Are you ready for the holidays?

Every year the folks at consulting firm Deloitte come out with predictions for the holiday shopping season. This year they’re projecting that spending from November to January will increase 1% to 1.5% and – if we get another round of stimulus from Uncle Sam, those numbers could rise. Considering that a recent TransUnion study showed that COVID-19 continues to impact the finances of 52% of Americans (hitting Hispanic consumers and Americans with children at home even harder), I wasn’t expecting that.

Accounting for the rise, Deloitte and others point to the strength of e-commerce, which may really be the gift that keeps on giving. Although just half of consumers did the bulk of their holiday shopping online last year, this year nearly-three quarters say they plan to do so according to CreditCards.com. Millennials are leading the way here with 74% steering clear of brick-and-mortar stores this year, compared with 70% of Gen Z, Gen X and Baby Boomers. Why are they sticking so close to their computers and mobile devices? Convenience is the most cited reason – even topping the desire to avoid human contact among the older folks who are likely to be most at-risk of COVID-19.

And you can expect this holiday season to be different in a few other ways as well. For instance:

· Halloween’s loss may be the rest of the season’s gain. Every year, about 40% of shoppers start their holiday shopping before Halloween. This year, with a bit of a damper on other Halloween activities (the number of people trick-or-treating and handing out candy is down according to the National Retail Federation, although the number who say they’ll decorate their homes is up), it may begin earlier still. Keep your eye on 10/13/20 – that’s being reported as Amazon Prime Day (although Amazon has yet to confirm) other than saying it will be in October. Whenever it falls, it will likely mark the start of the holiday shopping season.

· If you like it, don’t wait to buy it. Inventories are expected to be leaner this season than in years past – in part because retailers who struggled through the pandemic (in some cases filing bankruptcy) didn’t order as much as they typically would. If you suspect an item is going to go quickly, go ahead and buy it. Then, save your receipt and watch for sales. Typically if the price falls within the next two weeks many retailers will give you credit for the difference.

· Consider curbside pickup. The closer it gets to the holidays, the more you’ll pay for shipping. Fed Ex, the USPS and UPS have all said that they will be imposing surcharges during peak season. Some retailers may absorb some of these charges, but others will likely pass them along to consumers. Do the math to figure out if you’re better off spending the money on gas and time out of your day to pick the item up or having it shipped to your door. Also: Cutoffs for holiday delivery will likely come sooner than in prior years.

· Experiences are out. Cozy is in. Shopping patterns thus far during the pandemic have given us a heads up about where we’re likely to spend this holiday season. With many theaters still dark, travel slow and other in-person experiences still unavailable, chances are good we’ll be gifting more things this season. Beauty products (particularly skincare), anything for the home (because we’re all nesting) and cozy scarves and sweaters (who doesn’t need a little comfort right now) will all be popular gifts this season.

· Let’s bake. Finally, if you are the holiday cookie, bake for the crowd type, you may want to load up on flour and yeast while the getting is still good. We ran out of those things early in the pandemic. You don’t want to run short on them now.

Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky

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