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Will Covid-19 Have a Scrooge-Like Effect on Holiday?

Despite concerns over the course of the coronavirus pandemic or even the results of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, one guaranteed certainty up ahead is the 2020 holiday season.

And Covid-19 is not expected to be a Scrooge that steals holiday away from retailers.

“Just like the first half of 2020, the coming holiday season will be riddled with rapid and unpredictable changes. But, even amidst the uncertainty of a year that is different than any other in recent history, holiday brings with it an element of stability we can look forward to,” said Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry advisor for retail. “The holiday season is a time that generally makes us feel better, a time we look to share with family and friends and reward ourselves. This holiday spirit, along with our proven resilience through challenging times, will deliver holiday hope at retail in 2020.”

While the 2020 holiday retail season may be different from the past, Cohen doesn’t expect it to be a bust. “Uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the presidential election, coupled with the Prime Day and back-to-school shopping delays will all be distractions for consumers heading into the holiday shopping season. But it’s not enough to take away from the spirit of giving that drives the holiday retail season—the season’s distractions could actually play in the favor of some categories and shopping channels,” Cohen said.

Cohen believes that some sales of big-ticket items such as bikes and big-screen TVs might have been brought forward earlier in the year as more households sheltered in place, but he doesn’t believe it’s enough to impact holiday sales. Moreover, items such as fashion apparel and accessories, which were mostly a bust earlier this year as consumer focused on essential items such as food, might see some action over holiday as consumers yearn for something different.

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“Current limitations on experiences, coupled with consumer hesitation to go out like they did pre-pandemic, will have consumers favoring more tangible gift items this holiday,” he said, adding, “We’ve already seen this happen over the recent Mother’s and Father’s Day holidays, where popular general merchandise categories saw sales lift for the week that was two and three times what it was in 2019.”

As some consumers continue to be hesitant to shop inside a brick-and-mortar site, retailers will need to be even more competitive as they try to remain top of mind during what is expected to turn into a digitally dominant holiday season, Cohen said.

Digital savings firm RetailMeNot concluded that given tighter wallets, more consumers will be shopping online for deals and discounts. And while the digital coupon firm expects more retailers to use flash sales to promote deep discounts to create the fear-of-missing-out mindset to grab market share, it also expects that gift-giving will be especially important for those planning treats for children.

RetailMeNot’s recent survey of retailers and brands indicates that three out of five consumers are planning to spend the same amount, or more, than last year, with 31 percent indicating they will shop earlier this year to avoid inventory issues or shipping delays. And 75 percent said they will prefer to shop online for the holidays. While 41 percent said they are looking to create normalcy and keep traditions alive this holiday, 35 percent said they are more willing to try new stores and brands this holiday season.

Retail consultant Walter Loeb also believes that retailers will have a decent holiday season, albeit based on lowered expectations due to Covid-19. “I believe that people are going to buy Christmas presents. Many will give money, but some will try to give something extra to have a present under the Christmas tree. The spirit of Christmas is not going away,” he said.

Loeb believes that stores deciding to remain closed on Thanksgiving Day could end up being a huge plus for the season. “That could bring the focus back to Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” he said.

And while stores are planning to start some promotions earlier in the year to spread out sales and ensure they are able to fulfill orders and delivery by holiday, Loeb believes that the big spurt in buying for holiday will still remain in the time period that begins right after Thanksgiving.