No matter what the rest of 2020 has in the cards for humanity, one thing is certain: the winter holiday season will happen, no matter what. How the holidays will be celebrated, however, remains uncertain, especially for retailers as they adjust to new consumer values and needs brought on by the pandemic.
A recent webinar “Rethinking the Holidays” hosted by Fashion Snoops’ VP of home and interiors Jaye Anna Mize and home and interiors editor Amanda Farr, in partnership with Messe Frankfurt’s Christmasworld and vendors of the trade show, offered a glimpse at what’s to come for home and holiday goods and décor, and how new realities will drive consumers to look for fewer yet more meaningful products.
The new realities
The emotional toll of the pandemic will weight heavy on the 2020 holiday season, which is already a time of year known to trigger depression and anxiety. Though the pandemic has opened the door for new ways to communicate, it has also cancelled many of the ways milestones are celebrated, forcing people to be creative (and flexible) with Zoom weddings, backyard graduation ceremonies and drive-by birthday parades.
The novelty factor of these social distancing stopgaps, however, may wear thin during the month-long holiday social calendar that would traditionally be filled with parties, gift exchanges, family dinners and New Year celebrations.
And the notion of thousands gathering for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or that Times Square will be packed to the gill this year on New Year’s Eve, seems impossible as New York City remains partially shut down four months out from the holiday season. Likewise, experts expect to see Europe’s famous Christmas markets, where locals and tourists traditionally shop for decorations, hand-knitted garments and specialty foods, shuttered this year, further crippling vendors that had to cancel Easter and Oktoberfest markets because of to the coronavirus.
To counteract, Helmut Schmidt, managing director of Weihnachtsland, a Christmas decorations manufacturer, expects to see more local governments and businesses ramp up their public decorations this year. “Cities will invest in decorations to make their places feel more festive. It’s for their residents to feel good,” he said.
Consumers will take a similar approach by stepping up their lawn decorations. “Front lawns are the new decorating space,” Farr said, adding that there is a wave of individuals who have put up their holiday decorations early (or never took them down) to spread cheer during an otherwise ominous time. This trend will hit full throttle closer to Thanksgiving, she added.
Experts are seeing this trickle into parts of Europe that are usually more subdued with decorations. With travel curbed for most, funds may be redirected into making homes feel more cozy and spirited.
In Germany, where it’s tradition to “trim the tree” on Christmas Eve, Schmidt said he expects to see Germans take a page out of the U.S. playbook this year and begin to decorate in early December. “Normally consumers say it’s not worth decorating when they could go skiing but that will change,” he said. “We will want to show to our friends and family how we can decorate our home.”
And just as the home goods sector saw an uptick at the start of the pandemic, experts anticipate sales for holiday décor and florals to hold strong. “Sales are better because people are investing more in their homes,” said Mart Haber, managing director of Shishi, a Norwegian and Estonian company that specializes in artificial flowers and Christmas décor.
Preorders for real Christmas trees is already 30 percent higher than last year, added Pasqual Koeleman, co-founder of The Netherlands-based floral production company, 2Dezign.
In an effort to keep traditions alive, Farr said parents are going to adjust their focus on activities versus gift-giving. Expect to see a greater emphasis on games, cooking and baking and rejoicing in small yet meaningful activities like decorating the tree.
“This year, a lot of people are likely going to forego the traditional taking pictures with Santa experience,” she said. “So parents are going to be feeling that pressure, that need, that desire to really create an equally special environment for their families despite having a lack of the same kind of things that they do.”
Since social events will likely take place over a computer screen, Farr said interest in table top decorations will pick up. Brands, she added, can help make the most of these online gatherings by offering celebratory virtual backgrounds, facilitating virtual experiences and providing party supplies that are catering specifically to virtual events.
And on the flipside, these digital tools will take a back seat to people who are able to gather in person. Early on in the pandemic, Farr said there was “this mass acceptance of more analog activities like puzzles and games” and activities that foster more of an intimate family setting.
This mindset, Koeleman said, will translate into home and holiday décor that speaks to the simpler things in life. Back-to-basic designs and products with a DIY element add a sense of purity to the holiday, he described. Consumers might paint their Christmas ornaments in a new color or add embellishments to give it a new look.
Retailers, Koeleman noted, are preparing for this DIY approach by bulking up their orders of raw materials. “A few big retailers have bought already 300,000 kilos of clay,” he said. Though trends like this “feels like we are 40 years back in time,” he also pointed out that it is a new novelty to consumers in their 20s—the same demographic that has embraced mending, tie-dye and baking bread during the pandemic.
Evolution of self-care
Shortages for essential products and the rise of online tutorials on how to grow and make food and sew masks revealed how consumers as a whole forgot how to fend for themselves. This realization is leading to a more self-sustaining mindset, Mize said.
“It is shifting the way people consume to be more focused on personalization and customization. We’re refocused more on thoughtful gifting and sharing our newfound fondness on self-sustainability through hobbies and creative interests,” she said.
DIY projects and DIY brands are experiencing online search surges. And as consumers become better acquainted with their hobbies, Farr said gifts will include more niche kitchen and gardening tools, or things that are handmade.
This, Farr said, “is all because consumers are looking to have that meaningful experience of creating their own decorations that provide them with a sense of comfort but also, it passes the time.”
Consumers are also more conscious of the environment and taking a more thoughtful approach to finding solutions for otherwise disposable items like gift wrap and party supplies. Brands should take this opportunity to reduce the plastic that goes into their packaging and to really rethink wrapping all together to make it more sustainable overall, she added.
This sustainable approach to consuming will also affect the materials used in Christmas decorations. As European governments crack down on single-use plastics, experts expect to see demand for ornaments made with hand-blown glass, porcelain, wood, dried flowers and pine cones rise.
Less but better
Just because consumers want to make more decorations and gifts, it doesn’t mean they will altogether stop consuming in 2020.
The time spent at home during the pandemic, Mize said, has driven consumers to examine what is essential versus what is wanted. This re-prioritization of values will result in a strong focus on quality and sustainability versus quantity, she added.
“We, by no means, think consumers will strip down their decorating at all,” Mize said. “I think it’s going to get bigger but they’re going to opt for more quality choices for decorating, focusing on things that really truly bring joy to them. So, it doesn’t mean that the holidays are going to be minimalistic by any means, it’s just meaning that they’re going to have more purpose behind the products and they’re going to have more lasting quality.
Brands can adhere to this by tightening their assortments and bringing in more designs that have a universal appeal, Farr said.
Consumers will also be looking to make more ethical purchases. “Here brands can really focus on providing transparency within their marketing endeavors,” Farr said. Just as important, she added, is ethical and responsible sourcing. “You really can’t have one with integrity without the other,” Farr said.
There’s also a sustainable benefit to products that can become heirlooms, which also taps into the desire for nostalgia. Products with an old-world feel or new collections that compliment past collections allow consumers to add in new pieces that won’t be disposed of.
“Heirlooms are really a sustainable way to purpose past products, but also bring that sense of family into the home when you might not be able to be with them in person this year,” Farr said.