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Holiday Shopping in a Post-Pandemic Era: What Retailers Need to Know

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As retailers prepare for the holiday shopping season ahead, many may be thinking that now is the time to start preparing, wondering if we are gearing up for another extended, ecommerce-driven season. While we likely can expect to see more digital acceleration, what do we know beyond that?

The Delta variant is presumed to be stronger and spreading faster, and retailers are already being affected in fundamental areas. Mask mandates are returning, consumer confidence is dwindling and shortages have caused a strain on retailers’ supply chains. What will it take to make this year a successful holiday shopping season in the most unorthodox of times?

Let’s dive into what’s in store for retailers and share some insights and predictions for the 2021 holiday shopping season, based on real-time ecommerce data.

What we can expect, and how it will deviate from the “usual.”

The ecommerce market experienced a sharp decline in Q2, with conversion rates decreasing by 1.9%. Will the market bounce back? What will the remainder of this year bring as we approach the holiday season, specifically the Cyber 5 holiday shopping weekend? 2020’s weekend saw okay results, but in all, the season’s sales spikes ebbed and flowed in unconventional ways.

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Fast forward to today’s trends and retailers can likely expect much of the same. After a year-plus fraught with COVID-19 concerns and uncertainty, consumers are tired. They are tired of being held up in their homes and planning for someday; instant gratification syndrome is at an all-time high. They want to enjoy life, their newfound sense of (albeit limited) freedom, and live each day as it comes. Which means retailers should expect any associated sales spikes to happen closer to the holiday in question.

What back-to-school trends are hinting at for the holiday shopping season.

We’re already seeing it happen with back-to-school shopping patterns. Back-to-school shopping has been late to take off. We saw rather tepid back-to-school online sales until July 20th. Sales since then have definitely picked up but not to the extent that had been anticipated. The surge in the Delta variant is definitely leading to quite a bit of uncertainty — questions such as “will in-person classes resume as planned or will we go hybrid once again” are popping up more and more.

What can retailers do to prepare, and what might this signal for the post-pandemic shopping era?

Retailers need to keep a close tab on online sales data as well as shopper behavior insights. Times of uncertainty, while difficult to navigate, often present a window of exceptional business opportunity. It is a small window, and nimble retailers can realize huge gains by anticipating and acting on these quickly.

Further, with the surge in the Delta variant, there is a high likelihood of online sales experiencing a lift in several categories like food/grocery, pet supplies, home improvements, etc. Retailers in these categories can increase their brand awareness through more aggressive, as well as creative, ad spending. This may especially pay off for retailers during the upcoming holiday season.

Generally speaking, every retailer needs a backup plan, and to continue to invest aggressively in marketing and brand building if they wish to emerge as an ecommerce holiday shopping winner. NetElixir research shows that 17% of new-to-online shoppers during the pandemic became regular online shoppers; the rest either went back to shopping in-store or made infrequent purchases online to supplement their in-store purchases. Potential future closures may lead to the reactivation of some of these new-to-online shoppers that had gone dormant over the past few months; it may also lead to an increase in new-to-online shoppers overall.

As we progress into the holiday shopping season, retailers need to have a plan for winning and engaging the new-to=online shoppers. Our research shows that their customer lifetime value (LTV) is likely to be 1.3X to 2X higher than the average LTV.

With so many twists and turns, It’s hard to say what is to be expected this holiday season. What we can say is that smart retailers will need to stay nimble in their strategies and understand that dips and uncertainty in the market are a given.

Retailers, it’s time to look at the bigger picture and focus your attention on understanding the consumer and tailoring your strategies to meet their expectations moving forward. Take time to understand who they are at this moment, what they might need from your brand, and how their needs might continue to shift based on the current climate.


Udayan Bose is Founder and CEO of NetElixir. He founded the company with a vision to provide online marketers worldwide with a paid search campaign optimization solution capable of delivering magical performance. Bose recognized the potential of search marketing as an essential advertising channel in 2004. Having experienced firsthand the complexity involved in running a profitable paid search campaign, he was driven to develop a system that delivers predictable and efficient campaign performance, allowing marketers to fully leverage the power of paid search as a high value sales generator. Prior to starting NetElixir, Bose was Director of Business Development for PartyGaming, the world’s largest online gaming company. In this role he was responsible for building a new business unit from scratch, PartyBingo, which went on to become a major revenue generator for the company. Bose regularly lectures the MBA classes at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University; Zicklin School of Business, Baruch, NY and the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. He has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes and Time magazines and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

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