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, between 24-39% of shoppers in select European countries that said they normally shop in store for Black Friday say they will not this year1. And between 31% and 61% of shoppers in select European countries say they pandemic will affect how they'll shop for the holidays this year2. 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, between 71% and 89% of shoppers in select European countries used three or more channels to do their holiday shopping ,3 and between 50 and 60% of shopper reported purchases were made online4. This year, we expect those numbers will grow, as between 30-70% of shoppers in select European countries who plan to shop this season said they will shop online more for the holidays than they did in previous seasons.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 on Google Shopping. 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, 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.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.

How the pandemic may affect holiday shopping

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 between 31-65% of shoppers in select European countries who plan to shop this season said they will 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, between 33-63% of shoppers in select European countries who plan to shop this season said they will choose to shop at stores that offer contactless shopping.9 And between 23-49% of shoppers in select European countries who plan to shop this season said they will use options to buy online and pick up in store/curbside.10 In May, Google responded by adding the ability to note which inventory is available for curbside pickup right in your ads.

How the pandemic may affect holiday shopping

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 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 between 70-80% said they 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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