Navigating the Unknowns of the 2020 Holiday Season

As 2020 continues to be an evolving situation, one constant remains: People need goods and services. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the average online customer had grown accustomed to two-day shipping—and even next-day shipping in some instances. It quickly became the norm as ecommerce giants, such as Amazon and Walmart, competed to outpace each other to meet consumer expectations. Coronavirus quickly disrupted consumer behavior and businesses have been forced to reinvent the way they deliver products and services.

At the height of the crisis, the shift to online ordering rapidly overwhelmed supply chains and shippers alike. There was far too much demand and not enough supply, leading to some shipping time moving to 5-7 days or even several months depending upon the item. Simply put, this has presented an opportunity for companies to innovate and rise to the challenge of getting their product in front of the customer in new and agile ways.

A yearly conundrum most catalogers face is the identifying the most critical time for the holiday shopper to receive the last holiday catalog so as to allow enough time for an order to be placed and delivered. The typical rule-of-thumb in the print world points to the first week of December being an appropriate time for in-home arrival. As previously discussed, 2020 has been anything but typical. What had been the case in previous years has been upended and has many catalogers questioning just when to mail ahead of the upcoming Holiday season. Will this year’s unforeseen shipping disruption change consumer behavior when shopping this holiday season?

Despite the everchanging variables this year has brought, the majority of consumers will continue with their standard holiday shopping traditions. There will always be the motivated October shoppers looking to get things out of the way and wrapping their gifts by Thanksgiving. Similarly, there will be the procrastinators who wait until the last minute to address their shopping needs. So, regardless of the fluid situation 2020 continues to be, there should be some solace in a cataloger’s mindset that old habits and human behavior are often tough to change in any kind of radical way. This holiday season will undoubtedly teach us some lessons and likely shape the landscape of 2021, so it is important to learn all we can from it.

Analyzing this season’s data will become a key focal point for all businesses to adapt and reorganize efforts as 2021 comes. What mail-date worked? What obstacles did they experience with inventory? How will mailers replicate or remediate the good and bad? There are so many questions that will not be known until we evaluate the 2020 holiday season. The economic backdrop and ongoing pandemic are going to create outliers no matter what. There are simply far too many unknowns in play. As the saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20.” Unfortunately, there is no such thing as hindsight in 2020.