Gearing Up for Online Shopping During the Holidays and Beyond

October 29, 2020
Average Read Time: 4 minutes

Be prepared. It’s a good motto for retailers during today’s pandemic, particularly as we head into this year’s critically different holiday shopping season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified shopping at crowded stores before, on, or after Thanksgiving as a higher-risk activity to avoid. The CDC suggested more online shopping for the holiday season. According to a USA Today article, big-name retailers are listening. In addition to many retailers closing on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in decades, they are starting sales earlier and offering them online to reduce crowds. “Experts say it's critical for retailers to start the season early as consumers will be faced with restrictions on how many can be in a store at a time and concerns about online orders not arriving on time,” the article said.

Many businesses are also expected to participate in Small Business Saturday®  which is scheduled for the Saturday immediately after Thanksgiving. Take a look at our most recent blog post to find out how to make the most out of the shopping holiday.

All of this comes with a general increase in online shopping due to the pandemic. Most digital and contactless services have seen increased adoption since April, with more than half of new and increased users reporting an intent to continue [these shopping behaviors] post COVID-19,” a recent McKinsey report said. “Nearly half of Americans [are] planning to spend more online than in-store for the upcoming holiday season.”

Increases in online holiday shopping and the length of the season pose a number of challenges for retailers, including:

  • Inventory management. With Amazon Prime Day just past and sales starting this month, sellers will need to keep inventory flowing for a longer period of time without overstocking.
  • Cash flow. Sellers will need to manage cash flow to maintain product availability throughout an extended shopping season.
  • Online processing. Websites and payment systems will be working harder than ever. They need to be quick, easy-to-use, and reliable. Additionally, sellers will need to process a higher number of returns, further straining electronic systems.

Is Your Digital House in Order?

Fueled by the ease and convenience of the Amazon experience, customers today expect to see the same fluidity and simplicity when doing business with retailers. That means having an online presence that allows them to find what they want, when they want, and enabling them to pay how they want.

To prepare for the holiday shopping season:

  • Thoroughly evaluate your website. Is it user-friendly? Are you missing helpful features such as a shopping cart or gift list?
  • Assess your mobile presence. How does it appear? Does it need tweaking to make it easier to navigate and purchase products from a phone or tablet?
  • Ensure your search function is configured correctly. Is it highlighted on your site? Does it work well with mobile? Auto-complete and filtering should also be available.
  • Review your payment page and options. Is your page branded and secure? Does it accept multiple payment options?
  • Think about how you’re selling on social media. Customers today are using social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Google to conduct research and make online purchases. Does your social media presence offer a brand-immersive, seamless, consistent experience to promote and increase sales?
  • Integrate your website into online marketplaces such as Amazon, if you haven’t done so already.

Plan for Tomorrow

Uncertainty might be the biggest challenge that sellers face for the foreseeable future. In this unprecedented time, it’s difficult to predict exactly when and where shoppers will do their buying. If  regions or countries continue to report spikes in COVID-19 cases, governments may reimpose lockdowns that halt in-person commerce and force businesses and consumers to rely even more heavily on online shopping. And while supply chains have stabilized for the most part, that could change if increased coronavirus cases lead to reduced manufacturing.

Scenario planning and forecasting a variety of different outcomes can help retailers manage through the last quarter of the year and beyond. But so can ensuring that your online presence effectively supports commerce today and tomorrow.