Uncertainty Is Certain: Holiday Season 2020

By Alizeh Rasool and Laura Gaggi


We all know that this year’s Holiday Season is going to be different in so many ways. This has created its own set of unique problems for retailers and marketers. The fact that 48% of Canadian Holiday shoppers plan to purchase most or everything online this year raises questions about how early consumers will start their shopping, whether inventory will be available or not, if deliveries will arrive on time and whether they are getting the best deals possible out there?

Opposite sentiments are being expressed by consumers about the holidays given all the unknowns caused by the pandemic. Many are somber while others remain upbeat. The question is, how ready are marketers to deal with each arising issue? How deeply do they recognize the current demands of the market and are they really listening to these varying consumer sentiments? Because this will either make or break 2020 for them.

At the IAB ecommerce webinar held in September, some marketers revealed that they were going to be FLEXIBLE with their holiday plans and campaigns. It sounded more indecisive than strategic, given the enormous number of articles and consumer research studies that have been published about what to expect for the 2020 Holiday Season.

Rather than giving you another laundry list of the issues marketers need to explore this season, we thought a different approach might be to listen to two very different consumers about their feelings for the holidays and how they plan to cope with it all.

Listening to and understanding the wants of customers is what will keep marketers ahead of their competitors. Here is our take on what the different views and sentiments are about Holiday 2020.

Let's listen in to Somber Sam and Upbeat Udine….

Hey Udine, why are you so upbeat about the Holiday Season this year? I wish I felt like you. To be honest, it is going to be hard to change my mind this year and get into the holiday spirit. COVID has really gotten me down and now this second wave is rearing its ugly head just in time for the Holiday Season. I do have to buy some gifts for my family but I’m just not feeling it right now. Call me Somber Sam or even Scrooge, I don’t care. I just can’t seem to shake it.


Let me tell you why I am not “into it” this Holiday Season.

Seems like I am shopping online like everyone else in the entire country! Do you know what that means? It means I must start shopping really early to get what I want. Forget Black Friday or Cyber Monday! There won’t be anything left to buy by the time these days roll around. I can’t believe I had to start shopping on Amazon Prime Day (APD) on Oct. 13th. This was so I could have a chance of getting the gifts I wanted for my family, especially toys and electronics. Look at the reason Amazon delayed Prime Day for 2 months. It’s because they had such a backlog of deliveries, they couldn’t even keep up with them. I am so anxious about whether I am going to get what I ordered from Amazon. I don’t trust the system or any online company for that matter. I can’t even imagine what this Holiday Season is going to look like. A pure “s--- show” if you ask me.

A company is going to have to really convince me that the products and brands I want to purchase will be available and arrive prior to the Holidays. This doesn’t seem to be happening. Companies aren’t reassuring me that they have the inventory. They probably are not sure what demand will be like. I just don’t want to be embarrassed because my gift hasn’t shown up. This summer I stood in long line-ups at Best Buy and The Source to buy a webcam and internet booster, only to find no inventory when I finally got inside store. Why would I do this again for the Holidays? I don’t need Holiday gifts arriving in February! Can you imagine?

The backlogs, the early shopping and not being sure I am getting the best deals out there are giving me a real headache. All I want is to get through this Holiday Season with both my dignity and finances intact. I wish companies could be more forthcoming with their advertising and social media posts to let me know what is happening and to reassure me that I won’t be disappointed. I plan on spending less for gifts this year. Some of the places I have browsed and shopped online are new to me. You think they would try to keep me as a new customer by throwing me a bone of some kind. Who doesn’t want a deal?

Hey Sam, Oh My God!

The snow, the colourful lights, home baked cookies, family, and all the great gifts makes the perfect ending to a very tough year! The Holiday Season is and always will be the best part for me. An entire year has almost passed by while waiting in our homes as the pandemic spread. But now with proper precautions in place, it's finally our chance to really enjoy the Holiday Season. I say, “bring it on!” The economy might be bad, and I might not be able to shop the way I am used to, but these festive traditions are going to make this gloomy year so much better.


I’m really excited to sit down in the comfort of my home and do the exhausting but still interesting job of picking the best gifts for my friends and family. I hope I come across some new ideas because I am bored with repeating the same kinds of gifts every year. I am looking forward to being inspired! I can’t wait to see Amazon’s new hardware line up and new tech toys like Baby Shark Robo Alive Junior for my little nephew. Oh dear, I hope they don’t run out of them!

It seems like even the dark cloud of COVID 19 has a silver lining as it is going to push my boundaries of creativity and online research. There are thousands of sites that I can browse through. So many stores have improved the online shopping experience for us, I am going to have so many more options and I have this feeling that this year’s shopping will be much more fun. I have a budget, but I am not afraid to spend more if I can find some great gifts. I am hoping to lift everyone’s’ spirits this year.

Sam, you can decide not to be “into it” but shopping early has had its benefits even when there was no pandemic. The backlogs of deliveries have been cleared and there are a lot of minor sites that can help us shop and deliver on time. The thrill of trying new things in new times keeps me awake at night wondering about the great things we can do.

Spending time wondering around stores and feeling unsafe is not an option this year. Being able to pay for the gifts in advance and having them delivered to the doorstep of your family members and friends sounds pretty much perfect and joyful to me.

And you wanna know the best part?

I will get to save some money! This year more than ever, shopping online has great advantages over instore shopping. Great discounts, lower prices, detailed product information and product comparisons make is all so much more pleasant and easier.

With every benefit that the pandemic has stripped from us we have at least one positive effect, so I am ready to rock this holiday season with my enthusiasm and passion.

The point is when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. I’m sorry you are feeling so somber about the holidays Sam, but I am going to make the best from this experience.


Whether its Somber Sam or Upbeat Udine, marketers must understand and be ready to address the most important issues and be sensitive to the feelings, both positive and negative, of online Holiday shoppers this year. There is no question that shopping will start earlier than ever before. Consumers want to be assured that inventory is available, and they want to know their purchases will be delivered on time. They will always seek the best and cheapest prices, but the pure volume of competition will put greater pressure on many retailers to deliver. They want to feel good, not frustrated.

Because of COVID many online retailers have gained new customers. A strong online holiday shopping experience will most likely keep these customers coming back.

No one knows if it is going to be a good or bad Holiday Season. The pandemic has thrown everything upside down. A Canada Post survey of projected holiday spending vs 2019, shows that very few will be spending more this year.

  • 32 per cent plan on spending less

  • 7 per cent plan on spending more

  • 61 per cent plan on spending the same

The winners will be those who listen to the “feelings” of consumers. Of course, everyone needs to be inspired, but it won’t hurt if they start to advertise earlier, provide better online shopping experiences or change their messaging to appropriately reflect inventory and delivery issues.