How Brands Can Prepare for Holiday 2020

How Brands Can Prepare for Holiday 2020

Lela Barker

While I don’t have a crystal ball, I do have 18 years invested in the entrepreneurial trenches. I’ve seen trends come and go, economies swell and constrain, and marketplaces both emerge and fade. While this is my first pandemic (a Girl Scout badge I’d rather none of us earn), I’ve been drawing on that experience to imagine how brands, makers, and product designers can prepare for the Holiday 2020 season.

I imagine we’re all a bit fatigued with politics, but the fact remains that we have no national leadership at the helm of the pandemic. Think what you will of Trump’s general demeanor and policy plans, but he’s not demonstrated a willingness to do the hard work of actually leading the nation through a pandemic, and I don’t suspect that’s going to change. I anticipate that we’ll be stuck on this merry-go-round until a vaccine is widely available in 2021.

I’ve been coaching my clients to shake up how they’ll manage holiday product rollouts and promotions. Precious little will be “normal” about the holiday 2020 season, but what follows is my best guesses about where we’re headed next.

Holiday shopping is likely to start early this year

With kids out of school and college football suspended, I can’t imagine that Halloween trick-or-treating is going to proceed as usual. Americans will likely shop earlier for two reasons:
1. We’re all homebound.
2. Thinking of and preparing for the holidays delivers a dose of comfort and familiarity when most of us are craving a return to social norms and rituals.

I think a significant number of consumers will skip right over Halloween to start their holiday prep in October. That means that makers need to finalize their holiday plans ASAP, and adjust the timeline for holiday launches accordingly.

Focus on e-comm as your main distribution channel

A patchwork of state mandates has led to a patchwork of progress against the coronavirus. Regrettably, Main Street wholesale will continue to be spotty at best and down overall for most brands. I harbor little hope that traditional holiday markets will proceed as usual, so the big retail shows that many brands depend on aren’t bankable. If wholesale is down and retail shows are out, what hope do we have?

Brands are preparing for holiday 2020 in a post pandemic world by putting more emphasis on e-commerce.


Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom, friend. Over the last several months, the momentum in this country has shifted towards e-comm in a way that’s hard to wrap the mind around. A recent report estimated that online sales will surge 18% this year alone. That’s a tremendous opportunity in and of itself, and most of my clients are reporting an increase in sales as D2C gains a bigger foothold while shoppers park themselves at home.

This holiday, I encourage you to invest energy in your email list, time in your social media presence, and money in paid social ads. Focusing on those aspects of the business will help drive sales. While you’re at it…

1. Ensure that your site is optimized for mobile users.
2. Resize site images to help your pages load more quickly.
3. Streamline the checkout process with an eye towards simplicity.
4. Unearth and remedy any broken links.

Prepare for holiday shipping delays

In case you haven’t heard, USPS is deep, deep in the struggle right now. A new Postmaster-General has made some questionable calls, and our antiquated postal system is grappling with a surge in deliveries as the country shifts to an e-comm centric model. Many artisan brands are reporting delivery delays on a level they’ve never before seen. Add millions of ballots for the upcoming election and holiday shipping on top of that, and things are likely to get dicier as the holidays approach.

Along with the pandemic, brands are preparing for holiday 2020 with disruptions to mail service.

I encourage you to monitor the situation closely, as things will inevitably shift in the coming months. If possible, begin exploring UPS and FedEx as alternate carriers. Create accounts for those services now, and explore their pricing and delivery timelines. If you’re regularly shipping in volume, ask UPS and FedEx if you can have a rep assigned to your account and push for volume discounts to secure the best pricing.

To avoid disappointment, keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening with all the carriers you work with. There’s a very real possibility that you’ll need to shave a week or more of traditional holiday shipping deadlines to ensure that packages arrive in time. And now more than ever, expedited shipping may be a huge incentive for savvy shoppers.

Plan for November turbulence

I can’t be the only one who’s eager to have the presidential election on November 3rd behind us, right? Things are going to heat up, and I don’t anticipate that we’ll know the results of the election on November 3 or even November 4 as America wrestles with whatever political reckoning is coming down the pike.

I attended a Renegade Craft show in NYC the week after the November 2016 election. Attendance numbers plummeted, and the venue was a virtual ghost town. Once I returned home, I heard from client after client that their predictable holiday revenue patterns broke that year.

My personal feeling about the current administration aside, Trump has planted the seeds of doubt about election security, and that doesn’t bode particularly well for any of us. I suspect that most of November will be deeply tumultuous for the United States, and consumers will likely be focused on “other things” for the first half of November- and perhaps the whole of November if this election drags itself out.

Accordingly, I vote for big holiday pushes in October and December and a more reserved tone in November.

Shoppers will be keen on stretching their dollars

In the current economy, peeps are going to be watching their pennies with renewed vigilance. While saving money is a perrenial priority for many shoppers, it’s likely to take on a renewed importance given rising unemployment, civil unrest, and shaky stock markets.

The key is to offer your shoppers a great value while protecting your margins as much as possible. In lieu of “dollars off” discounts, opt for value-added promotions. Things like free gift wrap, free shipping, “buy this- get that” offers, and complimentary upgrades to expedited shipping hold massive potential without eroding your brand position. A few years ago, I published a blog on the best way to manage a sale for artisan brands, and I’d make the same recommendations today.

If you must run a promotion that reduces the overall order value, I recommend promoting the hell out of it, running it for a short window of time, and limiting the offer to items which boast the most robust profit margins.

Brands are preparing for holiday 2020 by finding ways to offer value added promotions over "deep discounts"

What are you expecting this season?

Have you noticed any changes to your revenue patterns? Are you making adjustments to your holiday timelines and launches? Have your customers begun asking for holiday products? Drop a comment below to share your thoughts- I’d love to hear them!

About the Author

Lela Barker

Lela Barker hails from the deep-and-dirty south (ATL, represent!), where she spends her days helping makers and product designers navigate the pitfalls of product pricing, brand development, and wholesale strategy. She launched her apothecary brand in 2003 and bootstrapped the hell out of that little business to cultivate a portfolio of 1500+ stockists worldwide, generating $12million in revenue and establishing successful distributorships in the Middle East, EU, Scandinavia, and South Korea. Lela is the keeper of a well-worn passport and the maker of the finest lemon meringue pie you’ve ever put in your mouth.

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