What US retail holidays will look like in a COVID-19 world

April 23, 2020
4 min read

The outbreak of COVID-19 is forcing retailers to evaluate just what their supply chains and warehouses can handle. Retailer’s ecommerce channels are seeing huge growth as consumers increasingly shop online to avoid any in-store contact or search for products unavailable in-store. With spring and summer holidays rapidly approaching, retailers have to prioritize necessary products and some are cutting down on sales to discourage large basket sizes, something unheard of in the retail industry, to ease the burden on supply chains. As we saw with Easter, COVID-19 will continue to change the way consumers shop for and celebrate holidays – with Mother’s and Father’s Day up next.

Easter: what happened

As one of the first major holidays under quarantine, Easter was a litmus test for what upcoming holidays may look like. The majority of consumers still celebrated, albeit in less fanfare than usual.

Family fun

With fewer gatherings this spring, retailers turned their focus to crafts and comfort, especially for families with young children. Retailers from Target to Michael’s offered ideas for fun at-home crafts for kids and sweet treats parents could add to their basket as well. While Easter egg hunts were restricted to in-home and backyards only, parents ensured their kids still had a memorable Easter.

Grocers thanked their own

Many grocery retailers, including Target, Trader Joe’s, Sam’s Club, Costco, BJ’s, and Aldi, showed appreciation for their employees who have been dealing with the brunt of consumers during the pandemic by closing their doors for Easter Sunday, giving them all a much-needed break. Other grocers limited their operating hours to allow shoppers to pick-up essentials or last-minute items for small celebrations. Grocers across the nation recognized the hard work of their teams and showed appreciation for their employees who are on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Ecommerce filled in the gaps

Since many shoppers were avoiding stores leading up to the holiday, retailers such as Target, Walmart, Amazon, Michaels, and CVS had dedicated Easter landing pages for their websites. Consumers had to order early, knowing that shipping delays may be an issue but were able to put together Easter festivities for them and their families.

Future holidays: what to expect

Mother’s and Father’s Day will likely be impacted in many US markets as stay-at-home orders remain in place or are slowly drawn back. Many storefronts are likely to remain closed through at least Mother’s Day, and like Easter, online retailers will start messaging earlier. Consumers will begin shopping earlier to avoid potential shipping delays. Since consumers in the US will still be impacted by COVID-19, gifters will focus on items and experiences around health, wellness, spirituality, personal care, or other areas that uplift the mindset of the receiver. Gift cards for future-forward experiences everyone can enjoy together post-pandemic may also see increased appeal. Regardless of the situation, consumers will focus on ways to express their love and gratitude toward loved ones whether or not they can be together in-person.

If restrictions are lessened heading into July, retailers can lead with a “start fresh” mentality as communities slowly open back up and enjoy the summer. Retailers will need to recognize that many consumers have been affected by un- or under-employment in the last few months, which could lead to more controlled spending. Nonetheless, the 4th of July will be a bigger holiday than in years past, especially if most of the US is beyond the worst of COVID-19. Themes of patriotism, unity, and community will resonate with consumers, creating ample opportunity for sales and promotions. Labor Day will also be important as everyone looks to extend their summer as much as possible. Consumers will be looking at retailers for ideas on how to do so.

What we think

Beyond summer, we expect consumers will continue to utilize online shopping as the value and convenience benefits were highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers may not rush into back-to-school shopping as they have in the past. Many will try to make do with financial or inventory limitations. Retailers should look for ways to support financially-strapped families, schools, and teachers who pay for their own supplies. As the winter holidays approach, consumers may start their holiday shopping earlier than usual to take advantage of sales. Overall, winter holiday shopping will be down as consumers navigate a potential recession, a presidential election, and concerns over coronavirus returning. Consumers will continue to gravitate toward gifts that focus on health and wellness and bringing people together.

While consumers’ approaches to shopping for the holidays may differ than in years past, there will be a heightened desire and appreciation for being able to celebrate with others – whatever that may look like.

Katie Yackey
Katie Yackey

Katie Yackey is the eCommerce Analyst at Mintel. She analyzes consumer ecommerce behavior, uncovering how they interact online with brands, retailers, and ecommerce capabilities.

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