventory from their preferred brand to become available.

As waves of holiday shoppers flock to virtual storefronts, failure to stock products could be disastrous, as shoppers move on simply for convenience. Companies that don’t get their distribution under control get into big trouble.

Create a feeling of FOMO
Black Friday as a one day event didn’t really exist this year and could be done forever. Most retailers had already started offering their deals by the time the shopping holiday was over. The question brands now face is how to reach customers and capitalize on the same urgency and excitement once Black Friday has been transformed into a multi-week series of ongoing sales.

Leveraging marketplace conversion strategies like short burst sales, product photography optimization, and immersive video experiences (like Amazon Live) can create engagement opportunities that drive consumers to buy now. In fact, brands using Amazon Live can see an increase in sales of 70% or more because consumers have the opportunity to engage with the product in a way that feels more familiar to a high-touch, in-store retail experience.

Optimizing product images and text for conversion will also be incredibly important this holiday season, as 93% of consumers say visuals are the most important factor influencing their purchasing decision. A quality selection of images that tell a story will help you win the buy box, especially as competition and product commercialization increases.

Keep all demographics in mind
Businesses often have Millennials and Gen Z in mind when creating online shopping campaigns, but the demands of the pandemic have transformed shopping habits across all age groups. Older demographics are shifting to buying online, with six in 10 baby boomers saying they are using services like Amazon Prime or Shipt more often because of COVID-19.

This means companies need to consider how to attract older buyers to their online channels. Brands find new audiences and advertising channels through data and extend their reach to baby boomers and seniors.

Younger, more tech-savvy shoppers may still be the primary demographic for online shopping, but a successful pandemic-driven holiday shopping season will almost certainly include older demographics. As these groups become more and more comfortable with online shopping, brands that take a chunk of their wallets during the holidays will be more likely to convert them into regular customers.

Consumers switching to e-commerce en masse during the holidays is not a temporary hold, but an accelerated development. Holiday shopping is unlikely to simply return to pre-COVID habits in the future. Brands that can keep their virtual shelves stocked, recreate the excitement of in-store holiday shopping online, and expand their accessibility and appeal to older shoppers will position themselves to have groundbreaking holiday shopping for years to come.

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