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BLOG: Retail’s twin peaks of Christmas 2020

By Retail Technology | Monday October 19 2020 | UPDATED 19.10.20

In 2020, the crucial Christmas peak trading season will be like no other with the second wave of COVID-19 arriving like the worst kind of Christmas dinner guest.

While that’s obviously bad for retailers with stores, the rapid switch to online also brings its own particular issues.

This year we will clearly see more shopping than ever done online because of COVID and

IMRG has stated that online sales have grown by between 40% and 50% during the virus. 

UK’s second-biggest ecommerce retailer Very Group has already said they expect Black Friday and Christmas to set records while Liberty’s famous festive campaign has seen Christmas decorations sales up 260% year-on-year in early trading. Even though it’s only the second week in October, Smyths Toy Stores are reporting panic buying and queues at their stores. 

Meanwhile, PriceRunner has predicted that the value of online sales on Black Friday will increase by around 14% in the UK and Christmas could be 50% busier for online sellers. 

Andy Mulchay, strategy director at IMRG, told BBC Online: “We think the volumes are going to be really very excessive this year. Whilst that in itself is not a problem, getting too much of it too close to Christmas is going to be a bit of a problem. If you can spread out your shopping and do quite a lot of it in November, maybe even a bit of it now, then that would really help.”

Last mile

Of course the online retailer’s job doesn’t finish with the sale as delivery has become a key differentiator and during the COVID online surge this has created its own issues. 

Suppliers and retailers have said that it was like they had suddenly been hit by demand on a par with Christmas but without the months of pre-planning usually taken to ensure the supply chain ran smoothly.

Not surprising then that Salesforce data has shown a global last mile carrier and delivery system under pressure ahead of the business end of the golden quarter. 

It’s predicting a 5% over capacity demand for traditional carriers or somewhere in the region of 700 billion packages that could be at risk of being delayed in transit. 

As a result, many retail stores are now acting as distribution points with Apple for one using its stores in this way with the strategy meaning faster delivery times for customers who live further from distribution centres than from stores.  

But the key to better last mile fulfilment this peak season will be the supercharged digital transformation in retail during the COVID crisis.

Guy Bloch, CEO of delivery and fulfilment platform Bringg, says: “We have seen and heard from retailers globally who are scrambling for ways to get these new services up within days or weeks at most. For many retailers, these new fulfilment models were 12-36 month initiatives.” 

Safe shopping

And with so much online choice out there this peak trading season, now is not the time to be letting your customers down. 

Simon Bennett, CTO at Rackspace Technology explains: “Anyone with an online business, whether it be bricks and mortar with an online presence or a true online business, will have to be able to provide a quality  24/7 shopping experience for their customers. It will be vital to have confidence in the supporting technologies from ecommerce through to back end logistics and all elements in between both in terms of scale and resilience. Any issues and the consumer will simply go elsewhere.”

Of course, as previously stated, when it comes to physical stores there’s a whole different set of issues . While online is strategising over handling unprecedented demand, physical store retailers are wondering just how big a dent in footfall they’ll see if they are even  allowed to open at all.

Ensuring a smooth link between physical and digital is vital for stores this Christmas, however it will be equally vital to ensure a safe shopping environment. 

While consumer trust used to be won by producing consistent products and services it is now just as important to offer a safe shopping environment to win the trust of consumers. 

Wearing face coverings, having hand sanitiser freely available and marking out social distancing reminders are the basics here but technology is playing an important role too with virtual queueing and virtual changing rooms making life easier and safer.  

Once again necessity has proved to be the mother of invention in retail. 

To discover quick solutions and ideas that can be deployed before the  peak trading period gets into full swing download our free report ‘Tackling the Twin Peaks’ here.



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