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A different kind of peak – preparing for the Golden Quarter amid COVID-19 

Date: October 13, 2020

Category: Industry news

Author: Jenni Day

With Prime Day taking place on 13–14 October this year, and Black Friday and Christmas just around the corner, the “Golden Quarter” is officially underway. But what impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on peak trading? And how can you prepare for a festive period that is unlike any that has come before?

Shopping is starting earlier

According to research conducted by market-research agency, Walnut, consumers are starting their Christmas shopping earlier this year: by the beginning of October, 17 per cent have already started buying gifts, while 25 per cent plan to start within the next few weeks. 

The key reasons for this shift are:

  • Concerns around finances and the desire to spread the cost of Christmas gifting across multiple paydays
  • Potential postal-delivery delays due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the retail sector

As a result, it looks like this year’s Black Friday will be the most important sales period for all non-food retailers. 

IMRG, the UK's industry association for online retail, are forecasting that online sales over the two weeks of Black Friday (15–30 November) will be up at least 30 per cent –potentially rising to 50 per cent if further in-store shopping restrictions are enforced. 

Online will dominate in-store purchasing 

Black Friday aside, online shopping is expected to dominate physical retail this festive season. According to research carried out by Retail Week, almost two thirds of shoppers are planning to do most of their Christmas gifting online – this is up 15 per cent year on year. 

So, why such a shift to online? Research conducted by Retail Economics and Klarna has shown that COVID-19 restrictions are set to dissuade 71 per cent of consumers from shopping in physical locations, with one in three saying they will avoid stores as much as possible.

Amazon also remains the top online destination for shoppers to begin their product searches, at 53 per cent, and where two-thirds of shoppers plan to look for the majority of their gifts for the winter holidays.

How to prepare for a festive season like no other

We know that online will dominate festive shopping in 2020, and most shoppers are planning to bring their purchasing forward as a result of potential delivery or sourcing delays. 

With this in mind, we have outlined some tips to help you make the most of retail’s Golden Quarter.

Get the basics right when selling on marketplaces

When selling on marketplaces, there are few fundamental steps that are worth remembering to get maximum visibility for your products:

  1. Make sure your unique identifiers – GS1 GTINs – are added to your marketplace listings as well as on your own website to benefit from increased visibility over the peak period, via channels like Google Shopping. 
  2. Ensure all your product data is complete, particularly item specifics - to ensure your products are ready for eBay’s new listing requirements (due to come in February 2021). Customers will usually know what they are searching for and will use filters on the site to find the item – your items will not appear if you do not have the item specifics completed. 
  3. All bundles should be uniquely identified to help the marketplace surface your promotion.
  4. Review any paid advertising you do on marketplaces. Take a look at the campaigns and optimise the keywords – check out our webinar on Amazon PPC for more tips.

To optimise your product listings further, check out our eBay and Amazon guides. 

Prepare for an earlier peak

As previously mentioned, experts are predicting that we are in for a bumper Black Friday. Coupled with Prime Day falling in October this year, it is likely that peak trading will be brought forward, so make sure you have enough product ready to ship in order to keep up with demand. 

Plan, communicate and be flexible with deliveries

Delivery networks have been under huge strain during 2020, and this looks set to continue throughout the festive season, with further regional lockdowns expected and mounting pressure on couriers. 

To help mitigate any potential delays, take some time to assess reasonable delivery timescales for your business, and ensure you have a happy end customer. Then, make sure you very clearly communicate your delivery options and Christmas cut-off dates, to give your customers confidence that their chosen gift will arrive on time. 

If shoppers are uncertain, they may choose to browse your competition, or, if a gift doesn’t arrive on time, it could be first and last time they shop with you. 

On top of clear communication, many shoppers will also want flexibility when it comes to how they ship their order. Can you offer the option to split orders, send it in plain packaging or next day delivery? Clear, flexible options give customers greater confidence you will meet or even exceed their expectations.

Finally, consider having a second courier option in case there are issues with your primary carrier. With online shopping expected to overtake in-store purchasing this year, there will be added pressure on supply chains to cope with demand, notwithstanding potential disruptions as a result of further lockdown measures.

Discover how GS1’s Serial Shipping Container Codes (SSCC) can help you minimise labelling costs and increase the speed in processing delivers. 

Make sure your message is consistent across all channels

As we all know, consumers spend time researching a product before they commit to purchase. With this in mind, it is important that the way you present your brand is consistent across all potential retail channels – both online and in store. 

Once you have confirmed your holiday messaging, and created a promotional campaign that Santa would be proud of, make sure you amplify you message across all consumer touch points. 

By reiterating the same message in all consumer interactions, the customer is more likely to take you up on that fantastic holiday offer.

Capture impulse buyers through time-limited promotions

During the festive season, many shoppers will look outside their usual stores to find something different or meaningful. 

According to Ella d’Amato, chief commercial officer at Notonthehighstreet: 

Christmas is traditionally a time for shopping, and we believe that there will still be strong consumer demand over the festive period as people look to purchase thoughtful gifts for others and to treat themselves after what has been a very tough year.” 

To capture those shoppers, you need to present them with an offer they cannot refuse. According to the NRF, 50 per cent of holiday shoppers were convinced to make a purchase based on a time-limited sale or promotion. By adding a time restriction to your deal, you are more likely to capture an impulse buyer. 

Adapt for novice online shoppers

The lockdown period saw a significant increase in the number of new online shoppers, as consumers who may have previously had no reason or desire to shop online suddenly had no other option. 

To support these online entrants, make sure all information related to your product, such as delivery, payment methods and returns, is crystal clear. It might even be worth providing additional prompts or FAQs to help them navigate this new shopping environment.