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How eCommerce brands can prepare for a holiday season like no other

Updated: Jan 31

Holiday 2020 will challenge online merchants in ways they’ve never seen.

Liat Karpel Gurwicz, Head of eCommerce at Wix, explains how to strategize and succeed.

Like mostly everything else in 2020, this holiday season will be incredibly different. What should online merchants and brands pay close attention to?

Yes, this holiday season will be very demanding on the eCommerce industry. Managing inventory and deliveries will require a strong fulfillment strategy. This is hugely important.

This year we will see the end of one of the holiday season’s biggest marketing events as we know it: Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers normally launch huge holiday season sales in their physical stores. Obviously this is no longer happening. Most retailers have already announced that they will not be offering in-store sales this Thanksgiving, including Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target, and more.

Another big change: Amazon Prime Day was unusually late this year because of the pandemic; it took place in mid-October when it normally happens in July. With merely 50 days between Prime Day and Cyber Week (when merchants offer online sales after Thanksgiving), the reality is that many consumers will make holiday purchases earlier in the season and merchants need to be prepared.

How would you sum up the impact of the pandemic on the retail industry in 2020?

Of course, it’s been massive. Many retailers and brands saw incredibly high eCommerce demand in 2020, but were not prepared to offset that demand and scale with professional eCommerce and fulfillment solutions. Some businesses were forced to shut physical locations permanently, and many had to quickly start their online stores for the first time, and even those who already had eCommerce stores had to make significant adjustments to their online business to manage their inventory, logistics, shipping and more. Supply chains were also badly compromised during the pandemic, with many factories and suppliers having to close for weeks or even months.

Do people shop differently now than they did earlier in the pandemic?

At the beginning, as we faced social distancing requirements, many businesses were unable to open their physical locations. More consumers chose to shop online for staples like food and groceries, flowers and plants, pet care products, home decor and more.

Based on sales data from the Wix network of over 500,000 online stores worldwide, we saw significant growth across these eCommerce product categories that reflected the changes in global consumption. All of the top 10 eCommerce product categories showed growth rates surpassing 100%, with the top reaching a 776% increase.

Do you think the pandemic has taught more consumers than ever before how to shop online?

Yes! And it’s taught more businesses than ever before how to sell online and offer shipping, delivery and pickup options to their customers. While most people probably don’t enjoy social distancing, they likely do enjoy the convenience of ordering online and getting their orders delivered to their doorstep. I don’t think that will change even after this pandemic finally comes to an end.

With all of this in mind, what are the main challenges sellers should look out for this holiday season?

  • Store owners could have inventory challenges, which could leave them unprepared to meet the holiday season’s demand.

  • Businesses dependent on a sole-supplier or suppliers located in the same geographic area could be in real trouble if suppliers are forced to close or suffer slow delivery times.

  • Getting packages to arrive on your customers’ doorsteps this holiday season will also be significantly constrained. The increase in shipping demand alongside social distancing requirements in distribution centers means that traditional shipping providers will be at full capacity during the holidays.

How can businesses prepare and turn this holiday into a huge success?

  • Diversify your suppliers: You should have a plan B and plan C, just in case.

  • Plan and stock inventory: Look through your data to identify which products are selling well now, in previous holiday seasons, and since the start of the pandemic (plan your inventory around these insights).

  • Get creative on delivery: Logistics will be difficult for everyone (including Amazon), so be prepared to have non-traditional delivery options like crowdsourcing rideshare drivers.

  • Make sure your website is ready: Including basics like shipping info, return/refund policies, and—highly suggested—live chat (which Wix offers).

  • Stagger marketing efforts: Use every channel available (social, email, SMS) to get your marketing in early and plan for a few rounds of marketing.

What should merchants focus on after the holiday rush is over?

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s 1) wear a mask, and 2) shop online.

Seriously though, this past year so many businesses were forced to adapt and reinvent themselves to survive and meet their customers’ shifting shopping behavior. As we head into 2021, I recommend that every business take some time to really plan their eCommerce strategy and invest in their online store.