A COVID Christmas: Buy Online, Return In-Store

A COVID Christmas: Buy Online, Return In-Store


The noticeable increase in online sales since March is expected to continue as consumers look to purchase Christmas gifts.

With the holiday season officially begun, retailers’ minds (and pockets) are all focused on an anticipated boom in sales. As retailers start to announce Black Friday and Christmas sales, the verdict is still out on just how much foot retail stores can anticipate, as the coronavirus threatens to rear its head for a second wave. The noticeable increase in online sales since March is expected to continue as consumers look to purchase Christmas gifts, especially from retailers that promise fast (and free) shipping. 

A recent CreditCards.com survey found that 71% of consumers expected to exclusively buy their Christmas gifts online, that’s up 20% from 2019. And, with online sales last year for the 2019 holiday shopping season topping over $1 trillion, the average household this year is expected to spend, on average, $1,536 during this gift-giving season.

What’s also interesting is who is expected to buy online this holiday season. With mobile purchasing lowering the barrier for most consumers to make those quick Christmas gift purchases, the demographics of online consumers are markedly different than those who make in-store retail purchases. A recent poll found that 78% of online shoppers are more affluent and make at least $80,000 per year.

Although why consumers will buy online this holiday shopping season isn’t in dispute, what is uncertain is how they’ll buy. It is expected that many consumers will make their gift purchases online, but will prefer to return items in-store. This could lead to a marked uptick in foot traffic immediately after the holidays, with some experts estimating as much as a 40% increase in in-store retail visits. 

This is due to recent findings that of all the e-commerce purchases done online, up to 40% of those are returned to the store within 7 days of purchase, compared to just 5% of all in-store purchases.

For cash-strapped retail locations, stocking up now and placing promotions front and center when consumers enter stores (albeit for returns), could help to generate a nice boost in in-store sales leading into 2021. Also, offering special in-store only sales and extending them through the January return window could be another way to drive foot traffic to retail stores without cannibalizing online sales.

Either way you look at it, this COVID-19 Christmas season may not look normal in other ways, but for online retailers, they stand to cash in big, as consumers flock by the millions to get their Christmas shopping done online.


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