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B.C. businesses bracing for holiday shopping during a pandemic

While many Canadian retailers and consumers are uncertain about what to expect as the 2020 holiday season approaches, one thing is clear - it will be unlike previous years.
Photo: Instagram/@cfrichmondcentre

While many Canadian retailers and consumers are uncertain about what to expect as the 2020 holiday season approaches, one thing is clear - it will be unlike previous years.

It is hard to estimate how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact overall holiday spending, but a survey shows that 86 per cent of Canadian shoppers expect to spend either the same or less overall this holiday season, with deep cuts in travel spending.

Canadian consumers also plan to do more of their shopping online than in stores this holiday season, as they focus on convenience, health and safety, rather than the shopping experience itself.

This aligns perfectly with the fact that many businesses are ramping up curbside pickup and online shopping and are scaling back on in-store promotions in an effort to discourage crowds and keep workers safe.

"Looking ahead to the holidays, successful retailers will be those who adapt to our quickly changing business environment and understand what a more digital world means for how they interact with consumers," said Karla Laird, manager for Community and Public Relations at Better Business Bureau, which serves mainland B.C.

"At the same time, businesses must also plan for the one-third of consumers who are still struggling with technology, as consumers over 55 years old are expected to do most of their shopping in stores".

As businesses make adjustments to their typical holiday plans, BBB is sharing the following tips for them to consider:

Create a plan of action as soon as possible:

The forecast for consumer behaviour may not be crystal clear, but you can still make sure inventory is stocked and you are promoting products that fit with shoppers’ current reality. Keep in mind your chain of supply could be affected by the pandemic, and plan accordingly.

Hiring for the holidays?:

Stay flexible. It is expected that shoppers are planning on being practical with their purchases this season. We have already seen where many have transitioned to the order online, curbside pick up model or are shopping online exclusively. Carefully consider the staffing levels to meet the needs of customers while still helping employee needs as well.

Improve your online presence:

 There is one thing you can be sure of this holiday season: most businesses will see reduced in-store purchases and increased online sales, which is why you need a strong online presence. Make sure your website and online shop are up-to-date and running smoothly. Be sure to work out any bugs before holiday shopping really picks up.

Consider flexible payment options:

 PayPal, a BBB Accredited Business, encourages business owners to take a proactive approach this holiday season by embracing digital payments and flexible payment options for consumers, to keep sales coming in.

Try an outdoor pop-up shop:

 Open-air pop-up shops are becoming a popular way to sell goods and services while allowing customers to avoid enclosed spaces. If your community has a weekly open-air market, and the weather is cooperating, see if it could be a worthwhile way to increase your sales.

Keep your customers safe:

Plan for additional customers during the holiday season. Set up hand sanitizer stations and clear signage to direct consumers to what they are looking for faster. Mark any waiting areas or queues with social distancing markers and take advantage of enlarged waiting areas to display additional services or smaller, “impulse buy” products.

Bring seasonal employees up to speed:

 By now, full-time employees probably know the routine when it comes to enforcing social distancing practices and sanitizing your business. Make sure seasonal staff is thoroughly trained, too. Set up clear policies outlining how you will handle employee notification if one of your staff tests positive.

Offer curbside pickup:

Curbside pickup can help you and your customers save on shipping costs. In addition, this service can help you win over many consumers who are hesitant to enter a store. Start planning your curbside pickup system as soon as possible and let your clients know it is available.

Go cashless and give clients contactless payment options:

Cut down on physical contact by going cashless. You can also keep your customers and employees safe by offering contactless payment options like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay.