2020 brought a new set of trends for the holiday season, with many predictions based on the ever-changing landscape and a completely new way of shopping. 

With a year of the holidays during the pandemic under our belts, many of those predictions still hold true as we move into the 2021 season. 

The difference? 

We’ve had time to acclimate to a new normal and build strategies for the way people are purchasing and buying now. 

What hasn’t changed? 

The consistent unknowns associated with varying countries/states, labor shortages, and shipping/production delays. 

However… knowing these things exist only helps us better prepare and understand the importance of getting ahead of the holiday season so your business can thrive and grow in the remaining months of 2021. 

Black Friday Trend 1: Early shopping is the new norm 

No one is waiting for Black Friday like they once did to start their shopping. They are on the lookout, prepped, and ready to take advantage of sales the moment they drop. 

What this means: Promotions are here to stay, but companies will be starting them sooner and customers will be ready to pounce. This means more build-up, long promotional times, and a lot of holiday talk starting today through the end of the year. 

Trend 2: eCommerce will continue to dominate the retail landscape  

According to eMarketer, total retail spending in 2020 was up 6.5% overall, while eCommerce jumped a staggering 32.5%. Predictions for 2021 eCommerce growth forecast an additional 11.3% increase. 

What this means: Make it easy to buy from you. That means a frictionless customer experience that helps you capture the most business possible through the entire holiday season. And automated integrations with your entire tech stack – including your eCommerce store, marketing automation, and sales automations. 

Trend 3:  Changing landscape – a new competitive marketplace 

With millions of new companies being born in the last year and a half, customers have even more businesses to choose from as they holiday shop. This means more noise in every channel, more deals, and smaller pieces of the pie to go around. 

What that means:  You’ll need to find connections with customers and cut through all the noise. That means providing content that matters, unique positioning on the channels that your customers are finding you, while showcasing your brand and products in an authentic light. Using a mix of channels and value-added content will be key on top of any promotion you are running for the holidays.  

Trend 4: Continuous conversations set you apart

Consumers are continuing to find, search, view and purchase products on various devices and channels.  Switching between phones, desktops and tablets – looking at emails, online shops, and social channels for their next holiday purchase.

What that means: Creating a seamless experience for your customers so it’s easier than ever for them to find and purchase from you will be key to your success. So get your online store, website, social, email, and messaging ready. Make sure they are connected so your customers feel like no matter what channel they are on, they are having a continuous conversation and experience with your brand. 

Trend 5:  Buyers craving authentic and relatable brands 

Now, more than ever, buyers are looking to support and purchase from brands that align to their values and showcase their authenticity – leaning into small, bespoke, handmade and unique brands. Buyers continue to crave connection and authenticity with the brands they are purchasing from.  

What this means: Embrace your brand and what you stand for. Highlight that uniqueness and authenticity. It’s not just about talking about your deals and creating anticipation. It’s about sharing more personal details about your business and the person behind it that is running it (you!).  Don’t be afraid to share details of how the product is made, where the business started from, and take a peek behind the scenes of who you are and what you stand for. 

One last note for Black Friday 2021: messaging.

Drop the generic language around the current global pandemic. Phrases like “these uncertain times” have to go.

In 2020, that phrase became background noise. Now it communicates lazy messaging and marketing.

The problem isn’t the phrase, but the central idea that a lazy attempt at empathy will win you points with your customers.

So don’t.

Don’t risk communicating that you don’t know what they’re going through.

Because you DO know!

Drop all pandemic-chique language and lean into your voice. Your brand. The things only YOU can know about your customers and what they’re living through right now.

Past Trends (2020):

Black Friday is Dead, Black Friday is Officially Over, and Covid is Killing Retail! We’ve all seen the glorified headlines invoking fear and quite frankly I’m sick of them. Why focus on the doom and gloom when the world desperately needs a shot of optimism and hope?

Sure 2020 has been a terrible year, no one’s discounting or denying that. It’s going to be a Black Friday unlike anything we’ve seen before, but with challenges comes opportunity and there’s no one more resilient than the small business owner and entrepreneur.

The biggest opportunity is to prepare accordingly and for many this means kicking your digital transformation efforts into high gear. Not only are Black Friday and Cyber Week going to be a test of your organization’s ability to scale, but also Increased competition. This means it’s critical to deliver an amazing customer experience to keep your hard-earned customers coming back.

The good news:

  • According to Gallup and the National Retail Federation, the historical holiday trend of consumers spending more YoY as a whole, even when they profess they will spend less, applies even in a year of crisis.
  • Consumers will likely have more discretionary income as they forego holiday plans. We’ve all seen plenty of examples of this with the trend of strange and unnecessary things people are buying during lockdown.

The not so good news:

  • There is going to be increased competition as digital transformation gets a jumpstart across all retail verticals and small businesses.
  • Consumers are less confident with the current economy and less likely to make expensive purchases.

So how can we make the most of the upcoming cyber week opportunity? Here are the top trends to get ahead of in order to be prepared for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and of course Cyber Week 2020. We’ve also included some bold predictions as to how it’s going to look and the actions you can take to come out on top during what’s sure to be a roller coaster ride.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Black Friday is a big opportunity – don’t miss the chance to make the most of it for your business. The ActiveCampaign Black Friday Toolkit has what you need to successfully prepare for the big event. Access here!

Trend: eCommerce will dominate the retail landscape

Prediction: According to eMarketer, eCommerce sales are already up year over year and are expected to remain elevated throughout the holidays across retail categories. Although consumers are less confident with the current economy and less likely to be buying high ticket items, there’s still a tremendous amount of opportunity for everything else.

Action to take: Improved online setups should be in place not only for the online shopping frenzy at our doorstep, but also in preparation for a possible second wave and potential further lockdown measures. It’s critical to have the ability to scale, not only during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but all year round.

This means not only upgrading your eCommerce platform but also ensuring that your customers have a brilliant experience and keep coming back. Multi-channel, SMS reminders, email marketing: what’s going to be your shopping cart strategy to maximize sales?

Trend: Adapting to new consumer behaviors

Prediction: McKinsey reports that 77 percent of Americans have tried new shopping behaviors during the crisis (up from 76% in late July), including new methods, brands, and places, to stick with them in the long-term. Also, with safety and convenience top of mind for consumers, Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BOPIS) options will become critical.

Action to take: If you’d typically expect foot traffic to drive your holiday sales, be prepared to try advertising on new channels as more consumers avoid main street. Is Facebook or Instagram part of your channel strategy? Now is the perfect time to experiment as consumers are trying new things and potentially open to foregoing loyalty and switching to a new brand. Also, be prepared for a surge after shipping cutoffs for BOPIS.

Trend: “Early bird” holiday shoppers

Prediction: Savvy spenders will start looking for deals as soon as they drop. Increased opportunity to drive sales outside of peak time and to get creative outside of dominant advertisers

Action to take: It’s never too early to start planning for Cyber Week, and we’ve put together a calendar that maps out the perfect timeline for mapping your efforts. Why not try a test campaign or two a bit earlier to get a feeling for how early your prospects will start responding?

Trend: Staying on top of microtrends

Prediction: Staying on top of short-term shifts in behavior as consumers adapt to lockdown is key. During the pandemic, Microsoft has found some very interesting micro-trends within specific categories. For example, the microtrend for fitness is around home exercise machines. For apparel, there are spikes in searches for loungewear and sportswear, and they’ve also found similar patterns within home and garden and personal care (skin, hair, and body) as we look to improve our living spaces and take care of ourselves.

Action to take: Targeted campaigns and proper segmentation will be key here. In addition, dynamic search ads and retargeting will be critical to success.

Trend: Christmas arrives early

Prediction: The holidays will hit retail at the earliest point in history, as consumers seek a bit of good tidings and joy. Pumpkin Spice Lattes showed up early, Christmas trees are out at Costco, and we have already seen our fair share of pandemic-themed holiday decorations and ideas.

Action to take: It’s ok to bust out the holiday music in October. It’s been a lousy year, and many of us want to dive right into the joys of the holiday. Help them capture the magic by playing into this with cheeky messaging around your social channels, newsletters, and email marketing. It’s time to add a bit of holiday cheer and decking of the halls to all the creatives associated with your online presence.

One last note for Black Friday and Cyber Week: messaging. Think about adjusting your current messaging and copy to reflect the current environment. As the pandemic continues, it isn’t easy to ascertain what your customers or prospects are going through. Tweaking your messaging to show empathy can go a long way in humanizing not only your brand but for your campaigns as well.