Last updated: 2021 holiday shopping season: 4 ways retailers can prepare

2021 holiday shopping season: 4 ways retailers can prepare


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Before you know it, the 2021 holiday shopping season will be here. It will be the second holiday season since COVID, which drove e-commerce off the charts.

As the clock counts down to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there are several steps retailers can take now to set up for success later in the year.

  1. Get supply chains and delivery systems in order
  2. Add more payment options
  3. Have a purpose beyond the sale
  4. Offer a unique, exceptional customer experience

2021 holiday shopping: Lessons from last year 

We all remember too well how hard it could be to find essentials like toilet paper during the first few months of the pandemic. Even non-essentials like exercise gear could be hard to find.

Holiday shopping exacerbated shortages and delivery issues, as shoppers turned in droves to e-commerce for holiday gifts. Order volume shot up 162% year over year during the season, and many orders came well before Black Friday.

Retailers worked around the clock to produce more and get it to their shoppers as close as possible to the original delivery window. Since then, retailers have largely rectified their supply chain issues.

But we’re sure to experience yet another record level of online shopping, overloading shipping partners and potentially causing delays.

Holiday shopping brings trust and loyalty to the forefront. If retailers can smooth out supply chain and delivery issues now, then their customers won’t defect to competitors to get presents under the tree by December 24.

That’s why the work has to start now.

More payment options for smooth holiday shopping in 2021

The past few years have introduced a world of options in e-commerce, especially when it comes to payments. Debit, credit, Venmo, Amazon Pay, Apple Pay… and now, buy now pay later. It can seem overwhelming, but retailers need to align with what consumers demand to ensure they have a positive experience.

Many consumers have had financial challenges over the last year and a half. Buy now pay later options make it easier to get gifts now and break up the payments to make them more feasible. Apple threw their hat into the ring and announced Apple Pay Later just weeks ago, the latest addition to the buy now pay later craze.

With such a large player jumping onto the bandwagon, it’s clear that retailers will have to add one or more buy now pay later options for the upcoming holiday season if they want to stay competitive.

Retailers stand out when they stand for something

Retailers can be more than purveyors, they can often be drivers of social good.

In the early 2000s, TOMS made it widely known that they gave away a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair of shoes purchased. Bombas is a more recent example of a retailer that has kept up this philosophy, this time with socks.

Retailers need to differentiate themselves in the upcoming 2021 holiday season and help shoppers feel good about their purchase in a novel way.

Gabrielle Pastorek, Shopping Publisher at Finder, says if a company can offer something in sustainability, charity, recycling, consumers are picking up on that.

“Even if that sometimes means the product is going to cost a little bit more. Consumers are willing… to pay a little bit more if they know where this extra money’s going,” she says.

Another way retailers are standing out is by aligning with customers who want to support their local community. Offering products that were “Made in America,” within the shopper’s state or even closer to home makes it possible to enjoy new products while economically supporting the community.

Customer experience: The ultimate differentiator

There are numerous fronts on which retailers might compete. Competing on price often leads to an unsustainable race to the bottom. Product competition can get tricky when many retailers act as distributors for the same manufacturers. The last frontier is customer experience.

Offering a unique experience that a shopper can’t help but tell their friends about is the ultimate goal.

This can be accomplished in so many ways, from invitations to exclusive events to early access to a new collection, or even witty emails that suggest spot-on products.

The holiday season often accounts for upwards of 50% of a retailer’s yearly revenue. Getting set up to offer the options, programs, and experiences that consumers seek is the best way to make sure you are top of mind as the weather begins to change.

And with promotions starting earlier each year, the additional lead time is essential.

Retail doesn’t rest.
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