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Holiday shopping adapts to the hunkered down mood during the pandemic, with new highs in online sales and higher expectations of customer service.

COURTESY: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY  - Center for Retail Leadership students study change int eh shopping industry. 2020 is a banner year for seismic shifts to online shopping.

Holiday shopping in 2020 will look very different, thanks to shop-from-home aficionados and adaptation by the big brands.

"Black Friday has become a longer shopping period," said Jennifer Nolfi, executive director of the Center for Retail Leadership at Portland State University's School of Business.

The reason is partly strategic and partly being mindful of and sensitive to customers.

"One reason is that retailers are trying to avoid having throngs of people in their stores to ensure safety and social distancing. The other is to allow people to shop over a longer period of time and avoid that stress of 'Oh my god, the holidays are here,' given that so many people are dealing with stress anyway."

Despite the recession, consumer spending is strong.

The National Retail Federation has forecast that holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. That compares with a 4% increase last year and an average holiday sales increase of 3.5% over the past five years.

The NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, will increase between 20% and 30% to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year.

Nolfi notes that brands are trying to offer an array of services to capture that electronic dollar. This means offering multi-channel discounts — often the same doorbuster prices are available online as in stores. And some are mixing it up.

"Bed Bath and Beyond were offering some different deals in store and online on different days just to kind of keep it fresh and keep consumers coming back to their website."

COURTESY: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Portland State University Center for Retail Leadership Executive Director Jennifer Nolfi.

Cyber Monday has for 20 years been the Monday after Thanksgiving when people go looking for their Black Friday choices cheaper online than in store. "Cyber Monday has become part of this whole month long, Black Friday deals. But (retailers) anticipate kind of a little bit of a surge after the holidays, when people go to buy with their gift cards."

Local, local, local

"I used to be the city small business advocate many years ago for Portland and they're struggling right now. A lot of them are brick-and-mortar first, and to make that pivot and investment to be online takes resources. They're trying to run a business and a local website. Those businesses that are able to make that pivot are going to be more likely to be successful. But that's been a huge transition for people."

According to Adobe Analytics data, $58.9 billion has been spent online from Nov. 1 to Nov. 23, growing at an unprecedented 32% year-on-year as people stay home and cut back on in store shopping.

"Cyber Week" is now "Cyber Month." On Sunday, Nov. 22, major discounts kicked in for computers (average savings of 27.8%), appliances (17.3%), toys (17%) and the broader electronics category (23.6%). As a comparison, last year on the weekend before Thanksgiving, computers were discounted by 15% and toys by 7%.

Some sites have sprung up to help Portlanders and Oregonians shop local.

"Built Oregon is incredible, it's very curated. So it gives the shopper as much as possible this experience of discovery of local small businesses. It helped create that online platform for a lot of businesses who didn't have it." One subset of Built Oregon is My People's Market a marketplace for Portland people of color.

The city of Portland and Prosper Portland, the city's economic development agency, recently launched ShopSmallPDX.com to promote small businesses throughout the city, because local retailers earn most of their revenue during November and December.

Local businesses are trying to bring some life back to Pioneer Courthouse Square. Colored dots have appeared on the ground in the square and all over downtown. Local commercial real estate mogul Pete Mark has led the effort with artist Paul Andrews.

The annual tree lighting was a one hour TV special Friday evening, November 27, with help from last minute corporate sponsors Regence, and help form musician Thomas Lauderdale.

Organizers point out that they are working with Pioneer Courthouse Square leader Jennifer Polver, and not waiting for City Hall or the Portland Business Alliance.

Other private ventures to promote local businesses over big box e-tailers such as Amazon and Walmart include Sook , a Chrome browser plugin that can tell when you are searching and pops up with alternatives from independent boutiques and small businesses.

Seamless experience

Nolfi added, "COVID is drastically forcing us to change how we do business. Technologies that were on the timeline for five years are now being rapidly advanced to try and help businesses pivot in this online environment. Consumers are going to continue to seek this interactive experience across different channels with brands and they want a consistent experience. If I go in the store or I go online, I know what to expect from that particular brand."

Brands that can do a good job of making the experience feel seamless across channels are going to do well, and reap more intelligence the more product they sell.

"Data analytics (of) the data that retailers and brands are collecting on consumers is going to create a more customized experience."

The challenge there is privacy, and how much consumers will be willing give up to get a hot purchase.

Nolfi said people will always want to touch and try on a product, especially the first time they buy it, so stores are having to adapt. There will be more stores offering limited showrooms, where customers select a product and then have their size and color delivered to them days later.

"When we come out of this with a vaccine, I think there'll be definitely a lot more people going to in store to get that experience again. The purchases will still stay online, but I think more people will be in store to experience that."

She also believes virtual tools such as Warby Parker's Try-On for glasses, using an iPhone, will become more popular, as will body scans for tailoring things like jeans for just-in-time delivery.

Early birds

It's not just holiday lights and trees that are going up earlier this year.

The NRF's latest research shows 42 percent of consumers started their holiday shopping earlier than usual this year. In fact, the NRF had its own campaign to encourage it: "New Holiday Traditions urged consumers to shop safe and shop early amidst the pandemic. The group said 59 percent had begun by early November, up from 49 percent at that point a decade ago.

See the NRF's Winter Holidays web page.

COURTESY: MICROSOFT - Microsoft's new Xbox is sold out everywhere, as the world takes to its couch for entertainment and shopping.

According to the NRF, the 2020 top toys for boys and girls include LEGOs and PlayStation. Cars and trucks, Hot Wheels and video games are also popular gifts for boys. Barbie and dolls remain the top toys for girls. Adobe, the software company, analyzes one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, 100 million SKUs and 80 of the 100 largest retailers in the U.S. According to Adobe Digital Insights, the hottest toys include LEGO sets, hoverboards, Baby Alive and Star Wars (plus toys, electronic dolls). Top video games include Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Cyberpunk 2077, Madden NFL 21. New consoles like PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S are selling fast, but also selling out just as rapidly. Top electronics include Air Fryers, Fire TV, Oculus and Amazon Echo.

Adobe is watching

In a release on Friday, Nov. 27, Taylor Schreiner, Director, Adobe Digital Insights said Thanksgiving Day shopping broke new records but by less than was expected. "Thanksgiving Day consumers spent $5.1B, an increase of 21.5% over 2019, (online sales hit $4.2B on Thanksgiving Day in 2019). As the mobile shopping experience continues to improve, close to half (46.5%) of all online sales came from smartphones yesterday, a new record."

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday also were remarkable.

Black Friday hit a new record with consumers spending $9 Billion, up 21.6% form 2019's $7.4 billion. This is the second largest online spending day in U.S. history, coming in behind Cyber Monday 2019.

U.S. consumers spent $6.3 Million per minute shopping online on Black Friday, or $27.50 on average per person. $3.6 Billion were spent via smartphones, a 25.3% increase on 2019, reaching 40% of the total online spend. In-store and curbside pickup increased 52% on Black Friday on 2019, as many consumers looked to avoid in-store shopping.

Based on Adobe's accompanying survey data, 44% of consumers plan to support small and local retailers today and 38% say they will make a deliberate effort to shop at smaller retailers throughout the holiday season.

Schreiner said, "While (Thursday) was a record-breaking Thanksgiving Day with over $5 billion spent online, it didn't come with the kind of aggressive growth rate we've seen with the start of the pandemic. Heavy discounts and aggressive promotions starting in early November succeeded at getting consumers to open their wallets earlier. While COVID-19, the elections and uncertainty around stimulus packages impacted consumer shopping behaviors and made this an unprecedented year in ecommerce, many consumers are still holding off on remaining gift purchases until today and Cyber Monday in hopes of scoring the best deals."

Happy Monday

The day after Cyber Monday Adobe reported "Based on online shopping behaviors over the holiday weekend (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday), Adobe is now predicting U.S. online holiday sales will total $184B (30% YoY increase), down slightly from the original forecast of $189B (33% YoY increase).

Additional findings around Cyber Monday included:

Discounts and popular categories: On Cyber Monday, consumers benefited from some of the strongest discounts on computers (28%), sporting goods (20%), toys (19%), appliances (20%), and electronics (27%). Discounts are expected to weaken by approximately 5-10%, across most categories, in the weeks running up to Christmas.

Top sellers: Toys: Lego Sets, vTech Toys, Scooters; Video games: Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Just Dance 2021. Electronics: Apple AirPods, Apple Watches, HP & Dell Computers, and Chromecast.

Product category insights: Puzzles and games are a big gift item this year, with Cyber Monday's boost over October's average in the category 25% higher than the boost last year."

Curbside pickup and shopping by mobile device were both up, and mobile continued to be the preferred shopping method for consumers on Cyber Monday, accounting for 37% of sales.


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
971-204-7874
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