The end of summer is quickly approaching, which can only mean one thing: The holidays are coming.
Like so many other milestones many of us had previously taken for granted, this year’s holidays will be different because of COVID-19. The impact the pandemic has had on the ability to gather and celebrate affects many holiday traditions, including shopping in person. The rise of ecommerce will play a major role this year, with retailers expecting significant upticks in online holiday shopping, and couriers, like UPS and FedEx, charging a premium for what is going to be unprecedented delivery demand.
As with other pandemic-related shifts in consumer behaviors, brands will need to stay alert and ready to adapt. Brands that want to meet demand, scale revenues and have happy customers may find success by launching holiday campaigns early, offering alternative pick-up options and creating online experiences that encourage loyalty, despite shipping and delivery hiccups.
Shipping Costs And Timing Will Be Major Factors This Holiday Season And Brands Should Be Ready
Throughout the pandemic, there have been shipping delays and supply issues. (Throwback to the toilet paper wars of 2020.) Although many of these kinks have been worked out, retailers are bracing for shipping to be very costly this year, with surcharges set to take effect throughout the fall. “Quarterly delivery volumes have climbed about 20% from a year earlier for UPS and FedEx, and 50% for the post office. In the holiday season, total package volume is set to jump as much as 70% from last year,” said Mike Lambert, Chief Operating Officer at Green Mountain Technology, a consulting firm for shippers.
A Wall Street Journal article by Paul Ziobro, who covers the shipping beat for the WSJ, reports that UPS said “the surcharges reflect the available capacity to handle and ship packages.” And, in order to mitigate costs and delays, the courier is encouraging its shippers, many of whom are major retailers, to offer alternative delivery options of their products and avoid buying bottlenecks by spreading out sales and encouraging buying throughout the holiday season instead of just on Black Friday, for example.
The USPS, recently under heavy scrutiny across the country, has also increased pricing for its commercial package customers. “The price increases are not at all surprising. Americans are turning to ecommerce at accelerating rates, and with the pandemic likely to be with us until at least the end of the year, ecommerce demand will stay exceptionally strong for some time,” said Paul Steidler, Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute, a policy think tank.
Brands will need to manage expectations in order to manage shipping delays. By being clear about cut off days for ordering, additional charges and the range of shipping options, brands may be able to avoid dissatisfied customers and still reap the benefits of a busy ecommerce season.
Brands Focused On Consumer Experience And Safety May Find Loyal Customers
There are going to be bumps in the road this holiday season, but brands that can offer otherwise satisfying shopping experiences to consumers, like frictionless payments and comprehensive return policies, are more likely to engender loyalty and patience when supply or delivery issues don’t go as planned. Additionally, brands that offer a variety of delivery options, like curbside pick-up or buy online pick-up in store (BOPIS), can avoid shipping issues, still meet consumer needs and make clear that safety is a priority. For example, doorbuster sales that cause huge crowds are unlikely this year. Instead, brands may opt for email or SMS campaigns that advertise sales with long lead times available online or in-store.
Many retailers have already called off in-store shopping this Thanksgiving, reiterating a commitment to the health and well-being of their customers and emphasizing the importance of family during uncertain times. The move also allows brands to invest more fully in multichannel campaigns that can reach consumers where they are, when they are ready to shop. Brands that are not acting quickly and pivoting as needed are likely to struggle this holiday season, because the pandemic has accelerated the need for digital solutions and smart online strategies. “Those retailers that thought they had time to build new online facilities, build new online experiences, just lost that time,” said Michael Brown, a Retail Management Consultant at Kearney, a consulting firm.
Digital Marketers Should Start Holiday Campaigns Early To Avoid The Holiday Rush
Sapna Maheshwari and Gillian Friedman reported in The New York Times that “companies including Hasbro, Target and Macy’s have signaled plans to offer discounts over a longer period, starting as soon as late October.” And, Macy’s plans to start Black Friday deals “in full force” after Halloween, according to Jeff Gennette, CEO of Macy’s. Walmart recently released its “Hottest Toys” list for 2020, which, while not strictly a holiday promotion, is getting parents in the mindset to start making their lists.
By launching campaigns early, retailers can limit the holiday crush and give themselves a better chance to meet consumer expectations. The supply chain will be impacted less by spreading out sales, and shipping expectations can more easily be managed. (People want their packages on time, they don’t necessarily need them quickly.) There are likely to be many consumers on stricter budgets this year also, who may find a longer shopping season with attractive promotions, more appealing.
It’s important for brands to remember that the holidays – despite how strange and difficult 2020 has been – are special to people. Digital marketing strategies should still be positive, happy and focused on family and the joy of the season. By facilitating frictionless online shopping, that factors in the demands of delivery and changing consumer preferences, brands can focus on making the holiday season successful and reminiscent of seasons past.
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