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This season, holiday shopping will look unlike any other year. Canadians plan to shop online more, yet they also intend to stay loyal to local retailers. Add in all the uncertainty and disruption around COVID-19, and your seasonal business planning may need to be tweaked.

Like just about everything else in 2020, holiday shopping trends are expected to be different than years past. According to a Google survey, 65% of Canadians who plan to shop this year will do more of their spending online compared to previous years. At the same time, 71% of consumers surveyed indicate their intent to shop more at local small businesses.

In light of these trends – and given potential supply chain disruptions and the expected strain on shipping services – you’ll want to be proactive in guiding consumer behaviour so that you can meet their needs, regardless of the channel they choose.

Tips for a smooth holiday shopping season Encourage (and reward) early shopping

Supply chain and delivery capacity will be stretched to the limit this year. While consumers may understand that this is the new reality, they may not fully recognize how it could affect their ability to check all the items off their list in a timely manner. Here’s how you can help:

  • Be up front about delays in order to manage expectations. For example: “This item will take three weeks to come in.”
  • Offer timely discounts to get your shoppers to buy early. Amazon’s Prime Day is a perfect example of incentivizing early shopping. Can you create your own version?
  • Get top of mind now. Have a mailing list? Social media account? Work those channels hard now so customers are compelled to start shopping.


Make it easy for customers to shop with you

While your customers will undoubtedly want to avoid crowds and line ups, some will still want to shop with you in person. Others may want to order online but pick up in-store to avoid the uncertainty of holiday delivery. Make every channel as easy as possible:

  • Curbside and in-store pickup have levelled the playing field between local retailers and large eCommerce giants. The same Google survey found that searches for these exploding distribution channels are up 3000% year-over-year as customers look to avoid lining up in stores and potential shipping delays. To make these channels work for your business, make it really easy for your customers and be clear about what to do upon arrival at your location. At the same time, aim to be ready to adapt your processes for upticks in volume – a long line-up of cars may turn potential shoppers away. Scheduled pickup windows and extra resources may need to be introduced.
  • Set targeted store hours. Consider grandparents-only times, or appointment-based shopping to reduce traffic.
  • Set up a gift card program – According to the Q2 2020 global Consumer Gift Card Survey, over 77% of Canadians believe gift cards could be a thoughtful present, given the current economic and social scenario. How can you make yours stand out?


Keep your web site, and your inventory up to date

Customers will be visiting your website to research products and prices before making the decision to purchase from you. In fact, 69% of shoppers plan to confirm that an item is in-stock before going to buy it. Plus, searches for “available near me” have grown globally by more than 100% since last year, highlighting the importance of displaying accurate inventory information.

Make it a safe experience

If you haven’t done so already, consider adding new safety protocols in advance of the holiday curve. From shopping footprints to plexiglass barriers to contactless payment options, be sure to have measures in place that will help shoppers feel secure at your physical location.

If you’ve already adopted some safety protocols, keep in mind your seasonal workers will need to get up to speed. Also, consider extra staff for things like capacity control, cleaning and health screening – and train appropriately.

Have a plan for returns

The holidays don’t end December 24th. According to a survey conducted last year by the Retail Council of Canada, a convenient return policy was one of the top influencing factors for consumers deciding where to shop. This isn’t expected to change in 2020, but the definition of ‘convenient’ might.

Consider what’s right for your business. Whether it’s an extended return deadline, longer store hours during the return period, online returns or curbside returns, it’s important to have a plan that considers safety, foot traffic and customer experience.

This year, advance planning will be a key factor in your ability to manage your inventory, control your cash flow and meet your customers’ needs. The Retail Council of Canada has developed a Shop Early, Shop Safe campaign that offers tips for businesses and shoppers alike. If you can get your customers to do some advance planning of their own, you’ll all be better off!