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By Roy Rasmussen Updated on December 17, 2021

How COVID-19 Will Impact Holiday Online Shopping in 2020 (Plus 12 Tips)

There’s little doubt that holiday online shopping will increase in 2020 because of COVID-19. 

Learn what your business should do to prepare. Here are 12 holiday ecommerce tips to help make your shopping season a success:                          

  1. Plan for early shoppers
  2. Prepare your website
  3. Develop digital promotions
  4. Pursue prospecting opportunities with follow-up marketing
  5. Shore up your customer service infrastructure
  6. Plan shipping logistics
  7. Offer shipping options
  8. Allow local in-store pickups and returns when possible
  9. Reassure in-store shoppers of safety measures
  10. Streamline in-store experience for quicker trips
  11. Plan your return policies and procedures
  12. Prepare for post-holiday sales

Learn more about how the coronavirus will affect holiday ecommerce this year and what you can do to make your seasonal sales successful.

How COVID-19 Will Affect Online Shopping in 2020

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers had been going online and starting their holiday shopping early. The coronavirus has accelerated this trend, online holiday shopping statistics show.

More holiday shoppers are buying online than ever before. In 2019, 56% of consumers said they planned to shop online, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) trade association. This year, that number rose to a record 60%.

Online holiday shopping trends also indicate that consumers are starting their shopping earlier than usual this year. The NRF’s research found that 69% of consumers will begin holiday shopping in October this year. Retailers have been anticipating this and preparing for it with early holiday offers. 

For instance, Amazon’s Prime Day, delayed in July because of the pandemic, launched in October this year to kick off holiday sales early, generating record-breaking sales of $3.5 billion across 19 countries.

Smart retailers are preparing to weather the pandemic by opening their doors online early this year. However, this doesn’t mean that in-store sales will disappear. While 60% of U.S. consumers are afraid of catching the coronavirus in stores, the same number have already returned to shopping at nonessential stores, according to in-store marketing provider Mood Media

If you run a brick-and-mortar business, you should still be prepared for in-store shoppers. However, you should also have an ecommerce strategy in place to capture the increasing share of buyers who are shopping online.

12 Holiday Ecommerce Tips for Businesses

While COVID-19 will change the way consumers shop this year, you can still enjoy increased year-end sales if you prepare. Here are some ways you can adjust your ecommerce strategy for the holidays in 2020, along with some tips on how to adapt your in-store strategy if you run a brick-and-mortar operation.

A store owner wearing a mask and decorating her shop for the holidays.

1. Plan for Early Shoppers

The 2020 ecommerce holiday shopping has already started. Consumers are no longer waiting for Black Friday to begin gift shopping. This doesn’t mean retailers should abandon Black Friday sales, but it does mean that being ready early can help you capture early sales. 

If possible, have your holiday shopping infrastructure in place ahead of time this year. If it’s too late for you to beat the Black Friday deadline this year, set an intention to be prepared for early shoppers next year.

2. Prepare Your Website

To prepare for holiday ecommerce, it’s critical to make sure your website is ready for digital shoppers. Do a pre-holiday audit of your site to make sure you’ve covered essential bases. For example:

  • Is your site mobile friendly?
  • Is your site compatible with all major browsers?
  • Does your site use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) for security?
  • Does your site provide unique content relevant to your target market?
  • Does your site structure make it easy for human users and search engines to find your content?

Google has provided a search engine optimization (SEO) starter guide with a checklist to help your webmaster make sure your site is ready for traffic.

3. Develop Digital Promotions

To increase traffic to your website for the shopping season, you can create special holiday promotions and other promotional content. Holiday promotions can include seasonal content, such as blog and social media posts with holiday themes, as well as ads for holiday sales offers. 

Promote your holiday content and offers through digital tools such as your blog, social media accounts, videos, emails and texts.

4. Pursue Prospecting Opportunities With Follow-up Marketing

Website visitors and social media followers may not immediately make a purchase, but if you persist with follow-up marketing attempts, you still may land a sale. 

Implement mechanisms for capturing prospect contact information and following up with website visitors, such as:

  • Email subscription registration forms
  • Text marketing registration forms
  • Retargeting ads, which use cookies to display ads to visitors on other sites after they leave your site

Use customer relationship management (CRM) software to store prospect data and track your follow-up marketing campaigns.

5. Shore Up Your Customer Service Infrastructure

Increased holiday traffic and sales place an added workload on your customer service team. Make sure your customer support infrastructure is prepared for the added volume. Use your current sales numbers and customer service data to extrapolate and your holiday sales projections to estimate how much increased support you’ll need to handle during the holiday season.

In some cases, you may need to hire additional staff or invest in customer service automation. If this is the case, review your cash-flow projections to determine whether you need to seek business financing to cover holiday expenses.

6. Plan Shipping Logistics

Increased holiday sales volume may place an additional load on your logistics operation. Make sure that you will have enough inventory available to meet holiday sales demand. Automated inventory management software can help you make more accurate estimates.

You also should review your shipping arrangements to make sure that you will be able to ship holiday orders on time without exceeding your budget. The U.S. Postal Service provides a table of holiday shipping dates with recommended deadlines for sending orders on time using various shipping methods. Do an estimate of your projected holiday shipping costs, and consider whether you need a small business loan or other form of financing to handle any increased expenses.

A delivery truck zooms away.

7. Offer Shipping Options

With Amazon and other companies popularizing free and expedited shipping, offering shipping options and discounts has become a way to stay competitive. United Parcel Service suggests several ways companies can manage the costs of free and expedited shipping options:

  • Build shipping costs into the cost of your product
  • Limit free shipping to customers who exceed a minimum purchase threshold
  • Offer free shipping only for a limited time
  • Give customers the option of choosing free shipping with a longer shipping time
  • Offer free shipping as a customer loyalty perk
  • Use free or expedited shipping as a one-off reward

You can combine these methods with holiday sales offers. For example, you might offer free shipping as an incentive for customers who buy from you before a certain date.

8. Allow Local In-Store Pickups and Returns When Possible

Some online shoppers feel more inclined to buy if they have the option of picking up or returning their online order at a local store. 

Despite the convenience of online shopping, 65% of shoppers born between 1994 and 2002 prefer to physically handle an item before making a purchase, and 35% don’t feel comfortable making a purchase online, according to a survey by digital advertising platform provider Criteo. 

You can make online shoppers feel more at-ease by extending them the option of picking up or returning items at a local store, if this is feasible for your business model.

9. Reassure In-Store Shoppers of Safety Measures

Consumers shopping at stores this year are concerned about catching the coronavirus. You can ease their anxiety by taking strong safety measures and letting your customers know what steps you’re taking. 

The safety measure which most reassures shoppers is requiring all visitors to wear a mask, according to Mood Media’s survey. Other safety measures you can take to reassure customers include:

  • Using plastic screens
  • Providing hand sanitizer
  • Allowing cashless payments
  • Providing temperature-taking sites

Adopt the measures most applicable to your workplace set-up.

10. Streamline In-Store Experience for Quicker Trips

Another safety measure you can take is organizing your checkout process to shorten in-store trips. This helps customers feel safer, while also saving them time. Review your checkout process and look for changes you can make which might shorten wait times. 

Techniques you can use to make wait times feel shorter for customers include:

  • Providing up-front estimates of wait times
  • Overestimating wait time so that customers are pleased when actual wait time is shorter
  • Offering customers something to do while waiting in line
  • Providing separate lines for routine checkouts and for service issues likely to take more time
  • Allowing prepaid customers who are making in-store pickups to use quicker lines

Any steps you can take to reduce customer wait time will improve their experience and promote repeat business.

11. Plan Your Return Policies and Procedures

Returns are an inevitable part of holiday shopping. Prepare for returns in advance to provide your customers and staff with a smooth return experience. 

Develop clear language stating your returns policies, and post it on your website and in your store where it is clearly visible to customers. Standardize your returns procedures, seeking to make them as simple as possible. 

Strive to make the returns experience hassle-free for your customers so that they still want to buy from you again.

12. Prepare for Post-holiday Sales

Make the most of holiday sales by using them as an opportunity to build long-lasting relationships with customers and lay the groundwork for future sales. 

Enter buyer information into your customer database so that you can pursue follow-up marketing after the holiday season. Develop cross-sell and upsell offers designed to appeal to holiday buyers. Keep in touch with customers over the course of the year, sharing content and extending periodic sales offers. 

By building a long-term relationship, you can use this holiday season to set the stage for sales next year and in years to come.

Plan Your Holiday Ecommerce Strategy for a Strong Sales Season

In a shopping season where more consumers are buying online, your ecommerce strategy can be the key to solid year-end sales. 

Developing a winning digital holiday sales strategy may require an up-front investment to cover expenses such as web development, marketing and payroll. If you need working capital to cover your holiday expenses, consider applying for a short-term business loan or other form of business financing.


Roy is a respected, published author on topics including business coaching, small business management and business automation as well as an expert business plan writer and strategist.
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