How Top U.S. Retailers Are Preparing for Holiday Shopping amid a Pandemic
This holiday shopping season is gearing up to be quite different from past years. As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country, many retailers aren’t sure if their brick-and-mortar locations will even be able to remain open during the holiday shopping season. And, even if they do open their doors, many customers still feel un-easy shopping in-stores.
The silver lining for brands? Digital transactions continue to soar and businesses don’t have to worry about websites and mobile apps closing down due to COVID. Plus, this year’s holiday season is expected to be a record-breaking period for eCommerce, with analysts expecting online sales to grow by 18%.
Even amid all the uncertainty, brands are doing their best to meet changing customer needs and capitalize on this new surge of digital traffic. We sat down with digital experience experts from e.l.f cosmetics, Dell, T. Mobile, Orvis, and VF Corporation to hear how they’re preparing for this untraditional holiday shopping season.
Here’s what they had to share:
1. Digital Activations with e.l.f. Cosmetics
“We take holidays, just like every retailer, very seriously. What’s really different about this year is that we were able to learn so much about our customers because of the pandemic. That’s going to inform the content we produce and how quickly we put it out there. I don’t think people will be comfortable walking into stores until the end of the year, so we’ll be focusing on bringing more products to our augmented reality experience, attracting new consumers, and figuring out how to engage and educate them on how our different products come together.
We’ll be focusing on bringing more products to our augmented reality experience.
In a way, our preparation is no different than last year, but this year, we’re going to be adapting more quickly and focusing more on digital activations. People are not going to be comfortable walking into stores so bringing even more activations online will be the key.”
— Etka Chopra, VP of Digital at e.l.f. Cosmetics
2. Year-Round Preparation with Dell
“I think the holiday season itself has been evolving a lot over the last several years. Once upon a time, it was all about Black Friday, then we had Cyber Monday, then there was Green Monday. Holiday transformed from a single day event into a whole season of holiday shopping. And it’s no longer restricted to the period after Thanksgiving anymore. You have Black Friday in July, Amazon Prime Day, Dads & Grads, Back to School, and at Dell, we do things like Ten Days of Deals. It’s always ongoing.
At Dell, we start holiday prep as soon as one holiday season ends. You must have a detailed plan from a merchandising, procurement, and fulfillment standpoint to assure that you have the right assortment of products that your customers are looking for next year. We were already deep into holiday season planning for Q4 when COVID started.
You must have a detailed plan from a merchandising, procurement, and fulfillment standpoint
Today, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where there will be long lines in physical stores and that again brings more focus to digital. Our focus is to make sure that we allow customers to be able to transact with us and find exactly what they’re looking for on our digital properties. We’re making sure deals.Dell.com is ready to go, which we actually use year-round. We’re always testing new ideas, seeing what is working, learning how customers interact with our site, and figuring out how we can impact their customer journey in a positive way.
For us, there’s never really downtime when it comes to prepping for the holidays because the sales cycle goes on all year long. The holiday calendar has transformed from that two-three week time period to being essentially all year long.”
— Vab Dwivedi, Director of Digital Customer Experiences at Dell
3. Finalizing Holiday Offers with T. Mobile
“Typically, we start our holiday planning process right about now. We decide what offers we’re going to have and what phones will be on sale. We always have to wait until the Apple Special Events, where they announce their new product releases, which happen in September/October. From there, we fly right from there into holiday preparation. That’s when we decide what phones we’ll have deals on and determine whether we focus on upgrades, prospects, a mix of both, etc.
Over the last few years, the whole idea of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has gone out the window.
Over the last few years, the whole idea of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has gone out the window. Last year, we started doing holiday messaging and offers a week before Black Friday then we change offers that run up until Christmas so as people are making last-minute decisions there are still great offers for them. It’s not just a weekend anymore. It’s almost a full month.”
— Kerry Sikora, Sr. Manager, Business and Performance Analytics at T-Mobile
4. Adopting a New Content Strategy with Orvis
“From a creative perspective, the majority of our holiday season assets are being produced now. We’re hypothesizing what the social climate will look like in November and beyond, and shifting our storytelling to incorporate those predictions. We’re focusing on ways to change the dialogue on what the season is going to be.
We’re hypothesizing what the social climate will look like in November and beyond, and shifting our storytelling to incorporate those predictions.
Orvis, being a family-owned company, takes a lot of pride in family gatherings. This year, we probably won’t see the large 20+ person gatherings around a large dinner table. The holidays will probably be more intimate and you might just be celebrating with the five people you’re closest with. This year, we’ve been leveraging the Perkins family, the family owners of Orvis, more and more. They live the brand and are Orvis in and out. We’re trying to capture the spirit of coming together with those who mean the most to you, and highlight the small things you can do to put a spin on your traditions and still make the holidays meaningful.”
— Dan Corby, Sr. UX Design Manager at Orvis
Want a more in-depth look at how the Orvis team is prepping for the holiday shopping season? Click here to hear more about their 2020 holiday strategy and website design overhaul.
5. Enhanced Product Imagery with VF Corporation
“We’ve started to push out more 3D product photography. One of the best things about offline shopping is that you can touch the product, see it, try it one, and hold it next to you. People value being able to spin a product, open a suitcase, and see what’s in it. We also have a separate experience that lets you view a product’s size in comparison to a Nalgene, an iPad, and other tangible everyday items. There’s nothing worse than getting a backpack, realizing it’s smaller than you need it to be, and having to go through the hassle of returning it and waiting for a new one.
Eagle Creek is really where we’re pushing 3D product imagery hard. Our luggage pieces have a lot of really cool features that you can’t really portray with just flat product images. A 3D product image lets customers spin the product around on their screen, click on it, and discover a cool locking feature or something else. People are visual—we could put the words on the page, but people don’t always read them.
People like to see what a product looks like in the real world and on other people, especially if they can’t see it in a store.
The other thing we’re prioritizing is user-generated content. People like to see what a product looks like in the real world and on other people, especially if they can’t see it in a store. We’re putting a lot more emphasis on lifestyle product shoots so we can show products in a tangible experience even though it’s on their computer screen.”
— Ashley Peterson, eCommerce Analyst with VF Corporation, the parent company of JanSport and Eagle Creek
Interested in hearing how more retail brands are preparing for this year’s holiday season? Check out our Holiday Readiness Hub for brand success stories, interviews with digital experts, helpful UX/UI tips, actionable workshops, and more.