Holiday shopping is here! But with a global pandemic, disrupted supply chains and more online shopping than ever—what will this season hold?
Just like everything else in 2020, this year’s holiday season won’t look like years past. Consumer behaviors may be changed forever by the combined powers of the COVID-19 pandemic and the digital transformation of business. From a dramatic increase in online shopping to buying gifts that are rooted in nostalgia, gift-givers are driving trends to the extremes. The retail industry, especially small businesses, must adapt to keep up.
Sheri Lambert, assistant professor of marketing and managing director of the Center for Executive Education, uses her expertise to shed light on our changing shopping experiences. On this episode of Catalyst, listen to why we’re likely saying “goodbye” to Black Friday forever, how consumers are putting money where their values are and what businesses can do to solve the retail industry’s challenges during a global pandemic.
While this holiday shopping season may feel much different than in years past, one thing remains true: shopping and gift-giving still bring joy to us and our loved ones.
Catalyst is a podcast from Temple University’s Fox School of Business about the pivotal moments that shape business and the global economy. We interview experts and dig deep into today’s most pressing issues. Season two will answer questions like: How will COVID-19 impact my financial future? Why hasn’t the #MeToo movement reached the professional sports industry? And what makes a leader credible? We explore these questions so you can spark change in your work. Episodes are timely, provocative and designed to help you solve today’s biggest challenges. Subscribe today.
Full Episode Transcript
Host: Welcome to Catalyst, the podcast of Temple University’s Fox School of Business. I’m your host, Tiffany Sumner.
The holiday shopping season is here, and just like everything else in 2020, it won’t look like years past. Today we explore how shopping behaviors may be changed forever by the combined powers of a global pandemic and the digital transformation of business. I am joined by Sheri Lambert, assistant professor of marketing and the director of the Fox School Center for Executive Education. Sheri has decades of experience in market research and digital innovation. In our conversation, she talks about why we’re saying goodbye [00:01:00] to Black Friday, how consumer behavior has changed dramatically in just a year and why did this season’s hot ticket items have us harkening back to simpler times.
Tell me a little bit about your time at Temple, especially in the past year during COVID.
Sheri: Oh my god, so it’s been completely crazy. Not only do I teach marketing strategy courses but I teach consumer buyer behavior courses. So now I have to really teach what I’m talking about. I live and walk the talk, so to speak. Everything has gone online, not unlike everyone else in the world, right? So, we all had to pivot in terms of the way we deliver our products or services. And our product at Temple is to deliver the learnings [00:02:00] and teaching that’s online as well. So it’s very different now.
Host: So what was the catalyst for your research in consumer behavior?
Sheri: You know, it really is that “home is the new hub.” Home is the new workplace, home is our new school, home is our new exercise studio, spa or dog spa. Home is the new hub of everything. It really is. And quite honestly, COVID had just accelerated all of these trends that we as consumers saw coming, or we as educators saw coming, or just we as marketers, as brand people saw coming. COVID and the pandemic have really just accelerated trends that we saw happening in the future. It’s simply just this new rate it’s all here now. [00:03:00]
Host: And so quickly.
Sheri: Oh my god, you can barely breathe right? It’s crazy.
Host: Well, so we’re recording this on October 26, just a few days before November begins and I think the question on everyone’s mind is what is Black Friday going to look like this year? I know that last year Cyber Monday eclipsed Black Friday in sales but now there’s a new twist with a global pandemic. So what’s going to happen this year?
Sheri: Black Friday I think it’s not just a Friday anymore but this year—I believe the date is November 27, it’s always the day after Thanksgiving—there is still so much in the air about what it’s really going to look like. One thing that we know for sure is that it won’t be one day, right? it won’t be one day. Specifically whether or not we’re going to be allowed to shop in the store still is up in the air. You know they will be allowed, [00:04:00] stores are open but who knows things might change. so, you have to be prepared, again it goes back to that pivoting right?
One thing that I do know for sure is it’s more than just the one day. So what that means is, we’ve heard already reports of Walmart saying that it’s going to have an entire month of Black Friday. So they’re going to have an event which is going to kick off on November 4 and November 7. So the two dates that they give, the first date is an online kick-off of Black Friday deals and then the second date is an in-person shopping deal. So three separate events are planned, even just for Walmart! That’s from November 4th to 7th, November 11th to the 14th and I believe it’s November 25th through the 26th. So again, as you can see it’s not one day anymore, [00:05:00] it’s multiple events and so to speak.
Host: That’s fascinating, I did notice over the weekend all the Target Black Friday ads that came in through my Roku streaming, right? Even in another way that’s becoming more popular to reach consumers.
So, you’re an expert in consumer behavior and I know that these trends, which you’re saying how we’re fast forwarding, are probably actually impacting the way that consumers think. They must be thinking things they’ve never thought before. How do you think that their holiday shopping experiences will be different as a result?
Sheri: Well, it’s funny because what we’re seeing even early on is research that has shown that 60% of consumers said that they would be doing their holiday shopping online, versus in the past, some people tend to think it was high but, in the past, it was [00:06:00] 10 to 14%. So, one year ago it was only 10-14% and this year is 60%, right?
So, one thing that I think we are going to definitely see in consumer behavior is this last-minute run to the mall on Christmas Eve shoppers, those are a thing of the past. So you got to say goodbye to the in-store last-minute shopping. It’s not going to happen. We’re also seeing that retailers know this, right? They know we’re shopping online, consumers are all shopping online and they’re shopping earlier. And they’re shopping earlier because they’re concerned, right? There were issues early on when we all pivoted to online shopping you know with supplies or shipping delays and so forth. Retailers are really preparing themselves to go forward.
Host: Do you think that consumers will spend less this year due to economic constraints or concerns?
Sheri: They are definitely going to spend less. [00:07:00] They’re also going to be wiser with their spending. We’re seeing already with consumers that are shopping online that they may in fact have something in their shopping cart but they never truly pull the trigger. One of the reasons that the research is showing us online-only Black Friday and Cyber Monday and other shopping that we have, people will be fighting over the last item on the shelf, virtually right? You’ve seen it or perhaps experienced it where you have it in the cart and you’re ready to go and then it’s no longer in your cart? That’s what we’re going to be faced with.
Host: Absolutely, oh my goodness. I can’t — I always think of the pictures that you see at Macy’s in New York where people are like fighting over things and tripping over each other now we’re going to have more of like a virtual version of that. One thing I’m curious about is the hot ticket items, [00:09:00] they happen every season, will that still be the case this year?
Sheri: You know not sure about that. the economy is going to affect some of that right? But already we’re seeing some hot ticket items percolating up, like things that all relate to our home. Things that all relate to our home: Instant Pot and smart home stuff and Roombas. And in terms of those, sort of, electronics, it’s because we are nesting. We are going to be more at home and people are concerned about that even as the future goes on.
One thing that we’re hearing more about is that nostalgia sells. So nostalgia marketing has really grown and especially in that time when there’s a concern in the economy, individuals lean into heavily nostalgia marketing. So some of the hot ticket items that we see on the horizon would be things like a Polaroid, the instant camera, that’s going to come back. Fisher-Price toys, [00:10:00] they’re even doing the higher nostalgia marketing piece on it just because they know that that sells.
Host: That’s fascinating. I love the idea of the Polaroid coming back.
Sheri: I do, too! Actually, if you think about it, it’s competing right? With our Apple phones and all that, But people want that more home-y stuff and now it comes back to a medium or simpler time.
Host: I think that’s what it is, I mean I don’t know if you’ve recently had to mail a bunch of packages or something along those lines but it’s significantly harder to get small tasks done that pre-COVID would not have been challenging. Even my printer broke so it’s like this idea of getting a new printer or, you know, special photo paper to print at home, which is something I used to love to do, it just requires so many steps! I’ve sort of thrown my hands up.
But, I’m sort of curious about how have retailers and marketers determined that? [00:11:00] How transparent are their sales and are they using data and predictive analytics to sort of figure out what this returns to nostalgia and maybe some other trends?
Sheri: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we can’t do anything right now with all the data that’s out. And especially now—it used to be just transactional. You go into the store, you would leave. Maybe or maybe not they could collect some information about the consumer. But when you’re online, you’re getting all the information. You’re getting all of that information about the consumer: what they’re buying, how often they’re buying it, what else have people bought your product, and what else did they buy. Right?
So there’s still so much data out there. Just even, I think, there were figures that [00:12:00] I had seen from March to July. The number one item that went up in sales was pajama sales. And I think it was Adobe Analytics that reported that pajama sales went up 133%. Slipper sales went up. Right? Athleisure. So we’re all talking about the stuff, and it’s the items that not only give us comfort emotionally but they’re giving us comfort physically as well. And we don’t have to be out so much. And so much of what we do is on Zoom, and it’s the top up! So, you might have to invest in a blouse but accessories have all gone away.
So, it’s all that data that they’re learning and the gleaning from continuous sales that are happening and they’re able [00:13:00] to apply that. So they see what’s going to happen and people are nesting, they’re staying home. they truly aren’t going out as much as they used to. So they’re doing a lot more of the old-fashioned cooking even. So, you tie into, you know I’m going to make soup, I’m going to make chili, we’re all going to be home together as a family.
Host: Are consumers more likely to also buy locally?
Sheri: I think consumers have really rallied for the local, the local folks. Now what’s interesting is—and I’ve talked about this before with students and just with colleagues—so many of the small businesses have not tapped into what’s available to them. And one small business, one kind of small mom-and-pop shop that has done such a great job with this are florists. They have always delivered! Right?
So when COVID happened and we all went on lock-down, we started seeing some of this entrepreneurial spirit [00:14:00] come out of these small mom-and-pop shops. Just local shops, even around my area, if they posted something on social media—which is becoming their tool of messaging—they post something on social media, if I like it and I go, “oh I gotta have that,” next thing I know, I’m getting a message, “If you’re within 20 miles of the shop, we can hand-deliver it to you contactless.” It’s the entrepreneurial spirit.
So, to your original question, I think consumers are going to rely more on the local mom-and-pop shops because they’re going to want to help the little guys. And I think the little guys are going to do really well. They’re going to do well at things that the big guys are trying to do. They’re going to do well at personal shopping, you know, where you call them up and say, “I’m thinking about this,” and then they’re going to show you pictures and then you are going to say, “I love it.” [00:15:00] Then you’re going to pay for it over the phone. Then you could drive to the shop and they run it out and throw it in your trunk. Or they’re going to deliver to your home. So, you’re going to get a little bit of that, I think they might actually do quite well with this process.
Host: What challenges do you think small businesses will face this holiday season?
Sheri: I think the biggest challenge that they’ll probably face is technology. I say technology because while some are very good at social media and push their products and use that as their tool for digital transformation, some of them haven’t — aren’t quite there. They have one or two employees and say, “Oh darn, maybe nobody’s involved with the internet.” So now they’ve got to rely on, “Wait, do we have someone that can help us? Do we have someone that [00:16:00] can get us to that level and get us up to speed?” Because they know now that everyone is buying that way and that’s going to continue or increase.
Host: What about the bigger companies? What will the season hold for larger companies? How will their supply chains be affected and what about labor and packaging capacities?
Sheri: Well, it’s interesting, because I think the salespeople on the floor, they’re going to have a different role within the company. They’re going to have different tasks or responsibilities. So, in other words, they may very well have to be involved with doing social media posts, they might be very well involved with running at the warehouse and pulling things and shipping things. Things are going to look a little differently, they might be manning the phones differently. So, I think their roles and responsibilities will be different than in the past.
Host: What industries do you think have done well in response to digital transformation?
Sheri: Retail industries. The retail Industries have done a really good job and they had a jump start. They had a jump start on that, it just really catapulted now. [00:18:00] They’ve done well.
And I think the food industry has done a really great job. I think Instacart reported that they went from 180,000 jobs to 500,000 jobs since the pandemic. They’ve done incredibly well and they’re hiring. So I think some Industries have done really well.
Other industries have done well but they had to learn, right? So I say retail has done well and they were used to it and that’s kind of normal direct-to-consumer. But if you even think about other industries, like the tire industry. They are now shipping tires direct-to-consumers. So it’s been a very different industry for them. For retail, we can’t forget about that type of retail. I think some industries [00:19:00] have struggled a little bit with the digital transformation, but in the sense, they have done a really nice job, like fitness gyms and exercise studios. Right away, they tried to pivot and they said, “Try us out, we’ll do a free trial membership. We can’t be there together so let’s do something.” And as individuals, we’re glomming onto memberships, free membership now they started charging.
Host: They have the opportunity to do online streaming like personal fitness classes, which I think is fantastic. That’s what my gym did which is really really fantastic. So, you explained that the pandemic really pressed the fast forward button on many trends and has brought about a lot of change. Looking ahead, what do you think 2021 will look like?
Sheri: Hopefully nothing like 2020! I think everyone will say.
Host: We’re waiting on that vaccine!
Sheri: Exactly. The mindset shift in shopping behavior [00:20:00] I think has forever been changed. I really do believe it’s forever been changed. We’re going to see not only just shopping online but just the different services that are offered. Personal shoppers will be on the rise. I think curbside pickup will continue. I think contact-free will be there. They’re going to be packaging things together, that’s the whole personal shopper thing, collecting it all for you.
I think we’re going to see technology even be more on the rise. In terms of virtual reality, right, or augmented reality where you can get to try on something. You couldn’t try on something when the stores first opened, so you had to buy it and take it home and then bring it back. So I think we’re going to see also—I think it’s going to go into 2021 [00:21:00]—we’re going to look at hunting for deals with QR codes. They may limit the number of people coming into the store. And one of the things you brought up, Tiffany, was this image of Black Friday shoppers climbing over each other, they’re waiting in long lines—definitely not six feet apart—and when the store opens at 4:30 in the morning they storm it. I don’t think we’re going to see that, we’re going to see QR codes that are going to help them throughout the store find the deal and I think that’s going to transcend into 2021 as well.
Host: Thank you, Sheri, for joining me and sharing your insights on holiday shopping in 2020. Our shopping experiences have been changing over the last few years but the pandemic really pushed these [00:22:00] trends forward. Like Sheri said, the last-minute department store dash on Christmas Eve is a thing of the past. Consumers are shopping smarter and spending more wisely. And we’re putting our money where our values are: in local businesses, nostalgic products and cozy homes.
Retailers must adjust accordingly. Small businesses can invest in personal shoppers, e-commerce, curbside pickup and other convenient delivery options. While this holiday season may feel much different than in years past, especially as the world still grapples with the coronavirus, shopping still has the ability to bring joy to us and our loved ones. Catalyst is a podcast from Temple University’s Fox School of Business. Visit us on the web at fox.temple.edu/catalyst. We are produced by MilkStreet Marketing, Megan Alt, Anna Batt, and Stephen Orbanek and Karen Naylor. I hope you’ll join us next time. [00:23:00] Until then, I’m Tiffany Sumner and this is Catalyst.