Key 2020 holiday shopping takeaways: It’s imperative to adapt as customer expectations evolve| Customer Engagement

Tara Bartley, senior manager, industry marketing, and Ashitha Bhanu, industry marketing, Akamai, share Akamai data relating to the most recent holiday shopping season and the top trends in play.

The classic saying “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” couldn’t be truer for the 2020 holiday shopping season. The disruptions created by the pandemic have impacted every routine in normal day-to-day life and left millions of people anxious, homebound and isolated. The extent and duration of worldwide lockdowns and business closures have forced people to give up even some of their most deeply ingrained habits — whether going to a coffee shop for a midday break, spending an hour at the gym after dropping the kids off at school, driving to grocery stores on Sundays, or standing in unimaginably large queues at top retail stores on the biggest sales days of the year.

Undoubtedly, retail was one of the industries most impacted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic; prompting shoppers to buy more online and refrain from in-store shopping and avoiding potentially dangerous places like crowded malls and shopping centers, which as a result, led to declining foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores. This overnight change in consumer shopping behaviors led to a spike in online sales throughout the year indicating that 2020 would no doubt be a homebound holiday shopping season. These factors posed serious challenges for online retailers.

2020 holiday shopping trends observed and key findings

At the start of November, Akamai commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 consumers in the U.S. to better understand how COVID-19 would impact their holiday shopping. Based on the survey results, we observed five salient trends that are consistent with what we saw over the 2020 holiday season:

1. Holiday shopping kicked off early in 2020
As predicted by Akamai, other retail experts and analysts, holiday shopping started earlier than ever in 2020. According to the survey, 73% of shoppers who had started gift hunting had done half to all their shopping online during the first week of November. And if they were not finished, 85% of consumers were planning to do at least half of the remainder of their holiday shopping online. As projected in the survey, it delivered just that — we actually saw an uptick in online sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Industry data reported that 2020 Cyber Monday was considered to be the largest online shopping day in U.S history with a 15.1% increase over last year.

2. It boils down to convenience for majority of shoppers
We have also witnessed “shock to loyalty” during the pandemic, when consumers were willing to switch products, switch channels, switch retailers, switch brands and even abandon brands or retailers that they’d previously been very loyal to. One of the important trends we observed throughout the 2020 holiday season, and supported by the data from the survey, was “Convenience Shopping” like Buy Online, Pick-up in Store and curbside pickup or contactless delivery. According to the survey results, roughly one-quarter (23%) of the shoppers said that they preferred to pick up their online orders curbside or through a contactless method, an option that wasn’t available or even considered at the beginning of the year. Home delivery was the most popular choice (64%), followed by in-store pickup (26%) as per the survey results.

3. Price factors into brand loyalty
Price is another critical factor driving customer loyalty. As stated in the survey, a staggering 78% of respondents shared that they do most of their online shopping from the same brands and websites they purchased from prior to the pandemic. That being said, many shoppers were still willing to shop around if it means finding the best deals. When asked about holiday shopping, more than half (56%) of the respondents said that they took part in Amazon Prime Day on October 13-14 to take advantage of best deals and one-third (33%) of shoppers reported they found an item they liked on one brand’s website but ultimately purchased it on another site for a lower price. Additionally, more than one in 10 (12%) of them said they were less loyal to their favorite brands and looked for the best deals because of COVID-19.

4. Seamless and secure digital shopping experience matters
Today’s technology savvy shoppers expect rich, flawless digital engagement which is also secure with the products and services they consume. In fact, 19% of all shoppers said they had abandoned a purchase because a website page was broken or loading too slowly, and 18% of them searched for a new brand after quitting a purchase due to poor website performance, according to the survey. In addition, 29% abandoned or avoided a purchase entirely because they had concerns about data privacy and perceived website security issues, and another 24% said they were hit with holiday themed email scams. The challenge for online retailers was to determine which of these issues led to cart abandonment, and to address them to restore confidence and reinstate customer trust in their brand.

5. Mobile shopping is a priority
Despite the fact that mobile shopping has been on the rise for years, online shopping remains a hybrid of mobile and desktop. From the survey, a majority of 72% of the shoppers said that they had done their holiday shopping on a mobile device, and roughly 35% planned to use a mobile device to purchase their holiday gifts.

As part of the annual holiday traffic analysis, Akamai also compared 2019 to 2020 results for “shoppers on mobile versus desktop” and “bounce rates on mobile versus desktops” on two major US holiday shopping days – Black Friday and Cyber Monday. On Black Friday, we observed that there was an uptick in mobile shoppers from 64% to 70%. Bounce rates on the other hand were slightly higher (35% to 36%) on mobile devices when compared to desktops with 29% to 25%.

On Cyber Monday, we saw a significant 8% increase in mobile shoppers from 58.7% to 66.8% when compared to shoppers on desktop which decreased from 37.5% to 28.6% in comparison with previous year. Bounce rates on Cyber Monday were slightly lower on desktops (27.1% to 26.0%) when compared to mobile devices which had an upward trend with 36.5% to 37.8%.

According to this report, the data showed that mobile was an increasingly critical experience to optimize. With so much traffic going to mobile devices, ensuring users a flawless shopping experience was of paramount importance. However, the data showed that shoppers “bounced” more frequently from mobile devices and “converted” more on desktop.

Retailers were quick to rise to the occasion, coaxing procrastinators to start their holiday shopping early with big deals, offering flexible and safe delivery options in the hope of eliminating the high delivery fee, last-minute shipping delays that drive up retailers’ costs and logistical nightmares in November and December. However, ensuring a seamless shopping experience for their multi-device or omnichannel shoppers who begin their online shopping on one device and move on to another before completing a purchase still remains a great challenge to address in 2021.

Digital optimization is critical for today’s retailers

Clearly, the COVID-19 global pandemic has opened a window for many opportunities for retailers amid serious challenges. Over the past couple of months, a lot of retailers that had not only developed digital strategies but executed on them amid the pandemic are now in a position to leapfrog their less nimble competitors. At the same time, digital laggards that were unable to bolster their online offerings at a pace fast enough to match the competitors have fallen short.

The effect of customer experience is so powerful, it’s drawing the attention of major publications such as the Harvard Business Review. They say that “Retailers can’t afford to be in a wait-and-see mode. First, they nee
d to reimagine their baseline requirements and then turn their attention to taking their customer experience to the next level.”

Online shopping has unquestionably undergone a dramatic transformation amid the pandemic, and all data indicates that online shopping is on the rise and isn’t going away anytime soon. Within the next few years, it could change into an activity driven entirely by customer experiences and interactive technology rather than the act of buying. The importance of digital channels has been underlined by the continued shift from in-person to online transactions with retailers striving to optimize digital customer experience and ensure the readiness of online sites and applications.

The more shoppers know that the online retailer will make things easy for them — whether it has the product that they are looking for, offer the best deals, provides flexible delivery options that makes them feel convenient and safe or ensures seamless omnichannel shopping experience — the more it will help shoppers opt for the same brand or a retailer over competitors, shop more and be loyal to the brand.

Tara Bartley is senior manager, industry marketing, and Ashitha Bhanu is in industry marketing, at Akamai

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