How the pandemic may affect holiday shopping

Emily Eberhard / July 2020
An illustration of a woman with long black hair standing between two life-size browser windows, one with a shopping cart and with an online chat in progress. She is holding a giant credit card.

If you’re anything like me, when you imagine the start to the holiday season, you probably envision shoppers lined up at shopping centers before sunrise for Black Friday deals or rushing to stores in the days before December 25. But we know shopping this year is likely to be quite different.

For instance, more than a third of U.S. shoppers who normally shop in store for Black Friday say they won’t this year.1 And half of U.S. shoppers say the pandemic will affect how they’ll shop for the holidays this year.2 This makes it hard for retailers to plan as they normally would, in a time when many badly need a successful season. This holiday season will be about who can respond most quickly instead.

To help retailers plan and respond this season, we have insights and resources available in our 2020 retail guide, and, in June, we surveyed global consumers to better understand how the coronavirus pandemic will impact their holiday shopping. Here’s how people plan to shop differently this year.

People will discover and buy online even more

The holidays are a traditionally heavy online-shopping season. Last year, 78% of U.S. holiday shoppers used three or more channels to do their holiday shopping,3 and 58% of shopper-reported purchases were made online.4 This year, we expect those numbers will grow, as almost 75% of U.S. shoppers who plan to shop this season said they will shop online more for the holidays than they did in previous seasons, and a similar number said they would browse for gift ideas online and not in store.5

Retailers should ensure digital strategies remain agile to meet customers where and when they feel comfortable.

That means it will be vital for retailers to be discoverable online. To make your products discoverable, you can show them in free product listings on Google Shopping and Search in the U.S. Businesses should also prepare for more online traffic by optimizing their websites for speed and user experience. We’re also assisting retailers by helping you make your products available for purchase directly on our platforms with no commission fee.

When people do shop in store, they’ll plan ahead and research online

Prior to the pandemic, the in-store shopping experience often began long before shoppers arrived at a store. This is even more true today, as availability and local convenience has become a priority. In fact, 67% of shoppers said they plan to confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it.6 Plus, searches for “available near me” have grown globally by more than 100% since last year,7 underscoring the importance of accurate inventory information. To alleviate the guesswork for shoppers, ensure your information is up to date and easily accessible with help from local inventory ads.

Illustration of a brick-and-mortar store with a cute awning and a sign in the window. Overlaid is a green pie chart wedge indicating the statistic 66%. Text reads: 66% of shoppers will shop more at local small businesses.

Given that the growing customer preference for shopping locally will likely continue into the holidays and beyond, understanding local buying intent will be paramount — especially since 66% of shoppers said they plan to shop more at local small businesses.8 Consider providing shoppers with the right information about products available at your store, operation hours, and health and safety policies with tools like Local campaigns to reach people near your stores, across different locations.

People will seek safer, digitized ways of shopping in store

When shoppers do decide they’re willing to shop in store, it’s no surprise that safety is a key concern. This means what’s considered “in-store” shopping may look different this year, as alternatives like curbside pickup and contactless buying become the norm. As proof, 53% of shoppers that plan to shop this season said they’ll choose to shop at stores that offer contactless shopping.9 And 47% of planned shoppers said they’ll use options to buy online, pickup in store/curbside pickup.10 In May, Google responded by adding the ability to note which inventory is available for curbside pickup right in your ads.

Illustration of a mobile phone with a shopping bag on the screen. Overlaid is a green pie-chart wedge indicating the statistic 47%. Text reads: 47% of planned shoppers said they’ll use options to buy online, pickup in store/curbside pickup.

In-store shopping demand is prone to vary throughout the season, with people likely opting to shop during less volume-heavy times. Our research found that 70% of shoppers said they intend to plan their shopping earlier to avoid crowds, and 80% of planned shoppers will consolidate their shopping to make fewer trips than they did in previous years.11 Since online and in-store traffic is sure to fluctuate, retailers should ensure digital strategies remain agile to meet customers where and when they feel comfortable. Leveraging automated solutions, such as Smart Bidding with store visits, is one way to do this.

While this holiday season is one we’ll all be watching closely, it’s helpful to know that shoppers will be thinking — and buying — with a digital-first mindset. To stand out this year, ensure you’re giving people the information they need and the experience they expect.

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