5 things Canadian retailers need to know about the most digital holiday shopping season on record

Eric Morris / October 2020

There’s a lot we don’t know about what this year’s holiday shopping season will bring, but we do know it will be a year like no other. Canadian businesses continue to navigate the pandemic, regional restrictions and changing consumer needs.

Canada is having an e-commerce moment and the way people shop has changed. E-commerce tripled during the early days of the pandemic and while it tapered a bit during summer months, it's quite possible (even likely) it could double this holiday season.

All of this time spent at home has impacted what people are buying and when, and what services they require. More than half of Canadian shoppers say the pandemic has changed the way they shop, and more than one-quarter say shopping is now completely different.1

Here’s what retailers need to know to prepare for the most unpredictable holiday season on record.

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Focus on online traffic, not foot traffic

Don’t expect to see the usual long lines of people rushing store doors on Black Friday or Boxing Day. Even with stores open, one-third of people who usually shop in-store during Black Friday, Cyber Monday weekend plan to shop online this year.2 As well, 65% of Canadians plan to do more of their shopping online than in previous years.3

Is your online experience top-notch? Retailers can win customers with a seamless experience. Make sure your website and product listings are up-to-date and easily found online. Almost half of consumers surveyed said they’d encountered some issues while ordering online during the pandemic and most say they expect things like discounts or clear out-of-stock and delivery notifications.4

Stretch marketing efforts across the season or risk missing out on demand.

Holiday shopping has already started — have you?

Holiday shopping started earlier than ever this year, as many people are choosing to prepare early. Worries about stores running out of stock, decreased store hours and unpredictable delivery times are driving urgency. Even in September, more than one-quarter of Canadians had started their holiday shopping5 and search terms like “gifts for her” were on the rise.

With so much early demand, don’t anticipate a peak. Instead, prepare for a curve. We saw this trend earlier in the pandemic with Mother’s Day shopping. Despite an increase in overall search interest related to Mother’s Day gifts, it was spread across a longer time frame and didn’t reach the same daily peak as 2019.

Make sure your business is helpfully-early this year and stretch marketing efforts across the season or risk missing out on demand. For example, Cyber Monday could become Cyber Month.

The role of the store has fundamentally changed

This year, e-commerce and physical stores will work together like never before. It’s no longer just about online or offline shopping — services like curbside pickup have created an omnichannel blend of the two experiences.

Curbside pickup and click-and-collect are important as consumers are still feeling nervous, and almost half still want contactless options.6 They can also help local businesses capture same-day or last minute demand without investing in additional infrastructure. This can position them to reach last-minute shoppers who miss delivery cutoffs.

Even during the pandemic, Canadians are looking to shop local and support their communities. Search interest for “shop local canada” is up +190% YoY.7 To help customers stay informed of the dynamic environment, it’s critical to keep your online stores and Google My Business profile visible and fresh with COVID-19 updates, the latest information about hours, and contactless pickup and delivery options.

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Gift cards and personal luxuries are the gifts of the season

One of the safest products you can offer is a gift card. They’re easy to send, arrive on time and help businesses lock in revenue, even if they’re facing inventory constraints. Plus, people will want to avoid sending gifts that may need to be returned or exchanged, like clothing. We’re already seeing that 31% of Canadians plan to give more gift cards than in previous years.8

People have been spending more time at home and the products they’re buying reflect that. As consumers gear up for winter, anticipate what products could trend. Will people continue to look for items to fix up their house or pass the time?

We’re seeing a rise in interest for self-care items, self-gifting and small luxuries, such as earrings and golf clubs. Last year, almost half of Canadians were shopping for themselves as they completed their holiday shopping.9 With this year being much more stressful, the trend will likely continue.

There’s a growing appetite for discovering new brands

Supply chain issues and day-to-day repetitiveness have people branching out when it comes to what they buy and from where. One-third of Canadians say they are shopping with retailers they haven’t previously10 and many people are browsing for new online ideas. For example, searches for "online clothing stores" have grown globally by over 100% YoY.11

To gain new customers, retailers need to be visible online, show up when people are searching for products, and show relevant offers for key categories. Be sure to check on search trends and rising retail categories on a weekly basis to catch bursts of product trends as they arise.

The 2020 holiday shopping season may be the most unpredictable in our lifetimes. However, by starting early, addressing new trends and thinking about ways e-commerce and stores can work together, retailers can position themselves for whatever may come.

Eric Morris.jpg

Eric Morris

Managing Director of Retail Google Canada

Sources (9)

1, 10 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, CA, n=1000 online consumers 18+ per market. Oct 8-12, 2020

2, 8 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, Canada n=668 18+ online consumers who plan to shop for the holidays. Aug 27-30, 2020

3 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, CA n= ~730 18 +online consumers who plan to shop for the holidays. June 25-28, 2020

4 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, CA n=1000 online consumers 18+ per market. June 18-21, 2020

5 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, CA, ~n=400-800 online consumers 18+ per market who will shop for the holiday season. Sept 24-27, 2020

6 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 Tracker, CA, n=1000 online consumers 18+ per market. Aug 27-30, 2020

7 Google Trends, Jan 1 - Aug 31, 2020

9 Google/Ipsos, Holiday Shopping Study, CA, n=3,152, online consumers 18+ who conducted holiday shopping activities in past two days, Nov 2019 – Jan 2020

11 Google Data, Global English, Mar 18 - May 16, 2020 vs Mar 18 - May 16, 2019

How the pandemic may affect holiday shopping