A Very COVID Christmas: Preparing for the 2020 Holiday Season 

This is a guest post by Phil Forbes.

As a retail store owner, you don’t need to be reminded of the havoc that COVID-19 has caused to your business. 

While it’s arguable that the worst is over, consumers are returning to the ‘new’ normal as the busiest time of year starts to be discussed. For both ecommerce and retail, the last 3 months of the year are generally responsible for a majority of sales, and therefore profits. 

But how will it look this year? How can retailers like you stay within the rules, but also give customers what they want this holiday season?

Surprisingly, it’s possible your business, no matter its size, can take advantage of this unique holiday season as we move from response to recovery. 

Unsurprisingly, the key is to start preparing in late Q3 or early Q4. 

Why so early?

As you no doubt hear daily, we’re in unprecedented times. 

Even in the leadup to a typical holiday season, things can always go awry. Early planning is critical to make sure your shelves are stocked, and you’re promoting the right products. 

Turnaround times in your supply chain, returns, refunds, staff shortages all impact your marketing campaign, so establishing a clear action plan and goal as early as possible can reap the rewards when the unexpected happens. 

Planning well ahead of time, as well as having a contingency plan is the best way to fight this uncertainty. By doing so, you’ll be able to leverage the holiday season, restrictions or not. 

When planning your COVID Christmas retail marketing strategy this holiday season, you’ll need to think about the following:

Solidify your online presence

Make sure you have a strong online presence. That may be in the form of a complete online store and Amazon presence; it may be as simple as a Google Local Business listing. What’s important is that it’s updated to reflect what’s happening in your physical store this holiday period. 

Click and collect

In both your online store and search engine results, Christmas shoppers must know your policy toward click and collect. Click and collect is merely giving your customer the possibility to come and collect their order from your store, without having to enter your store. 

Being able to come and collect their order from your front door may be the difference between a large sale and extra business for your competitor. 

Vend Tip


Online fulfillment simplifies the way you complete online orders from your store:

– Instantly mark an ecommerce order as complete from your Sales History, giving your staff a quick way to confirm a shipment has been sent.

– Enable click and collect for single outlet stores by allowing staff to complete orders that have been picked up in-person. Online fulfillment is only available for retailers that have integrated BigCommerce, WooCommerce or Shopify with Vend.

Learn More

Update your online store

If you’ve been forced to sell online as a result of COVID-19, now is a great time to take stock and ensure that your website is set up as best it can be. In the rush, there’s every chance that you did the bare minimum to get online and may have missed something critical to operating an online store. 

Now is the time to step up your ecommerce game by doing the following:

  • Crafting informative and essential transactional emails.
  • Setting up shipping options to deliver last-minute gifts. 
  • Creating sitemaps and conducting keyword research for ecommerce SEO growth.
  • Having easy to navigate website design and effective branding to create a sense of ‘home’. 
  • Establishing email marketing basics.
  • Implementing effective return and refund policies for online sales.
  • Writing quality product descriptions that inform and photography that creates that sense of ‘want.’

Hygiene

Providing hand sanitizer to customers may or may not be a regulation in your state, but the fact remains that it’s an excellent option to have it on hand (no pun intended). 

A small stand at the main entrance to your store that dispenses alcohol-based hand sanitizer shows that you’re making a conscious effort to customers who are also being cautious. 

Protip: Use a dispenser that’s laser or foot operated. Offering hand sanitizer from a communal pump that all visitors touch can do more harm than good. 

Image source

Inventory

During Christmas, it’s common to stock up on popular products. However, with uncertainty and inconsistent consumer behaviour, there are a few extra things to pay attention to this holiday period. 

“Stocking up”

As mentioned, it’s common to have more numbers of popular products on shelves. But calculating exactly how much stock to have on hand will be more difficult this year than ever – especially if you’re a small business struggling with cash flow. 

Paying closer attention to your numbers may mean having to have less stock on hand to keep cash moving. If this is the situation you’re in, consider offering customers the ability to buy a product in-store and have it sent to them when it does arrive in stock. This process can tie in with your online store presence. 

Vend Tip


Vend sheds light on all the data you need to make smart holiday decisions. Whether you’re looking for a high-level view of your business or want to get into the nitty-gritty details, get all the information you need lightning fast with reporting and analytics in Vend.

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Demand forecasting

Forecasting is entirely different from how it was at the start of 2020. Even before then, 52% of retail supply chain executives said they spend too much time data-crunching

Combine the seemingly never-ending threat of new lockdown precautions with shifting consumer behaviour, mix in the rush of Christmas bargains and accurate demanding is only getting harder. Rapid demand forecasting is a technology-based concept that helps predict both short and long changes to demand – including reaction to a pandemic, natural disasters, and recessions. 

Christmas customers are browsers

Inevitably, a majority of your Christmas shoppers won’t know what they want when they enter your store. 

Layout for browsers

Traditionally, you’d cater to this, by putting the best gifts deep inside the store so that buyers have to wander around, looking at other products. 

But store layouts due to COVID-19 have limited what’s possible. 

Some retailers have found success by placing everyday consumable items at the front of the store near the entrance. This means that those that aren’t browsing can get in, get what they want and leave quickly. Those that do like to browse are free to wander farther into the store. 

Turn online browsers into in-store buyers

In early 2020, Google acquired Pointy – a startup that helps brick and mortar merchants list products online. The simple unit plugs into your POS hardware and lists your inventory online. Since customers are used to searching for products online, they’re now able to find your products without you having to create an online store from scratch. 

Fun Fact: Vend seamlessly integrates with Pointy.

Using a product like Pointy can be a great way to get online in the lead up to BFCM without having to go all-in with an online store. 

We can see this in action in the Google Business profile of Maxwell’s of Chelmsford, a retailer in Massachusetts that sells lawn and garden supplies, animal feed, and pet food.

Maxwell’s has a SWIS (See What’s In Store) section on its Google profile, which showcases the products that people can purchase in-store. 

Vend Tip


Want to implement something similar in your business? Getting started with Pointy is easy and free if you’re a Vend customer. Just connect your Vend account, follow the prompts, and you’re good to go.

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Popup stores

Popup stores were a ‘hype’ marketing fad when bigger brands started using them years ago. The concept was that in a public, almost random location, a small store was temporarily set up to take advantage of heavy foot traffic. 

In 2020, an open-air pop-up store can be a goldmine for retailers. 

Traditionally, not making a customer walk deep into a store was akin to shooting yourself in the foot. However, in 2020, when too many customers in an enclosed store is a liability, things are a little different. A unique layout, elegant printed boxes and other branding, some free samples, and a ‘sit on Santa’s lap’ means that your popup store doubles as a marketing tactic, too. 

In light of COVID-19 restrictions, many department stores have seen shoppers come into pop up stores that are located outside the storefront, or even outside the mall. This means that shoppers buying everyday consumables and aren’t browsing, can quickly get what they need and be gone.

Customer capacities

Your local area may have regulations about the number of people that you can have in store at any given time. With a little foresight, you can make sure that Christmas shoppers have ample time to browse and buy their gifts. 

Extended hours

In ‘normal’ years, retail stores have stayed open longer to allow late-night shoppers to get their gifts in the leadup to the holidays. But in 2020 with the number of in-store shoppers capped, later trading hours may be essential to cater to the rush and influx of shoppers. Your extended trading hours may become a feature of your business worth marketing individually!

Queuing

There’s no doubt that COVID and social distancing has impacted retail choreography

Take into consideration the fact that, while your queues may not have more people in them, queuing areas may be physically bigger as you enforce social distancing measures. Remember to line these areas with impulse buys and stocking fillers as you would at any other Christmas. 

Outdoor queueing

Customers that need to queue and wait to enter your store may have their Christmas shopping anxiety exacerbated. Ensure shoppers can queue for entry into your store in an orderly manner. 

While waiting for entry, these shoppers can still ‘browse’ your store and find an ideal gift. Advertising material such as a catalogue in the form of a poster on the wall can help minimize browsing time and speed up the buying process. Such a concept can even encourage upsells and impulse buys. 

If your queues have significant wait times, encourage buyers to buy online from outside of your store, and collect their purchase then and there. 

Staff

Extra staff to keep up with the holiday rush isn’t a new concept. But with new hygiene rules being in place, the role that this staff plays must evolve slightly. 

More tasks = more staff

This year you may find yourself having to hire more Christmas staff, even if the foot traffic isn’t as high. That’s because your team will have more tasks to do. Cleaning change rooms, sanitizing surfaces, all these little extra tasks must be done, and they take time. 

Extra training

With these new tasks, comes a requirement for more training. You would assume that adequately cleaning a surface is a simple life skill, but to think that Christmas staff know how to do this correctly may be a disaster waiting to happen. 

Spend the time and ensure all temporary staff are trained in both your day-to-day practises, as well as the new processes related to health and safety. 

Don’t want to invest in extra training? Consider hiring a staff member whose role it is to do just these hygiene-related tasks so that your retail assistants can focus on selling more product. 

Unemployment

All through the world, unemployment is high right now. While many office jobs have gone remote, there are still a lot of people from all walks of life and professional backgrounds that are struggling to get a job. When hiring Christmas staff, consider the fact that many applicants may be looking for anything they can find.

Someone with 8+ years of experience in one job as an office manager has 8+ years of experience in one job. Sure, it may be in an unrelated field, but the non-stop employment in one company shows that they’re dedicated to the job. The main takeaway here is that your best temp holiday staff may very well come from an entirely different background. 

Signage

Signage in and around your store can make a big difference during Christmas. It can point customers to products they’re after, help them safely navigate your store, keep them safe and also show the precautions that you’re taking with your stock. 

Whatever signage you implement should be on-brand. Plain, no-frills signage is excellent for a construction site, but in your retail store, you have the freedom to put some personality into it. 

Source

Adding a little personality helps keep shoppers relaxed in what may be a stressful, anxious environment for some of them. 

As things start to return to the ‘new’ normal, your signage can be used to promote products as you would any other year. Consider some form of signage to say thanks to shoppers for sticking with you. 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the holiday period for your retail store is going to be a breeze compared to the other challenges that your business has faced this year. 

But to get the most out of the new normal this Christmas period, your preparation has to coincide with the way your business has to now operate. Compelling visuals, catering to the apprehension of customers, and adding a little more human into your image (while removing the human contact) are steps in the right direction. 

Author Bio

Phil is a bearded Australian living in Warsaw, Poland. When he’s not trying to take Packhelp to the world, he can be found lazing in his hammock or trying not to kill his plants. 

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.