Holiday is definitely in the air, or is it… Halloween?

25 2020

Susan Davidson

Susan Davidson
Retail Consultant at RetailNext

Traffic has been increasing since stores reopened and is now sitting at -34% to LY.  What should retailers expect this holiday season? Susan Davidson writes about traffic and sales performance this November and December, with sales outperforming traffic.

For the past several years, the holiday gifting season has been creeping to earlier and earlier dates in the calendar, but I cannot remember ever thinking about Christmas prior to Halloween.  Of course, I never have had sooo much time at home to think about these things – thanks Covid. Halloween launched earlier than last year (with far less inventory) and it seems like holiday paraphernalia is already on the shelves at the local grocery stores. We can’t help but then think, slightly aghast,  how are we thinking about the holidays already? In between trying to figure out how I can give my 3 young children a fun and safe halloween experience, and stressing about getting my Christmas decorations up, I’ve also been talking to our team at RetailNext about their expectations for the busiest shopping days this year. In the year of COVID-19, how will shoppers turn out to physical stores? Like the presidential race, there is a lot of room for surprise but we still expect the historically highest shopping days to keep their rank. However, the fear of being in a crowded store, the thought of product not being available given that retailers have struggled with supply chain issues throughout Summer and Fall, and the reality of the predicted record E-commerce season which will likely result in shipping delays, could lead shoppers to shop early in stores therefore reducing the delta between peak days and regular shopping days.

Traffic has been increasing since stores reopened and is now sitting at -34% to LY.  We expect it to continue to recover to end up at -27% to -31% to LY for November & December with sales outperforming traffic, -12% to -18% to LY in stores. Including E-commerce, we are predicting sales to be flat to +1.5% to LY. We still anticipate that Black Friday will be the biggest shopping day this season, however, the individual day and entire Black Friday weekend may lose some clout this year if people shop earlier. Kudos to the retailers who are planning to stay closed for Thanksgiving, as I’m certain some shoppers will still, even amidst a pandemic, be ready and raring to go on Black Friday.

With shoppers not spending on travel and experiences this year, there may be more discretionary spending on gifts, especially since many families may not be together for the holidays. This could bode well for certain categories as toys & sports equipment for kids, home goods & athleisure for adults are some that are at the top of the lists this season. We anticipate beauty, jewelry, and certain apparel categories may have an uptick in sales since people may not be travelling and choose to self-indulge and/or spend their money on easy gifts. Retailers should speak to these key categories in messaging across all marketing channels assuming they have inventory. In our family it means toys, books, sports equipment, and probably more apparel as these kids are growing like weeds. Although, in light of a global pandemic and an election looming, there are truly so many unknowns especially for this holiday season that many people may take a conservative approach when it comes to spending.

Battle Royale: Procrastination vs Presents  

With two additional shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas and two additional shopping days between Super Saturday and Christmas, this could cause shoppers to procrastinate more than in years past. However, while we think that December 23rd may be one of the top traffic and sales days, the sales may come more from an act of desperation rather than shoppers buying what they really want. It is predicted that inventory is going to be an issue this holiday season since retailers cancelled inventory and have had difficulty chasing product, shoppers waiting until the last minute may not find what they’re looking for. Retailers should make sure they are communicating to the customers with what they do have in stock this holiday season to help curb any shopper disappointment. It has never been more important to pivot and be nimble this holiday season; retailers must ensure that teams are able to change marketing activations based on what is in stock.

Whether their first choice of gift is in stock or not, shipping cutoffs may force consumers to come into stores and curbside and BOPIS will inherently increase in demand as well, right before Christmas. In order for BOPIS and contactless curbside pickup to be successful, retailers must make sure they are allocating labor properly without leaving their salesfloors unattended. Transparency is a key trend we have been highlighting and will be more important than ever this holiday season. Retailers like Ulta Beauty are already communicating real-time store occupancy levels to consumers and we believe this is a trend that will broaden across more and more retailers.  We also think transparency needs to extend to inventory – giving consumers confidence that when they visit your stores they can find what they want.

Safety & a Second Wave?

If some states impose another rollback of reopenings, retailers should monitor traffic and manage occupancy to follow their state’s mandated standards. Retailers can also ensure they have adequate stock of safety supplies (ie disposable masks and sanitizer) to keep shoppers and associates safe in addition to sufficient associates who can safely manage curbside pickup and BOPIS to help limit exposure if necessary. In addition, some retailers are using reservation systems which helps with labor allocation but also allows the shopper to feel safe and choose when they want to be in store. Hopefully shoppers can get a much needed break (from children) to have alone time and safely shop in stores.

Although not all children are in school in person across the country, I am confident all children ARE still making their holiday lists. I am grateful that my kids are currently in-school (although every day I have the fear that it will be the last) and I hope that more children are able to be back in person as soon as it is safe to do so. In or out of school, it feels like it will be a looong winter in our household. When the chirping about their Christmas lists and desires dies down, I’m working hard to instill gratefulness for our health and wellness this holiday season. I feel especially lucky to have stayed safe during this time, and I wish the same for you.

Top Traffic Days

  1.       Friday 11/27 (Black Friday)
  2.       Wednesday 12/23
  3.       Saturday 12/12
  4.       Sunday 12/20
  5.       Saturday 12/19
  6.       Monday 12/21
  7.       Tuesday 12/22
  8.       Friday 12/18
  9.       Saturday 12/5
  10.   Saturday 12/26


Top Sales Days

  1.       Friday 11/27 (Black Friday)
  2.     Wednesday 12/23
  3.     Saturday 12/19
  4.     Thursday 12/24
  5.     Saturday 12/12
  6.     Monday 12/21
  7.     Sunday 12/20
  8.     Tuesday 12/22
  9.     Friday 12/18
  10. Thursday 12/17

Join the #retail, #inspiringretail and #COVID19Retail conversations on Twitter @bridgetjohns, @RetailNext, LinkedIn at and


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