It’s safe to say the 2020 holiday season will be a completely different experience. Many Americans will skip their annual trip home to visit family as a precaution against COVID-19, while others will be hoping for the Christmas miracle of a full-time job.
There will be big changes to the retail landscape, too. Whether you’re planning a scaled-back holiday or expect to celebrate the same as always, here’s what you should know about shopping and saving money through the end of the year.
1. Most People Plan To Shop Despite Financial Strain
The coronavirus pandemic has touched most everyone’s lives in some way. For many, it’s had an effect on their finances. From higher expenses related to learning and working from home, to loss of jobs and income, many Americans are facing a tougher-than-usual holiday season.
Even so, 66% of consumers say they plan to spend the same amount of money or more this holiday season to create a sense of normalcy and keep traditions alive, according to a new survey by RetailMeNot.
Amazon Prime Day is expected to be the top shopping day in Q4, with 67% of people planning to make a purchase during this event. The next most-planned shopping days, according to the survey, include Cyber Monday (65%) and Black Friday (59%).
The most popular purchases are expected to be electronics (61%), followed by clothing and accessories (52%) and shoes (33%).
2. Shopping Kicks Off Much Earlier
Amazon Prime Day, which usually takes place in July, will span two days: Oct. 13 and 14. “Prime Day will open up the holiday shopping season, setting off a cascade of holiday sales that are likely to continue through early December,” said Nathan Burrow, deals expert for Wirecutter.
This push for early holiday shopping is practical as much as it is promotional for retailers, he said. “It’s a hedge against shortages and shipping delays, allowing customers to ensure they get holiday items and gifts on time,” he added.
Burrow also said there will be a massive number of deals this year. “But we can predict with some certainty that we’ll see excellent deals for Amazon Kindle, Fire and Echo devices no later than Oct. 13 (Prime Day 1) and likely pre-sales the weekend before,” he said. “Also, I’ll eat my hat if we don’t see Instant Pot deals ― they are exceptional and ubiquitous on and around Prime Day and Black Friday.”
3. Deals Will Be More Drawn Out
Rather than a major focus on shopping “holidays” such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, retailers are expected to extend their sales over several days or weeks. That’s because during the economic downturn, consumers want to draw out costs over a longer time rather than concentrating all their spending in one short period, explained Gabrielle Pastorek, shopping analyst at Finder.com. Some stores such as Home Depot have already announced that Black Friday doorbusters will be replaced with a longer, more drawn-out savings period.
4. Buy Now, Pay Later Options Will Continue Gaining Popularity
According to Pastorek, there’s already been an upward trend this year in the use of “buy now, pay later” financing options such as Affirm, Afterpay and Klarna. These services allow shoppers to break down purchases into weekly or monthly installments, often with no interest, rather than pay for their carts in full.
“We expect more holiday shoppers to look for these payment options for both big-ticket items like TVs and smaller purchases like fashion and beauty products,” she said.
5. Shopping Will Take Place Mostly Online
Three-quarters of Americans plan to shop online this year, according to the RetailMeNot survey. More than 88% said they will not shop the traditional in-store doorbuster deals on Thanksgiving.
“Because of this, there will be a lot of competition to capture your sales, so expect ongoing deals, flash sales, exclusive offers and free shipping savings,” said money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. She noted that some retailers may require you to spend a certain dollar amount to qualify for free shipping, but more big-box retailers want to recruit loyal shoppers through shipping memberships such as the latest Walmart+ and Target Shipt programs.
Also keep in mind that drive-up and curbside pickup options will abound this holiday season, even among small businesses. “This gives consumers the ability to avoid going in-store but also get the instant gratification of purchasing and picking up an item immediately,” Woroch said. And look out for special promotions and coupons specifically for those drive-up orders. (Target Circle already promotes such deals.)
6. Don’t Expect Many Doorbusters Or In-Store Deals
With coronavirus cases on the rise in some states and a general need to socially distance as much as possible, retailers are expected to ditch the in-store deals this year.
Some retailers are bound to have a few doorbusters, but Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews.com, expects there will be far fewer this year than we’ve historically seen. “Odds are most deals will be a combination of online and in-store, or even online exclusives, which is a trend we’ve seen the last few years,” she said. However, it’s doubtful that retailers will try to alienate any shopper by offering a significant number of online-only offers.
7. There Will Be Less Interest In Traditional Gifts
Though clothing and shoes will be popular buys, people will spend less than usual on these categories when it comes to gifts for others, according to analysis by cash-back company Rakuten. Rather than traditional gifts this year, “shoppers will look for items or experiences that bring them closer to family and friends,” said Dana Marineau, chief marketing officer and consumer and money-saving expert at Rakuten USA. She predicts that items such as tablets for video chatting, gaming consoles and games, streaming subscriptions and future trips will be most popular.
Health and beauty items that allow people to indulge at home will also be popular this season, Marineau said, as well as virtual gift cards that shoppers can send to friends and family since they may not be able to give gifts in person. “Virtual gifts also alleviate potential headaches from shipping mishaps,” she added.
8. Steep Discounts Are More Likely Across The Board
Unlike previous years, Marineau said, you can expect to find heavy discounts on nearly every product category, not just electronics and housewares. “There is a ton of excess apparel inventory that retailers need to move through, as well as shoes and accessories,” she explained. “It’s a great opportunity to pick up some ‘for me’ items while shopping for gifts for others.”
Still, you can expect to find some of the same deals as years past. “We’re still expecting Black Friday to be better for buying things like Android phones, TVs, kitchen items and beauty gifts, while Cyber Monday should be better for speakers, laptops, toys and clothing,” Ramhold said.
9. More Retailers Will Be Closed On Thanksgiving Day
With a heightened focus on online shopping and fewer consumers hitting stores this year, Ramhold said more retailers have been committing to closing on Thanksgiving ― a move that many haven’t made in recent years. Some of the major stores that will be closed on Thanksgiving Day include Best Buy, Kohl’s and Target. Walmart is closing its namesake stores and Sam’s Club locations on Thanksgiving for the first time in 30 years.
10. Extended Price-Matching And Return Policies Will Be Offered
Ordinarily, price-matching is suspended throughout the Black Friday shopping weekend. Some retailers do so only for Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, but others usually suspend it for as long as two weeks. “This year, though, we’re seeing some retailers commit to extending those policies,” Ramhold said.
Target, for instance, is extending its price-matching, though it does come with a caveat: You’ll only be able to receive a lower price if the item drops in price in Target stores or on Target.com. “Still, many signs point to retailers trying to make the shopping season less stressful for consumers to entice them to shop as usual, or as close to usual as they can get,” Ramhold said.
11. Expect Delivery Delays
One downside that everyone needs to prepare for is delivery delays, according to Woroch. Because more people than ever will be shopping online or through their mobile devices, and fewer people will be traveling and delivering gifts to loved ones in person, delays in deliveries will be inevitable. Avoid making any important purchases at the last minute in case you run into shipping issues.