Most retailers are facing their most challenging and complex holiday season ever—and they’ll need to lean heavily on communications to bring all the moving parts together.

Last week we looked at how COVID-19 might impact brands and consumers at Halloween. This week we turn we move beyond it and look at the impact on retailers’ biggest season of the year: the holidays.

The holiday shopping period—officially Black Friday through to Boxing Day—is one of the most critical times of the year for retailers. Holiday sales represent about 20 percent of their annual sales, and that figure jumps to 30 percent for hobby, toy, and game stores.

This year, however, seasonal hallmarks like jammed parking lots and crowded malls will be upended by COVID-19. Between social-distancing concerns and shaky consumer confidence, Holiday 2020 will prove incredibly challenging for retailers. Consider that 71 percent of Americans have said their holiday traditions will change this year, with many gatherings downsized and almost half cancelled. More than a third of U.S. Black Friday shoppers will not be shopping in-store. And half of U.S. shoppers say the pandemic will affect their holiday shopping in general: 33 percent say they’re trying to save money, and 39 percent are planning to spend less on gifts. 

To combat these anticipated reductions, retailers will need to re-shape the holiday shopping experience—and simply pushing customers online is not the solution.

Home Depot is a great example of a brand that knows this, and has responded by creatively re-imagined holiday shopping:

  • It will extend its Black Friday deals for 2 months to avoid the mass crowds in search of one-day Black Friday deals.
  • It is collaborating with Pintrest—a popular source of inspiration for home décor and reno projects—to provide consumers with ideas for creating meaningful and more economical homemade gifts.
  • It will be launching promotions on its mobile app before they appear in-store, encouraging consumers to purchase online. 
  • It will deliver Christmas trees right to customers’ doorsteps.

While these are all smart moves, consider that, in one fell swoop, Home Depot is changing a major sales event, taking on a new partner, revising its channel strategy, and launching a new service. It all adds up to a large undertaking with complex communication requirements.

For the many retailers that will be taking a similar approach to Holiday 2020—juggling more options, more variations, more moving parts—they will need to tightly control their marketing campaigns. They’ll need a higher degree of rigour and oversight, especially across large retail networks with many different locations. More than ever, messaging will need to be well-timed, consistent, crystal clear, and, of course, engaging.

Ticking all these boxes will be extra challenging this year. Brands that can use technology to “manage big” while successfully meeting regional and local store needs will be first out of the gate.