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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

  • Holiday shopping during covid-19 promises to be good for online retailers. Illustration shows a small woman standing on a laptop keyboard about to press the "buy" button on the screen.

Retailing expertise: Holiday shopping

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has created countless new questions for the retail industry. As the 2020 holiday shopping season begins, the stakes are high.

By Allen Wallace,
Posted on November 17, 2020

Faculty experts from the University of South Carolina Department of Retailing share their thoughts on the most profitable time of the year:

"The 2020 holiday season is beginning. Lowes and Home Depot are featuring Christmas trees with twinkling lights at the front entrance of the stores. Where in years past shoppers may have thought, “couldn’t they have waited until after Halloween?!” the festive sight brings joy to weary residents who have survived social distancing, wearing masks when in public and the inability to visit family and friends.

Season 2020 sales are expected to be extremely good, particularly for big box retailers, discounters and grocery stores. Throughout the pandemic, consumers have had fewer opportunities to spend money. The frequency in which consumers were able to visit restaurants, bars and stores has decreased. The holiday season with the lights, songs, garland and wreaths will bring a sense of hope and reminder that 2021 is just around the corner."

— Marianne Bickle, UofSC Department of Retailing Professsor

“COVID has transformed daily events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas-eve shopping into a two-month phenomenon.  More shopping will be done earlier than ever, and online sales will continue to see explosive growth.  Sales of home fitness and home office products, electronics and educational activity sets for students will likely see big gains as customers spend less on travel and more on specific products for their families.”

— Jeff Campbell, UofSC Department of Retailing Chair and Associate Professor

“Retailers are cautiously optimistic about fourth quarter sales for 2020.  With unemployment rates steadily improving and many consumers having saved a portion of their stimulus check, holiday spending overall may increase slightly (~1%) over last year.  Luxury goods may also see an uptick, as consumers who would have spent on experiences (e.g., travel, fine dining entertainment) will seek alternative gift sources until the pandemic subsides. 

Although COVID-19 has been the demise of many fledgling retailers, consumers can expect brisk competition for their business among the retailers who remain in the marketplace.  As the pandemic continues, the industry as a whole is encouraging consumers to shop early and shop safely. This means heightened in-store safety protocols, expanded online offerings and customer-friendly services such as free shipping and curbside pickup.”

— Karen Edwards, UofSC Department of Retailing Senior Instructor

"The biggest shopping season is right around the corner, and there is no doubt that social distancing has affected the way people shop. One new retail trend this holiday season is an extended Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For instance, in addition to offering a new membership program that can compete against Amazon Prime for fast shipping, Walmart has announced six Black Fridays through the month of November. Best Buy has already started its month-long Black Friday with competitive deals to catch early holiday shoppers.”

— Jiyeon Kim, UofSC Department of Retailing Associate Professor

“Retailers should expect a shift in categories of merchandise purchased and also in shopping formats this holiday season. We will definitely see an increase in online shopping over last year (for obvious reasons). Home décor and furniture will probably be popular categories for a while. People are really getting into fixing up the place where they are spending most of their time. As far as gift-giving for children, anything that promotes outdoor exercise or indoor entertainment should be a hot-seller.”

— Donna Watts, UofSC Department of Retailing Instructor

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