Nov 19 • 7 min read

Fox School Assistant Professor of Marketing Sheri Lambert discusses how Black Friday, Cyber Monday and retailers’ sales tactics have changed in wake of pandemic

Shopping malls are expected to be a lot more quiet this holiday season.

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 19, 2020 — The holiday shopping season is upon us, but it might look a bit different from previous years.

With the world still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, online shopping sales have grown considerably, and that trend is only expected to continue. Research firm Deloitte expects online holiday sales to increase 25% to 35% for the 2020 season and reach $182-$196 billion for ecommerce sales in November, December and January.

Black Friday is also not expected to be the same large-scale shopping event as it has been in the past. For instance, Walmart has already announced that they will remain closed on Thanksgiving, putting an end to the iconic images of shoppers rushing to the store’s entrance, which have become so synonymous with the season.

Sheri Lambert, an assistant professor of marketing and supply chain management at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, specializes in branding, marketing strategy, retail marketing and consumer behavior. Lambert has been researching and following the retail and consumer trends leading up to this year’s holiday season.

“The Thanksgiving night shopping madness that we have grown to love or hate is going away. You’re still going to have the holiday deals, they’re just going to be announced earlier,” Lambert says. “More than anything else, the holiday shopping season will no longer just be about a few days like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Those days are now every day, so companies, both big and small, will have to adapt.”

We caught up with Lambert to gauge her thoughts on what we can expect as the holiday shopping season moves into high gear.

Q: We have seen drastic changes in all facets of our lives this year, and that now includes how we purchase gifts for the holidays. Could Black Friday be a thing of the past?

A: A ‘thing of the past?’ No, but it’s definitely different this year. More than anything, we’re seeing more and more companies and retailers being creative this holiday season. Retailers are moving online and using omnichannel more, meaning a combination of in-store and online shopping. Retailers are shifting and focusing on how they’re going to be there for the consumer. We’re not going to fully say goodbye to in-store shopping, but retailers are going to get more creative with their in-store shopping experience. They are going to limit the numbers of shoppers and they might even use a lottery system. 

Retailers are talking about being innovative without creating an environment of mass hysteria like we’ve seen in the past. I think we’re also going to see more ways that retailers try to connect with customers like personal shoppers helping shop for you. We’ve seen this over the past six months with grocery stores. 

Q: When we talk about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we think about big retailers, but they’re not the only ones who see a sales boost during the holidays. How will small businesses manage the season?

A: It’s a little bit of a harder pivot for them, just because they don’t have the big traffic that we associate with larger retailers. But I think that because they’re small, we will see that they’re nimble. They’re really going to lean heavily into their digital presence. The people working in small businesses are going to be used differently. 

In the past, a small business might have three or four people ‘working the floor’ in a store, but now, those same four people are going to be there but doing different things. They’re going to be running stuff to the curb, they’re going to be posting to Instagram or they’re going to be doing home deliveries. That is where I think we will see tremendous growth. Home delivery is nothing new; flower shops have been doing it for years, but now you’ll see other businesses start to do it as well. They will start relying on the husband or wife or college student that is working for them to deliver items that are bought.

Q: One of the best things about shopping for the holidays is being able to browse a store with no set gift in mind or make an impulse buy. That’s a lot harder to do online, right?

A: Ahhhh, browsing. Typically, consumers plan shopping trips with a mental budget in mind. That is, a consumer decides beforehand on an amount they plan to spend before venturing to the mall, or a list of items they are in search of—an Instant Pot for mom, a scarf for a cousin and so on. We all have a list for shopping and we go to the store with our list. However, when we are shopping or browsing in an actual store we tend to get sidetracked and find something for ourselves. Grandma may not need those ankle booties, but I sure do. 

This year, there won’t be any of the ‘off the list’ impulse buys, or last-minute runs to the mall on Christmas Eve. People will have to plan their purchases carefully and they’ll have to plan ahead. They will want to do impulse buys but shopping online won’t be the same. They won’t necessarily find the item they want. Now, we are seeing a lot more social media ads that are popping up, so in that aspect, we’re going to see impulse buying. The problem is that the impulse buyer who relies on that to find that one really unique, great gift will no longer be able to do that.

Q: It sounds like we will see all kinds of changes this year. Could any of these be here to stay? Even if there’s vaccine widely available next year, could Walmart choose to not open on the night of Thanksgiving?

A: I think what’s going to determine that is how successful these companies are and what their holiday sales and results look like. A lot of consumer behavior has changed from the simple fact that we’re finding out that we can do so much from home. The home has become our hub. It’s our workplace, our schooling place and because that has changed so much, our behavior as consumers has forever changed. If it’s fairly successful, I think the likes of Walmart may not open again on Thanksgiving. Why would they want folks to work overtime and then deal with so much wear and tear on the store and people fighting over items? Why would they want to do it if their revenue is still comparable? Creative out-of-the box thinking is the key for retailers. Innovation is the name of the game going forward. I would say that’s the case, both for large retailers like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and the small mom-and-pop shops. We’ve seen so much in terms of innovation already this year, and I think that’s a trend that will continue in the months and years to come.

Lambert discusses the evolving holiday shopping season further in the latest episode of Catalyst, a podcast from Temple University’s Fox School of Business about the pivotal moments that shape business and the global economy. Subscribe today.


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