This year has brutal on the retail industry. Many stores haven’t survived 2020, and those still kicking have needed to change in order to keep shoppers safe and satisfy completely different needs.
With the holidays coming, we’re about to see just how different the annual buying bonanza will become. The deals will probably be just as tempting as ever, but you certainly won’t see the same stampede of frantic customers tripping all over each other on Black Friday.
Here are 10 ways your holiday shopping will be different this year — from what you buy to how you buy it — plus some tips on how to take full advantage of the changes
1. Deals will be drawn out
Even before the pandemic arrived, people were eager to avoid the throngs of last-minute holiday shoppers. That’s getting a little easier in 2020.
Many retailers are starting their sales much earlier in the year, hoping to encourage a steady flow of customers over weeks instead of a sudden rush over a few days. Home Depot announced two months of holiday discounts. Walmart is offering three shopping events throughout November, online and in-store.
Of course, you can always skip the in-store swarm entirely by shopping online. That method offers additional benefits, like access to a free browser extension that will compare prices across the internet to make sure you’re really getting the best deal.
2. Shipping delays may be major
Here’s another reason not to leave the gift-getting to the last minute.
Online shopping has already surged to new heights this year, and analysts tell CNBC that the holiday rush will probably exceed capacity between late November and Boxing Day. If you want your presents delivered by Christmas Eve, you may need to order them as early as Dec. 15.
If your retailer of choice offers curbside pickup, that may be a wiser option to ensure you get your gifts on time.
3. Spending will be at the extremes
This has been a year of instability and inequality. If you’ve suffered from a layoff, seen your hours cut or watched your business dwindle, you’re probably going to have a pretty tight budget for your holiday shopping.
However, many other people have spent the year saving up. They haven’t spent a dime on parties or travel and have slashed their monthly expenses by taking advantage of today’s record-low interest rates.
Anyone in good financial shape will have plenty of extra wiggle room for presents and decorations. Anyone feeling the pinch will need to stretch their money; one option is to use an app that gives you cash back when you shop just for taking a photo of your receipt.
4. Americans will appreciate practical presents
Concert tickets and gift cards for the movies aren’t going to cut it this year.
Your friends and family will likely ask for gifts that come in handy at home, like fitness equipment, comfortable clothing, home office tools and kitchen supplies.
You may also prefer to choose virtual gifts, such as video games, that you can just email instead of delivering by post, especially if you’re holding Zoom gatherings instead of in-person family get-togethers.
5. Retailers will close for Thanksgiving
In a break from recent practice, many major retailers have announced that they will close up shop on Thanksgiving Day.
Macy’s, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Target, Walmart and Sam’s Club are just a few of the retail titans that will shutter for the holiday.
So don’t count on Nov. 26 for an early start to your Black Friday shopping, and grab your cans of cranberry sauce the day before.
6. Stores extend price-matching and return policies
If you thought you were getting the best deal possible on those noise-canceling headphones, only to discover a cheaper price, you might be able to get a refund for the difference — even on a shopping holiday.
Typically, retailers suspend price-matching from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, but some retailers are forgoing the blackout period this year.
Target, for example, is extending its normal two-week window, saying any Black Friday purchases made in November will qualify for an adjustment if the price goes down before Christmas.
7. You’ll see more buy now, pay later options
Retailers recognize that some of you could be strapped for cash right now.
“Buy now, pay later” options gained a lot of traction this year. Stores like Nordstrom, Sephora and Macy’s are now allowing customers to pay for gifts in small, interest-free installments online.
Shoppers hoping to defer their payments must pass a quick credit check, so make sure your credit score is in good shape before you order.
8. Look for arm’s-length shopping
The super-long sale isn’t the only tactic retailers are using to keep in-store shopping safe.
Lululemon is opening extra pop-up locations to spread out visitors, even in malls where the yoga chain already has stores.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Victoria’s Secret is experimenting with mobile checkout to prevent customers from congregating at the cash registers. Sales staff would accept your card wherever you happen to be, similar to the way you can pay at an Apple store.
9. Expect discounts across the board
You’ve witnessed the giant markdowns on electronics and housewares during the holiday season before, but this year big discounts could apply to other categories as well.
Dana Marineau, chief marketing officer at Rakuten Rewards, told Huffington Post that stores have likely hoarded a ton of excess apparel, shoes and accessories that they’ll try to get rid of by offering deep price cuts.
You can sweeten the deal even further by using free gift cards, which you can earn just by answering surveys and watching videos online.
10. Shipping incentives will be sweeter
Companies aren’t just urging customers to shop online; they’re making it easier, faster and cheaper to get your good delivered once you’re done.
Bed Bath & Beyond is now offering same-day delivery. Walmart launched a paid membership in September, giving subscribers unlimited free delivery.
And while Amazon already offers discounts for “no rush” shipping, Bloomberg expects other retailers may incentivize slow delivery to cope with the anticipated surge in orders.