4 Trends to Expect from the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season


2020 has been full of curveballs, and for retailers, this year’s holiday shopping season is shaping up to be unlike any other. Consumer habits have changed, supply chains have been rattled, and safety — both for consumers and employees — continues to be a serious concern.

As we enter a very uncertain peak retail season, here are some of the trends to expect.


Consumers have already started holiday shopping

Black Friday has historically been a milestone that marks the beginning of the holiday shopping surge, but not this year. According to a survey performed by LendingTree, 25% of respondents said that they had already finished their holiday shopping by the first week of October.

Amazon also informally set the starting line for holiday shopping with Prime Day, which took place on October 13 & 14. Other retailers followed Amazon’s lead and also rolled out deal days around that same timeframe. These early events will likely overshadow Black Friday in terms of overall holiday spending.

Early holiday shopping is good for brands and retailers. Surges in online demand could put a strain on supply chains that are still recovering from a busier-than-usual Q2 and Q3. Many consumers are already anticipating online shopping delays, which is part of the reason they’re starting their shopping early. If enough consumers actually do their shopping early, demand will be staggered, and it will be easier for supply chains to keep up.

As Amazon CFO Brian Oslavsky said in the company’s Q3 earnings call, “It’s advantageous to the customer and probably to the companies for people to order early this year.”


Black Friday is going to look a lot different

Black Friday isn’t canceled this year but there probably won’t be hordes of shoppers stampeding through brick-and-mortar doors as in previous years. Instead, the line between Black Friday and Cyber Monday will be blurred into one giant, month-long discounting extravaganza.

Best Buy, for instance, is offering deals through both brick and mortar and online with the caveat of limited in-store capacity. Best Buy started offering online “Black Friday” deals as early as November 5. Nearly all of the retailer’s Black Friday deals will come available on November 22 and provide the option of contactless curbside pickup, same-day/next-day delivery, or in-store pickup. Best Buy’s official Black Friday deals will end November 27, but its Cyber Monday deals will start on November 28, which is a Saturday.

In short, November is deal month, buckle up.


E-commerce is going to surge for the second time this year

According to a report released by CBRE, online sales are expected to grow a whopping 40% during this year’s holiday season and capture 32% of total retail sales in November and December.

That level of growth is reminiscent of the disastrous online surge that took place in Q2, when states initially went into lockdown causing consumers to flood online. Most retailers and brands weren’t prepared for that initial surge, but many have since worked hard to improve their e-commerce strategy and infrastructure.

Even with the best possible preparation, shipping and supply chain issues are going to pop up. Carriers like FedEx and UPS will be in high demand. As pressure builds, supply chains will need to be flexible and adapt quickly to ensure inventory gets where it needs to go.


Consumer spending will be about the same or slightly less

It’s been a tough year for most. Many people have taken financial hits from loss of income, increased expenses, or both. But despite economic challenges, consumers are mostly expected to spend just as much on gifts as in previous years.

In a survey of 2,000 shoppers, RetailMeNot found that three in five consumers plan to spend the same or more this holiday season. PWC found in its report that 55% of consumers will spend the same or more as they did last year, but that 40% will spend less. CBRE is forecasting holiday retail sales to grow around 2%.


Final takeaway

This year’s holiday season is going to present unique challenges to brands and retailers. Supply chains will be stressed, deal days will be messy, and e-commerce channels are going to spike. The good news is that most brands and retailers have been preparing to meet these challenges. Even so, flexibility and adaptability are going to be critical for overcoming hiccups— foreseen and unforeseen.