How COVID Will Impact 2020 Holiday Shopping and Impulse Buying

impulse purchase cartoon feature

Impulse buying is synonymous with holiday shopping. Think about it – you walk into a store, with your gift list for family and friends and all the best intentions, but something catches your eye from a great display and your cart has now exceeded your list. Well, you are not alone as 9 out of 10 holiday shoppers typically do just that! Fast forward to 2020, however, which will be anything but typical.

Impulse buys are more difficult to motivate online during a massive shift to online buying, with ecommerce penetration now estimated in the mid-20% range. Still, according to recent research from Valassis, 35% of consumers recognize and consider themselves to be predominantly impulse shoppers (up from 28% in 2019). Retailers are well attuned to this behavior, stocking impulse goods they expect to fly off the shelves. These extra purchases cater to consumers’ desire to treat themselves and buy something unexpected, all part of experiential shopping. While retailers regularly look to capitalize on it, the process is being disrupted by the pandemic.

With state and local restrictions in place, coupled with the shift in consumer behavior and increased safety concerns, retailers must reorient their strategies to this in-the-moment, evolving landscape. While retailers are feeling pressure to make up for lost sales and time, many are also managing the challenges of disrupted supply chains. As retailers approach the holiday season, they’ll need to navigate these challenges to maximize profit during the biggest selling season of the year. They must focus on timely deals and multichannel visibility to motivate engagements.

Here are three strategies for retailers to consider as a way to boost holiday purchase behavior during a time when the “new normal” feels like anything but.

Promote Early and Often

Holiday shopping and planning are under way earlier than ever. As stores began re-opening, they offered summer sales and incentives to lure shoppers back. Promotional events will continue throughout the fall with holiday top of mind.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to offer incentives and experiences that make you stand out now. Remember, consumers crave normalcy – and deals! According to Valassis research, 70% of consumers say they’ve increased their savings activity while shopping during COVID-19, and more than 75% expect to continue these habits post-pandemic. Traditional shopping events are also expected to look different this year, as many big-box retailers plan to close Thanksgiving Day. Therefore, it will be crucial for retailers to get in front of consumers earlier and promote valuable deals to motivate purchases.

More than three quarters of consumers (77%) say they can be swayed by advertised promotions or sales, according to Valassis research. This statistic is also significantly higher for certain demographics including dads (89%), millennials (87%) and parents in general (86%). Additionally, 60% indicated coupons or discounts can inspire them to try a new product, and 54% said it would lead them to make an impulse purchase.

Online Strength Working in Tandem with In Store

Social distancing has driven many shopping experiences online, including product research and conducting buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) transactions. Another Valassis consumer survey found that 57% of consumers are increasing their frequency of online shopping during the pandemic.

Given these factors, ecommerce is still an underutilized asset for some retailers and can indeed complement the in-store experience, with BOPIS as a great example. Once they’re in store, consider how you can activate that impulse buy.

It’s essential that your website is up to date with the latest deals and accurately reflects available inventory and store information. If a product is noted as out of stock online but is available in store, that’s a missed purchase opportunity. Conversely, if a product is listed as available in store, make sure that it is or you risk losing the customer.

Multichannel Flexibility

As consumers continue leaning into holiday savings, it’s important that you reach them with deals and touchpoints across channels during planning and even post-purchase to build lasting relationships. This requires a holistic, balanced approach to omnichannel marketing. Don’t discount the power of print: Direct mail remains the preferred method of receiving coupons for 59% of consumers. Additionally, 37% of them have become more excited to receive their mail, and 30% are spending more time reading promotional messages in the mail than before the pandemic.

It’s important that retailers tweak campaigns and engagement channels as needed based on dynamic, rapidly changing consumer behavior. Social media and mobile consumption have taken on greater roles in influencing buying decisions. Valassis research reveals that 35% of consumers say they’ve made an unplanned purchase based on something they saw on social media, up from 30% in 2019. Additionally, 51% of millennials and 43% of Gen Z shoppers scan receipts with their mobile device to receive cash back or points post purchase, compared to 31% of all consumers.

As consumers begin their holiday shopping earlier this year, retailers have a unique opportunity to cater to dynamic consumer behaviors to provide the savings and experiences they demand. With retailers working to re-establish existing relationships and attract new customers, they need to prioritize flexible, seamless shopping experiences that meet shoppers at the right place and time.

Dave Cesaro is Executive Director of Client Strategy for Retail at Valassis

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