With the coronavirus pandemic still upon us, this holiday season promises to be distinctly different from the ones American consumers are used to celebrating. This year, the in-person Christmas parties are likely to be few and far between; many family celebrations are bound to be shifted to online video chats rather than gatherings at Grandma’s house; and if the kids can even find a Santa to visit for Christmas-wish-list sharing, he’s likely to be wearing a mask when they sit in his lap — if that’s allowed at all.
The holiday shopping season is bound to see some major changes this year, too. With social distancing required in stores and many people moving their shopping online, consumers might want to consider taking a different approach to tackling their gift lists. Here are a few tactics consumers can employ to make this year’s holiday shopping as safe and stress-free as possible:
- Start shopping early: Most retail experts seem to agree that the holiday shopping season will begin earlier than usual this year and that those who wait until the last minute might be disappointed. The reasons consumers should begin checking items off their gift lists as soon as possible this year are numerous: The availability of a range of items is expected to be down due to production and supply limitations caused by the pandemic. Demand for tangible gifts — and electronics in particular, many experts say — will likely be substantially up due to a shift away from experiential gifts like event tickets and travel, which have been especially heavily impacted by the pandemic. And holiday shipping slowdowns are likely to be especially pronounced this year due to a big jump in online shopping paired with already-high postal and shipping volumes.
- Keep an eye out for earlier-than-usual sales: In the vein of the trend noted above, blowout, in-store Black Friday sales — which most years mark the traditional start of the holiday shopping season — are likely to be moved online or abandoned altogether this year as the crowds they tend to draw would be inherently dangerous during a pandemic. Most retail experts expect retailers to start their holiday promotions as early as October, especially since many retailers foresee this year’s Halloween sales to be something of a bust. To get the most bang for their holiday shopping buck, deal-seeking consumers should be on the lookout for holiday sales that begin well before the usual late-November start date.
- Arrange for delivery, or curbside or in-store pickup: As many consumers have discovered during the COVID-19 lockdowns, most retailers are adapting with shopping options that allow buyers to shop and pay for their purchases online, then have them delivered or set aside for curbside or in-store pickup. As noted above, though, a big key here for both product availability and consumer wait times will be to start the shopping process as early as possible this year.
- Look for free shipping deals: For consumers who choose to shop online and have their purchases shipped to their home, one way to save money on shipping costs is to take advantage of the free-shipping offers that many retailers provide when purchases hit a certain threshold on their websites. Numerous retailers offer some sort of free shipping deals with online orders and many are providing extended return windows in light of consumers’ shift to online shopping.
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