For an Unprecedented Holiday Shopping Season, Retailers and Consumers Find Themselves Mostly Aligned

Dec 04, 2020

Survey findings from Square and Wakefield Research show that consumers and retailers primarily agree on how to stay safe and smoothly operating for the 2020 holiday season

Consumers signal an enhanced desire to shop local and support small business this season, while retailers predict e-commerce and pickup options will be key among shoppers

As the year comes to a close, businesses across the globe are facing their most important sales month and eager to finish an unprecedented and challenging year. After nine months of weathering pandemic impacts, from operational adaptations to stay-at-home orders, it’s more important than ever that retailers, especially small businesses, have a successful holiday shopping season.

Square surveyed retailers and consumers in November to see how they expect the 2020 holiday shopping season to unfold – asking them a series of matching questions to determine if there were any key places their expectations diverged. By and large, we’ve found they’re mostly aligned, a joyful signal to small businesses who will be thrilled to know their community is onboard with them.

Here were other key findings for the 2020 holiday shopping season, which we’ll explore in more depth throughout this report:

  • The majority of consumers (52%) are more likely to support small and local businesses this holiday season than they were last year.
  • Both retailers and consumers are aligned on mask requirements as their top safe-shopping measure – on average, 53% of shoppers want masks required in stores, and 48% of retailers are planning to enforce such a policy.
  • 71% of U.S. retailers offering online options are concerned about delays from shipping carriers causing items to arrive late – a concern shared by 63% of consumers.
  • Where do they disagree? While 56% of retailers expect many consumers to not shop in-store at all, consumers are undeterred: 79% of consumers feel safe shopping in a physical store.
  • 47% of consumers say they intend to give more e-gift cards this season, and Square data found that e-gift card sales on Black Friday increased by 115% and by 112% on Cyber Monday year-over-year.

Supporting Small Businesses

Consumers intend to throw their support behind local and small businesses this holiday season:

  • 60% of survey respondents say they typically support small business in their holiday shopping all the time, often, or half the time
  • And 52% of respondents indicated they would be more likely to support local and small businesses in the 2020 holiday shopping season.

This looks to be good news for small businesses, as almost two-thirds of retailers report it’s even more important to have a successful holiday season this year versus years past.

  • 39% said it’s “much more important”
  • 24% said it’s “somewhat more important”
  • Only 10% said it’s “not important”

Mask Mandates for Shopping Safety

Retailers and consumers are aligned on requiring masks in stores; both ranked it their top in-store shopping implementation for the 2020 holiday season. On average, 53% of shoppers want masks required in stores, and 48% of retailers are planning to implement such a policy.

For retailers, mask policies are correlated with business size as well as distribution of sales:

  • About 66% of retailers with 10+ employees will require customers to wear masks, which drops to 35% for retailers with <10 employees.
    • Several factors may explain why smaller retailers are less likely to require masks, such as not wanting to lose business or possibly lacking security staff to confront non-mask wearing customers.
  • Retailers who expect most of their sales to come via online are also less likely to require masks; only 24% retailers who expect 75%+ of sales online will require masks.

Here’s how other adaptations ranked:

  Retailers Consumers
Requirement to wear masks in stores 48% (1) 53% (1)
Local delivery 38% (4) 33% (2)
Curbside pickup 44% (3) 32% (3)
Contact-free payments 45% (2) 28% (4)
Outdoor shopping 12% (7) 24% (5)
Shopping appointments for personal attention and reduced store capacity 16% (6) 20% (6)
Social media content with shoppable posts 28% (5) 19% (7)
None of the above 18% 11%

Respondents were asked to choose 3 *

Local and small businesses seem to have a leg up when it comes to consumers’ desire to shop safely:

  • 79% of respondents indicated they feel safe shopping in a physical store
    • 25% of respondents said they feel safer in local and small businesses versus big-box retailers
  • However, 1 in 5 consumers said they don’t feel safe in any physical stores, primarily driven by older respondents (50+ years old)

Will Shipping Delays Steal Christmas?

Shipping delays loom large – this holiday season, 71% of U.S. retailers offering online options are concerned about items arriving late due to delays from shipping carriers—a concern shared by 63% of consumers.

  Retailers Consumers
Very concerned 29% 28%
Somewhat concerned 42% 35%
Not very concerned 20% 27%
Not at all concerned 20% 11%

To offset these concerns, both businesses and consumers are gravitating toward buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) options:

  • 43% of retailers say they predict consumers will expect more items to be available for pickup this year.
  • 32% of consumers say a curbside pickup option makes them more comfortable shopping locally.

Online Shopping Readiness and Intent

Perhaps spurred by consumers’ distrust of shipping timelines, retailers may have overestimated how much holiday shopping will move online this year. While 56% of retailers expect many consumers to not shop in-store at all, consumers are undeterred: 79% of consumers feel safe shopping in a physical store and 40% say at least half of their shopping will happen in-store.

Percent of Shopping Anticipated to be Online Retailers Consumers
75% or more 41% 36%
50% - <75% 18% 25%
25% - <50% 20% 11%
Less than 25% 21% 28%

While most retailers embrace the demand for e-commerce, there are still holdouts:

  • Only 22% of retailers said they don’t intend to offer an online shopping option for their customers.
  • Over half (55%) of retailers were online in the 2019 holiday season.

Giving Digitally – Embracing e-Gift Cards

While just over half of businesses will offer gift cards (51%), 69% of those that do expect gift card sales will increase this year, especially digital or e-gift cards that can be purchased online:

  • 22% say sales of both physical and digital gift cards will increase
  • 30% say sales of digital gift cards will increase
  • 17% say sales of physical cards will increase

47% of consumers say they’re more likely to give digital gifts like e-gift cards this season, while another 39% say their gift-card-giving habits will remain the same as last year, indicating appetite for e-gift cards is growing. In correlation with this, Square data found that e-gift card sales increased by 115% on Black Friday and 112% on Cyber Monday year-over-year. The top industries purchasing e-gift card cards for Black Friday and Cyber Monday were (1) food and beverage (2) retail (3) beauty and personal care.

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