How Brands Will Need to Rethink Holiday Planning as They Navigate the New Abnormal

This is the time of year when many marketers begin to plan for the holidays. But I don’t need to tell you that the global pandemic has disrupted our normal ways of working. The retail industry is facing massive shifts that may have a lasting impact. And short-term, it’s making holiday planning more challenging than usual.

No one knows when the pandemic will be over, when stores will reopen, what the new normal will look like or even what the consumer mindset will be as we enter the back half of the year. While this is definitely a unique circumstance, retailers have proven they’re primed to pivot their plans when met with new challenges. Here are three critical factors to consider as you start planning for the holiday season.

1. Rapid acceleration of online purchasing

The current pandemic has pushed online purchasing to levels we were not anticipating for years to come. Consumers are embracing both delivery and buy online pick-up in-store (BOPIS) as solutions to social distancing. There was a 62% year-over-year increase in BOPIS and curbside pick-up between February 24 and March 21, according to Adobe Analytics. And 61% of people surveyed by GlobalWebIndex said that they’re avoiding crowded places because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Even when stores reopen, many of the executives I’ve spoken with are considering the possibility that shoppers may be cautious about returning to brick-and-mortar locations en masse. For the holidays, that means that Black Friday crowds and long lines at registers may be a thing of the past. So, retailers have to think about how to reimagine those experiences for a mobile-first BOPIS and delivery world.

2. Everything is local

Over the next six months, store hours may be disrupted as shelter in place guidelines ebb and flow. Furthermore, each region may have different guidelines, which could create confusion for people who shop at national brands.

Retailers will need to think about how to reduce friction for holiday shoppers by providing clear updates on local store hours, delivery and BOPIS options and even localized promotions.  So, while planning will certainly continue to be centrally driven, messaging will need to adapt to local market conditions.

3. Flexibility first

Adapting to the shifts in the marketplace will require unprecedented levels of flexibility. Featuring holiday party clothes in a market where people are being asked to shelter in place could be tone-deaf. Focusing on housewares for entertaining while people are social distancing may be off-putting.  Supply chain disruptions are likely to continue, meaning that mainstays like circulars and direct mail pieces that are printed months in advance may be less practical.

The ability to change messaging rapidly based on current realities will be key. The challenge for retailers will be ensuring that their creative is appropriate for consumers’ mindset.

How retailers can prepare

There is no question that the holidays this year will be different, but there are some things that retailers can do now to prepare.

For starters, as stores begin to reopen, pressure-test different scenarios. Look to businesses that have remained open. Can you emulate how social distancing worked in other stores? What does curbside pickup look like en masse? How will you drive holiday sales if your stores are closed or empty in November and December?

You should also stress-test ecommerce platforms. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have historically strained supply chains and websites and you can expect that will be exacerbated this year. Find a window over the summer to pump traffic through your ecommerce sites to find friction points and use the rest of the summer to address them.

It’s also critical to plan for flexibility and communication. Work with your agencies, influencers and local stores to think about how to quickly adapt messaging to local needs. Consider using technology like mobile messaging services to provide real-time communication with your customers.