An Early Start and More Online Orders: How Holiday Shopping Will Change in 2020

Consumer behavior shifts will accelerate

Holiday shopping will be influenced by financial constraints, product shortages and logistics challenges this year. Kacy Burdette
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Key Insights

When it comes to the holiday season, starting early has always been effective for both buyers and sellers. Retailers want to ensure they have goods in stock, along with media buys that will reach the right customers at the right moments. Consumers, meanwhile, risk product outages or late deliveries if they wait too long into the season.

But 2020 is, as we all know, a different sort of year, and it will likely come as no surprise that 2020’s challenges will impact holiday shopping. But that tactic of early action remains relevant given the financial constraints, product shortages and logistics challenges we’ve seen so far this year. And this, of course, has shaped the eight major changes forecasted this season:

It will be the happiest holiday ever for ecommerce.

For starters, expect the shift to online shopping to continue throughout the season.

“I think [it’s] undoubtably and unequivocally going to be the biggest online holiday season that we’ve ever seen,” said Peter Sheldon, senior director of strategy at Adobe.

According to Adobe, 130 days in 2020 exceeded $2 billion in daily online sales by August, with every day in May and June doing so. In 2019, only two days outside the holiday season hit that mark.

“We’ve seen this massive channel shift of consumers being either forced to buy online or having a strong preference to buy online, avoiding the risk of going to the stores or the fact that during the peak of the pandemic, many of the stores were closed,” Sheldon said.

It will start early, likely with Prime Day, and kick into high gear right after Election Day

Holiday offers will appear much earlier this year as retailers attempt to compensate for lackluster sales, consumers grapple with financial struggles and a delayed Prime Day potentially cannibalizes some holiday traffic.

Retailers like Walmart, Home Depot and Macy’s have already announced plans to move their own holiday sales up. These early holiday promotions will also extend longer than usual, with Cyber Monday becoming Cyber November.

“I think what we’ll really start seeing is as soon as the election is over, a lot of retailers will start offering their Black Friday [and] Cyber Monday deals way, way earlier and making them available over a two-plus week period,” Sheldon said.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday will be less meaningful—but not meaningless

We likely won’t see big crowds on Black Friday as early online deals will make the idea of waiting in line for hours and fighting over flatscreen TVs feel “dated and irrelevant,” Sheldon said.

However, both Claire Tassin, a retail analyst at Gartner, and Sheldon agreed there will still be a bump on those traditional days, but it will be smaller as the dates are less meaningful.

Shoppers will go to stores for different reasons

Consumers may not descend upon malls en masse this year, but they will still go to stores—they’ll just be more tactical about it.

Sheldon expects traditional window shopping to be supplanted by online research and for customers to lean hard into pickup services to “make that actual visit to the mall much more orchestrated and a little bit clinical.”

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.