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2019 vs 2020 vs 2021: How has Covid impacted Christmas?

(Source: Bigstock.)

Christmas has always been the major peak season for many retailers, but like so many other parts of business operations, the festive season has been impacted by significant changes since Covid hit, some of which may be permanent. 

If you cast your mind back to 2019, Christmas was business as usual. 

“E-commerce was on a steady rise. People were shopping in stores and Black Friday, Cyber Monday were becoming successful sale events on those specific days. But people were starting to shop for Christmas around that time. The traditional Boxing Day Sale period has been diluted over the last decade or so. It’s not what it once was. It’s kind of elongated and stretched out,” noted Adam Ioakim, managing director, APAC at Emarsys.

Twelve months later, we were celebrating the festive season during lockdown, apart from our family, friends and loved ones.

“That year was chaos because the world was in lockdown. E-commerce sales were booming and companies were trying to keep up. We saw a 59-per-cent increase in e-commerce sales from the previous year. The interesting thing is we started to see a few retailers starting Black Friday and Cyber Monday a few days earlier and starting to pull some of that early customer engagement into their pipeline,” observed Ioakim.

Global supply chain fear 

In 2021, the festive period has continued to change. In November, consumers became aware of global supply chain issues, spiking fear into them that Christmas shopping may be a major challenge. Media coverage showed empty shelves in major retail stores and people were being encouraged to shop early and shop fast ahead of the festive season. 

According to Emarsys’ new All I Want for Christmas report, 30 per cent of consumers are worried their gifts won’t make it in time for Christmas Day.

“Supply chains are bending and logistics companies are under immense pressure, because of the volume. It even goes all the way further back into the supply chain of making the goods. If you think of a factory that goes into lockdown, for example, that’s a key component that’s come to an immediate stop – they actually can’t produce your goods. Or if there’s been some bad weather – there have been some terrible weather events in the US – that will impact the supply chain.” 

Consumers will continue shopping earlier 

Ioakim predicts that after the global supply chain debacle of this year, customers will be burnt by the experience in the long-term, forcing them to shop even earlier in the years to come.

“We were already starting to see that Black Friday and Cyber Monday events start earlier because retailers were using that as the catalyst for customers to buy their Christmas gifts. 

I think that will just increase more and more in the future. Retailers will continue bringing their sales forward by a couple of weeks,” Ioakim predicted. 

Unlike previous Christmases, Ioakim is unsure if there will be such an intense last-minute rush to the shopping centre in the future, as it’s possible that many customers would have already completed their gift buying.

“It’s an interesting conundrum for some of the major malls. There used to be 24-hour Christmas shopping in some of the bigger malls, but is that unnecessary now? Or it may be necessary for pickups or click-and-collect. It has really changed the shape of how we shop.

Physical retailers: Now’s the time to shine

With less than a week to go ‘til Christmas, many last-minute shoppers will be heading to brick-and-mortar stores in the next few days. Now is the perfect time for physical retailers to step up and wow customers, said Ioakim.

“I think you have the opportunity now to win some customers. Potentially, they haven’t been exposed to the in-store experience for a long time, so if you can create [an experience] for some of those shoppers, they’ll become brand advocates and come back to your brand, whether that’s in-store, online, on mobile or on social next year.”

Ioakim added that savvy retailers have begun to embrace an omnichannel approach, particularly since Covid hit, as consumers’ shopping behaviour has changed across the board. He believes it’s a permanent change to the mentality of many leading retailers.

“Retailers are now really shifting their thinking. They’re building new distribution warehouses, they’re bringing on more staff to fulfil online orders. They’re looking at a more omnichannel approach. Those are the initiatives that are driving that customer experience – click-and-collect, delivery to boot, virtual styling and reserve-in-store,” Ioakim added.

To find out how you can market to your customers this festive season, visit:

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