Holidays in review: What defined the season in 2020

2020/12/31 Innoverview Read

As with everything else this year, the pandemic upset the holidays for retailers, forcing them to adjust to changing consumer behavior and safety demands. In a year that was heavily focused online, that meant taking many mainstays of the holiday season virtual and introducing more convenient (and touch-free) pickup options for wary consumers.

There are countless small things that changed as a result of the global health crisis, but here are some of the largest factors that impacted the holidays for retailers in 2020.

A Black Friday unlike any other

This year's Black Friday was utterly unlike any that came before it, starting with the fact that many large retailers actively worked to keep customers out of their stores as COVID-19 went through a predicted fall surge. 

Discounts were drawn into November, and earlier, to entice customers to start their holiday shopping before the big shopping holiday. Online took center stage. And the trend of retailers opening on Thanksgiving, at least for this year, reversed like a receding tide. Even Walmart closed on the holiday for the first time in more than three decades. 

All of those efforts showed in the numbers. Online purchasing on Black Friday hit a record, after weeks of going at elevated levels. At the same time, foot traffic fell by more than 50% according to some counts. The enclosed mall especially took a hit on visitors. Traffic to traditional malls was down 53.4%, according to, while traffic to outlet centers was down 47.7%. For traditional malls those numbers improved on Saturday and Sunday, but still remained well below past levels. 

As with so many things this year, the pandemic accelerated trends already underway pre-pandemic. Black Friday the day mattered less. E-commerce mattered more. And the retailers with strong digital and omnichannel games flexed their advantage.

A very omnichannel Christmas

Several nonessential retailers in the spring temporarily shuttered their doors — either by choice or government mandate — to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, many consumers turned to e-commerce channels to purchase goods. But even as stores reopened, consumers' reliance on online shopping didn't wane.

Non-store retail sales tracked by the U.S. Department of Commerce increased nearly 26% in April from last year, while other categories tracked, like apparel, plunged 87% during the same period.

New challenges were introduced as a result, however, especially around shipping delays. Even Amazon, an e-commerce giant, faced disruptions that caused it to walk back its one-day delivery promise, limit assortment and postpone its annual Prime Day from its usual July date.

(Source: RetailDive