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What will holiday shopping look like during a pandemic?

ASU professor shares his predictions for in-person and online seasonal shopping

November 05, 2020

Since the start of COVID-19, many Americans have changed their spending habits and behaviors. Fewer people are inclined to go into shopping malls where people congregate and the virus can spread, instead shifting to e-commerce websites to fulfill their various needs and wants.

From shoes to yoga mats to everyday household toiletries, e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and eBay have strengthed and simplified consumers' purchasing power.

However, supply chain Professor Hitendra Chaturvedi of Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business predicts that the increasing number of American families opting for online shopping over in-person retail will make shipment delays common this holiday season.

Chaturvedi came to ASU after a successful exit from GreenDust, a reverse logistics startup he founded in India. His experience in startup companies and consulting makes him an expert on global supply chain strategy, sustainable supply chains, digitizing traditional supply chains and reverse logistics.

Here, Chaturvedi shares his thoughts on what we should expect this upcoming holiday season and gives valuable insights on what consumers should look out for.

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Professor Hitendra Chaturvedi

Question: What will holiday shopping for Black Friday and the month of December look like?

Answer: There are a few trends that you will see this holiday season. It will be a long shopping season and it will start early. Physical retail will decrease while e-commerce will have a bumper season. 

Products that will sell well will include nontraveling nesting habits like kitchen, home improvement, home furnishing, tools, home entertainment, gaming and home fitness. Think of a person who does not travel and is spending most of their time at home. All things needed to make their home as the center of the universe will sell well.

In that sense we are seeing a “K”-shaped recovery, not only in products, but also in business sectors. Some sectors such as e-commerce are growing, while others such as malls and restaurants are declining.

Q: Do you expect online sales to increase or will we still see consumers shopping physically at malls?

A: Overall, the holiday retail market of approximately $740 billion will basically remain flat, but e-commerce will take close to 40% of the share, which was only about 14% to 15% in 2019. This means that the physical retail market will decrease from approximately $620 billion to $440 billion, while e-commerce will grow from about $100 billion in 2019 to close to $300 billion this year.

Q: How will COVID-19 and a potential winter surge affect holiday shopping?

A: All of my previous projections are hoping that COVID-19 is contained a bit more and does not flare up. If COVID flares, then all bets are off, but then e-commerce will grow even faster.

Q: What factors should consumers take into consideration before the holiday season ends?

A: Manage your expectations when it comes to holiday shopping because you may experience delays in your e-commerce shipments, and companies will likely blame COVID-19 for the delay. If you decide to call customer service, expect long wait times, overworked employees and poor customer service. There will be fewer products in physical retail stores and malls, but also less foot traffic in the malls.

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