Tis the (new) Season: A Different Holiday Paradigm

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By Clayton Southerly, Alter Agents

The 2020 winter holiday season will be, like almost everything else this year, different. The experience of the past nine months has led us to a tough spot: the pandemic is unabated, with cases and hospitalizations rising across the country. As a result, the already-uneven economic recovery is at risk as millions of American families struggle.

Reporting from the New York Times finds that the worsening public health outlook is pushing state and local governments to implement new restrictions, likely with more on the way. These steps are necessary to protect the lives of our neighbors. And they’re just part of how the pandemic is forcing us to change our holiday habits, both in how we celebrate our traditions and how we pursue the shopping season.

For the third and final installment in our research series on consumer anxiety, we asked Americans about their holiday plans: How will they celebrate their traditions? Will they gather? How will they approach spending and giving gifts? Their answers underscore how different this season will be, and suggest some things brands may need to do to adapt.

A Season Formerly for Gathering

Of our respondents who are celebrating holidays this season, one in five said they would gather with loved ones as normal while the other 80% plan to scale back their celebrations. Around a third told us that they would abide by public health authorities’ pleas and not gather with those outside their households. Those over the age of 55 were more likely than others to say that they would be celebrating alone.

The CDC is advising Americans, in no uncertain terms, that travelling will increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to strangers and loved ones alike. It further recommends against gathering with loved ones to celebrate the holidays, as doing so also fuels the spread. The fact that safety is predicated on isolating isn’t helped by the fact that loneliness is felt most acutely at the holidays. This year, forging connections virtually will be more important than ever as we learned in our recent work with Snapchat on friendship.

Ecommerce Will Be Dominant

The pandemic and resulting economic climate are also changing how Americans are shopping for the holidays. A third of shoppers told us that their holiday spending would be the same as in the past, while a majority – 54% – said that they would be spending less or nothing this season. Where they do intend to shop isn’t surprising. More than half said that they would be doing more of their shopping online, with just 19% saying that they would be doing more in stores. 

You Still Can’t Cancel the Holidays

Despite the challenges that 2020 has sent our way, and there have been many, we persevere. We can’t gather together this season as we normally would, but that shouldn’t stand in the way of coming together with a common purpose.

For brands, the path to reaching your audience may be narrower and their dollars stretched more thinly. But we know that shoppers, like people, appreciate brands and organizations that speak with and operate in solidarity. Being authentic right now means acknowledging the tough reality that most are facing and seeking to lift them up. Show your understanding of their issues and demonstrate your commitment to them. Embrace the spirit of the season and speak to your audience with empathy, warmth, and hope.

About the author: Clayton Southerly is a Senior Research Analyst at Alter Agents (www.alteragents.com), a boutique market research consultancy based in Los Angeles. He asks the big questions, specializing in building custom research and information products for executives at Fortune 500 companies and federal agencies. He loves building relationships, and his empathic approach helps him make these partnerships stronger through the work he delivers. When he’s not delivering thoughtful insights, Clayton enjoys sitting on the beach, food, and traveling.

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