Holiday Season Like No other

By Angela Altass

This holiday season is unlike any other, stated Cinzia Bazzo, national vice president, enterprise sales at Salesforce as she moderated a peak season strategies session during the recent Retail Council of Canada’s Retail Holiday Shopping Forum.

“We enter the peak season with uncertainty around customer shopping behaviours, stores opening or shuttering, and safety,” said Bazzo. “We really can’t rely on past performance data, analytics or trends to help plan for this holiday season.”

Health and safety has become the biggest differentiating factor for people deciding where they will shop, said James Gott, partner at Boston Consulting Group during the online forum.

“Convenience has also risen to be a dominant factor as to what people are looking for,” said Gott. “What is interesting is the new definition of convenience, which is a place where all the safety measures are there but it is still easy to navigate and can be an enjoyable shopping experience.”

 

Speed, convenience and availability will be the name of the game for holiday season shopping, said Gott.

“What we see for the holiday season is more of the same trends that you have seen play out over the crisis to date,” he said, “they are just going to be amplified.”

Luc Dumont, vice president, CPG, at Leger spoke at the forum about consumer shopping intentions for the holidays and the results of a survey conducted with the Retail Council of Canada.

“We are back to 2018 values as to what people anticipate spending this holiday season,” said Dumont. “It is very hard for consumers to know what they will actually spend. It’s usually $200 more than what they anticipate, which says a lot about last minute and impulse purchases.”

 

People are planning to spend less this year and to spend differently, he said.

“There is more uncertainty this year and less of a desire to plan and be definite about your plans,” said Dumont. “More than half of Canadians surveyed said they have less money to spend. Some said that their priorities have changed. There has been a re-examination of what the holidays mean and who they will be spending on and how.”

There is an increased desire to treat oneself this holiday season, said Dumont.

“We see an increase in people saying they will be spending more on self-care,” said Dumont. “There is a significant increase this year, with 26 per cent of people saying they will spend on themselves, compared to 23 per cent last year.”

Retailers will have to adapt this year, noted Dr. Seung Hwan (Mark) Lee, associate professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management, during a recent interview.

“There will be no rush to the mall as this pandemic has really changed the way we shop,” said Lee. “Many people are engaging in online shopping. It’s no longer about going out and buying a gift, wrapping it yourself and giving it to that person the next time you see them at a party. This year, there will not be people browsing around stores. People are going to use more online channels and creative ways to present their gifts to others.”

 

Although online shopping is on the rise, Lee cautions smaller stores not to rush into creating an online presence.

“It takes a long time to develop an online platform and you will be competing with the giants of Walmart and Amazon,” he stated. “If you are going to have an online strategy, you will need to find ways to differentiate yourself and try to be more creative in the way you offer your products.

 

Convenience store owners need to evaluate the traffic they are receiving and be careful not to end up with too much stock or inventory of holiday-themed items after the season is over, said Lee, who recommended paying attention to new habits and traditions that are being formed by consumers.

“People are itching to decorate and do things around the house that can elevate the ambiance of the home,” noted Lee. “Families are spending more time at home and I feel that convenience stores have an opportunity to provide items that can help people elevate the home environment. DIY (do it yourself) has gone through the roof. These are times when people are experimenting and trying out new things at home. Christmas baking and home crafting will continue to soar as people remain in their homes.”

 

Gift giving will still exist this holiday season but traditions will be different, said Lee.

“Some of our habits are changing and there will be different modes of celebration this season,” he said. “What that will look like will be different from family to family. Celebration will still be there but the way we do it will change.”

 

 

 

 

 

Deloitte recently released its’ 2020 holiday retail outlook and noted an acceleration of fundamental shifts in holiday shopping habits of Canadians.

“A lot has changed since last year’s holiday forecast, which seems like it truly belongs to another era,” states the report. “In this extraordinary 2020, our survey finds that holiday spending is expected to fall 18 per cent. One in three Canadians expect to reduce their spending on the holidays this year. Overall, consumers in Canada expect to spend an average of $1,405 during the holidays.”

The reasons for spending less vary. Some survey respondents (44 per cent) are choosing to save than spend, while others (42 per cent) say economic concerns are influencing their decision. Others (41 per cent) are cutting back in response to the impact of higher food prices and another 31 per cent is reducing spending because of a job loss.

 

The survey showed that COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to online shopping and when people do go out, they are less likely to visit multiple stores during a shopping trip.

“I would say that most of the results are what we would have expected,” said Marty Weintraub, partner, national retail leader, Deloitte. “I think what the study confirmed is the magnitude of some of the observations. For example, it’s probably not surprising that we expect holidays to be smaller with less spending as people worry about their financial situation given what has been happening for several months now. One thing that is a little bit surprising is that Amazon has finally overtaken physical stores as where customers are going to start their holiday shopping. Last year, the store was still the key focus but now Amazon is by far number one.”

 

People are likely to start Christmas shopping earlier this year as they are concerned about inventory shortages, said Weintraub.

“We are also seeing strong momentum in deal buying and bargain shopping,” said Weintraub. “I think everything is a bit accelerated but I think there will still be some last-minute shoppers because, at the end of the day, we are all human and some of us procrastinate more than others.”

Convenience is paramount to shoppers, said Weintraub, who feels that people are still going to spend money on entertaining this season, although it will be on a smaller scale and involve fewer people.

“When we go to a store now, we are less likely to linger,” he said. “It is more of a get in and get out situation and the longer we are in this situation, the more likely this type of behavior will become permanent. The convenience store has seen a bit of a mini-boom with a lot of c-stores within walking distance of people’s homes.”

 

Convenience stores have amped up their food offerings, noted Weintraub.

“It’s not uncommon to walk into a c-store now and not just see the traditional salty snacks, beverages and whatnot,” he said. “You are seeing larger pack sizes, more baking products, more food and pantry items. There have always been those items but the difference we are seeing now is in the number of categories, the depth in those categories and the pack sizes.”

As new consumer behaviours get cemented over time, the opportunity for convenience stores to take advantage of that shift will remain post-pandemic, said Weintraub.

“Customers will still be there for those stores after the pandemic because those stores were there for them through the pandemic,” said Weintraub.

 

Catering to last-minute holiday shoppers is still an area where traditional retailers are near unbeatable, says the Deloitte report.

“Physical distancing, regular cleaning, and mask wearing are table stakes for today’s anxious holiday season shoppers,” states the report. “Thirty six per cent of shoppers said they would shop somewhere new based on a retailer’s COVID-19 precautions.”

Enniskillen General Store, with Ontario locations in Enniskillen, Port Perry, Oshawa and Bowmanville, is still feeling the Christmas spirit despite the difficulties of 2020.

“Everything has changed in 2020 but I always felt that Christmas is a magical time of year that draws people together,” said Enniskillen General Store owner Thomas Sheehan. “This year, we want people to feel the magic and spirit of Christmas. We are bringing in about 50 per cent more in Christmas-themed inventory compared to last year. We don’t want to disappoint anyone and we don’t want to run out too soon. I feel that a lot of people are staying close to home and not spending money on travel so they might spoil themselves and their families. That’s our hope anyway.”

 

Enniskillen General Store started to put out a few holiday-themed items in August and continues to increase the amount as the months lead up to Christmas.

“Our staff love it,” noted Sheehan. “We don’t officially decorate the store until November 12 but that is when we go full force and customers seem to love it too. A lot of customers seem concerned that Christmas won’t be as good this year but we are not going to let that happen.”