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Mary McIlrath, Senior Vice President

So, shopping has been crazy for families this year, trying to stay on top of having enough hand sanitizer and snacks. Back to School season was so strange that we wrote three blogs about it—and it all started with Amazon Prime Days being postponed indefinitely in July.

Let’s all take a deep breath together (seriously…one, two, three, in, and exhale), and buckle up for holiday shopping for families in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.

holiday shopping during covidHere are the big differences between this year and last:

  • The National Retail Federation released a new “Shop Early, Shop Safe” campaign encouraging shoppers to get out while the weather is still relatively warm to avoid lines to get into stores later in the season, avoiding crowds, and boosting social distancing.
  • Keep in mind that the U.S. unemployment rate for September 2020 was 7.9%, which is an improvement, but which also reflects adults who have simply stopped searching for a new job. Some parents have instead found themselves as unpaid virtual learning supervisors, and those extra $600/week federal stimulus checks may have been long spent.  As of press time, the federal government is proposing a new plan to boost unemployment checks by $400/week, but that funding is limited—and won’t go to anyone who is no longer on the unemployment rolls. Net-net, families are likely to have more money to spend now rather than closer to the December holidays—and every retailer wants to get their fair share of purchases.
  • Walmart’s Big Save Event is the early bird, running from October 11-15, and Amazon moved Prime Days from July to October 13-14, the same dates as Target’s Deal Days.  Plenty of other retailers who were waiting to see what this Holy Trinity of competitors put together have announced early shopping deals too.
  • Retailers Kohl’s, Best Buy, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, plus Walmart and Target, have announced they won’t be open on Thanksgiving this year, stemming the Black Friday “creep” that has kept cashiers away from turkey leftovers and ringing up doorbusters for the last several years.
  • Best Buy is also partnering with grocery delivery service Shipt to offer same-day local delivery in some markets, and offering it free with a $35 purchase. Look for more of these partnerships to pop up for shoppers who don’t want to go into a brick and mortar store, but also want to spread their dollars around while finding the best deals.
  • This shakeup in the approach to Holidays 2020 could also be a boon for small businesses like the mom & pop stores who hadn’t quite ironed out details for online shopping last year, but who have adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • We also recognize that parents want to create a sense of stability and normalcy, to protect their kids from another disruption in a year fraught with them. This could lead to a last-minute rush of purchases in December as parents stuff stockings, try to equalize what they’ve spent on each child, or realize that they forgot someone on their list. Stay tuned.

In parents’ own words (from our Say What? Video Journals):

“I'm hoping to start soon because I'm afraid there will be shortages on things because of less availability because of COVID.”

“I will be doing more online shopping. We also talked about focusing on gifts that we really want and not just random things that we see on TV.”

“I'll be shopping earlier because I won't be getting together with as many family members as usual. So we'll have to ship more gifts, which means buying more things online, and buying more things that will ship for free or ship inexpensively, like lighter-weight things or smaller things.”

“I tend to frequent our local business establishments, our local small business owners. This year, without that ability, I'm going to have to resort to online shopping, which is something that I don't like doing.”

“I have already done all of my Christmas shopping. I did that early this year due to the whole COVID thing. I did mostly online shopping.”

“I'll be buying presents based of the reviews, instead of being able to go to the store and actually look and take my children to the stores and let them pick out different things that they might like.”

“Normally, I try to buy experiences as opposed to just things. So trips or places to go, or classes to take, all those things are non-existing right now. My chances of doing that are pretty slim. I expect it will be more actual gifts. If I can go back to it next year, to doing experiences versus actual physical presence, I will gladly do that because I don't need more stuff in my house.”
 

OUR POV:

Everyone has that one friend they love to hate, who has their shopping done by Labor Day every year. This year we’re all learning from that friend. Will it stick in the long term? Here at YouthBeat, we think in the coming years that parents who have to hide presents around the house, or extended families who enjoy holiday shopping together, might ease back into some of their old last-minute ways. But just for 2020, keep your hands and feet inside the car, and enjoy the ride.

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