Consumer behaviour has shifted greatly in recent history, propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic initiated in 2020. Health and safety measures led to mass store closures and an inevitable spike in online shopping. As stores reopen and restrictions begin to disappear, consumers have more shopping options than ever before. Will consumers rush to brick and mortar stores this holiday season, or will eCommerce continue to rise in popularity?

With consumer expectations built up over a year in preparation for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, there is little room for error. Brands must optimize their eCommerce experience to accommodate high expectations and avoid missing out on the abundance of online purchasing potential.

Last Year's Holiday Shopping Trends

Last year, eCommerce sales in the US saw a significant spike during the holiday season, with online revenue reported at $188.2 billion from November 1st to December 31st, surpassing Adobe’s projection by over $4 billion. This year, Adobe predicts holiday season revenue of $189 billion, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday accounting for $22.7 billion of the total forecasted amount

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, sporadic store closures and restrictions have emerged in waves worldwide. This has resulted in a significant spike in blended shopping options, such as Buy Online Pick Up In-Store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, and accelerated shipping. Consumers have quickly shifted to expect online experiences akin to the in-store feel, resulting in a demand for more personalization, faster collection of items bought online, and even virtually delivered experiences sold through eCommerce. It is imperative for retailers to adapt in order to fulfill the anticipation of modern consumers. 

When it comes to in-store Black Friday shopping, will Canadian and American consumers return to the same in-store shopping habits they held pre-pandemic? A PricewaterhouseCoopers study found more than half of Canadian respondents are shopping less or not at all in-store for fashion (55%) and consumer electronics (54%). This shift represents an urgent push for retailers in those sectors to get digital storefronts online and optimized for the busy holiday season. Despite fewer restrictions in place this year compared to last, brands can expect consumers to continue relying on digital platforms to shop for the best sales of the season from the comfort of their homes. Resilience for retailers will manifest as digital transformation, flexibility, and unified, omnichannel experiences for consumers.

Last year, shipping and fulfillment presented challenges for brands to deliver due to the higher online shopping volume. Many brands extended their sales to prevent mass orders in a single day, easing the distribution process. This year, consumers can expect to see a similar effect with sales starting earlier and lasting longer. Gone are the days of doorbuster sales! In order to capitalize on a longer sale period without losing the sense of urgency triggered by seasonal clearances, retailers are expected to offer various promotions one after another to ensure shoppers are continuously incentivized and motivated to buy. Longer sale durations paired with more shipping and pick-up options will reduce the sense of urgency to shop in-store on Black Friday, resulting in fewer crowds without sacrificing overall purchase revenue.

How Brands Can Achieve Success by Considering Post-Pandemic Consumer Behaviour

The future of eCommerce will rely on convenience and personalization. In order to drive online sales in a saturated online shopping marketplace—retailers must invest in omnichannel marketing strategies, efficient supply chains, automated and timely fulfillment tactics, and conversion-optimized experiences. The last year has seen digital transformations in every sector, with retailers from all industries prioritizing online strategies. Many online storefronts went live hurriedly in order to keep up with demand, deprioritizing best practices and essential strategies for conversion rate optimization, search engine optimization, and accessibility. In the coming months, reprioritizing those projects is a must—preparing for the holiday season is synonymous with developing an optimized and elevated online presence. Omnichannel experiences allow consumers to connect with a brand via multiple touchpoints, ultimately delivering more holistic and memorable interactions and contributing to a positive brand image.

An integral aspect of preparation for the upcoming holiday season is mobile optimization. With mobile conversion rates reported at nearly half of desktop conversion rates during Black Friday Cyber Monday weekend 2020, brands can no longer go to market without shopping experiences optimized for mobile devices. In 2021, 53.9 percent of all retail eCommerce is expected to be generated via m-commerce, making it abundantly clear that overlooking the mobile user experience is no longer an option for modern retailers. 

Beyond the shift to digital shopping, the pandemic initiated an increase in household savings resulting in a recent acceleration in spending, according to RBC Economics. With more money in consumers’ pockets, brands need to prepare their online storefronts to perform. Albeit many consumers have more money to spend, global search engine data from 2021 shows a significant increase in searches for “low budget” and “discount” products. This juxtaposition suggests that consumers will be willing to spend more this holiday season, but continue to prioritize value and economical options. 

The abundance of eCommerce storefronts presents no shortage of options for consumers—a minor misstep can redirect traffic to competitors. Search engine visibility, email automation, strategic advertising campaigns, conversion rate optimization, and personalization should be at the forefront of every digital strategy leading up to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the remainder of the holiday season. Brands should also be sure to offer various payment and delivery options for a seamless and convenient buying experience. 

Black Friday and Cyber Monday strategies require thoughtful planning and preparation in order to deliver an optimized and positive experience to shoppers. The eCommerce landscape is more competitive and complex than ever before, urging retailers to put their best foot forward this holiday season.