How the pandemic may affect holiday shopping

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Emily Eberhard / August 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 centres 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.

Even though Sweden nor the Netherlands implemented a full lockdown, both countries have shown a strong shift towards e-commerce over the past few months.1 And in select European countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the U.K.), 24-39% of shoppers who said they would normally shop in store for Black Friday, say they will not this year.2 Indeed, between 31% and 61% of those shoppers say the pandemic will affect how they'll shop for this year’s holiday season.3 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, Danish holiday shoppers made 48% of their purchase online, with 25% reporting that they had spent more time shopping online than in previous years.4 This year, we expect those numbers will grow, as, looking at the U.K., 71% of shoppers who plan to shop this season said they will shop online more for the holidays than they did in previous seasons.5 And out of those, the 81% who plan to shop this season said they will browse for gift ideas online and not in store.6

How the pandemic may affect holiday shopping
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 product listings on Shopping Ads. Businesses should also prepare for more online traffic by optimising their websites for speed and user experience. We’re also assisting retailers by helping them discover fast- rising retail categories and offering free evaluations of their retail websites.

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, between 56-74% of shoppers in select European countries who plan to shop this season said they will confirm online that an item is in store before going to buy it.7 Plus, searches for “available near me” have grown globally by more than 100% since last year,8 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.

Given that the growing customer preference for shopping locally will likely continue into the holidays and beyond, understanding local buying intent will be paramount — 31-65% of shoppers in select European countries who plan to shop this season said they will shop more at local small businesses.9 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, digitised 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, 63% of shoppers in the U.K. that plan to shop this season said they’ll choose to shop at stores that offer contactless shopping.10 And 45% of planned shoppers in France said they’ll use options to buy online, pickup in store/curbside pickup.11 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 shows that between 62-82% of shoppers in select European countries who plan to shop this season said they will plan their shopping earlier to avoid crowds, and 70-80% of planned shoppers will consolidate their shopping to make fewer trips than they did in previous years.12 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.

Emily Eberhard2crop.jpg

Emily Eberhard

Global Head of Retail and Shopping Ads, Google

Sources (12)

1 Google Data/KANTAR, Smart Shopper 2020 Study, Netherlands, Sweden, May 2020. n=1.500 per market, equally distributed per product category.

2 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, UK, DE, FR, IT, ES per market n= ~500-9=800 18 +online consumers who plan to shop for the holidays. June 25-28

3 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, UK, DE, FR, IT, ES n=1000 online consumers 18+ per market. June 25-28

4 Google Data/Ipsos, Christmas Shopping in an Omnichannel World, Denmark, Mar 2020.

5 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, UK n= ~650 18 +online consumers who plan to shop for the holidays. June 25-28

6 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, UK n= ~650 18 +online consumers who plan to shop for the holidays. June 25-28

7 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, UK, DE, FR, IT, ES per market n= ~500-9=800 18 +online consumers who plan to shop for the holidays. June 25-28

8 Google Data, Global English, Feb. 26–April 25, 2020 vs. Feb. 25, 2019–April 25, 2019.

9 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, UK, DE, FR, IT, ES per market n= ~500-9=800 18 +online consumers who plan to shop for the holidays. June 25-28

10 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, UK n= ~650 18 +online consumers who plan to shop for the holidays. June 25-28

11 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, FR n= ~800 18 +online consumers who plan to shop for the holidays. June 25-28

12 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, UK, DE, FR, IT, ES per market n= ~500-9=800 18 +online consumers who plan to shop for the holidays. June 25-28

COVID-19 has accelerated digital adoption — the time to transform is now