Online shopping surges as holiday approaches

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Benson Kua

Benson Kua | Flickr

Gabriel Rivera, Science & Technology Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced consumers to heavily rely on online shopping for the upcoming holiday season.

Shoppers will do approximately 64% of all of their holiday spending through online outlets, compared to doing only 28%of their spending in-store, according to Deloitte’s 2020 holiday retail survey.

This sharp increase in dependence on online shopping is part of a larger trend. Consumers are trying to limit in-store purchases, travel expenses and time spent shopping due to health concerns.

Of the 4,012 U.S. shoppers surveyed, consumers this year will spend an average of $1,387 per household on holiday shopping — a 7% decrease from last year’s totals, according to the survey.

The decrease in average spending is attributed to the 34% drop in travel expenses from last year, a product of stricter coronavirus restrictions.

Despite the decline in average spending for one of the biggest consumer holidays, nearly 25% of shoppers have already completed their holiday shopping by the start of October, according to a LendingTree survey.

These proactive shoppers may have been influenced by the extra money they had leftover from the government-mandated coronavirus stimulus checks they received under the CARES Act earlier this spring.

“Because of the coronavirus relief bill, increased unemployment benefits and overall reduced spending during the last six months, many Americans have a little more money in their bank accounts today than they otherwise would,” Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst for LendingTree, said. “It’s possible that some folks have taken advantage of that surplus to do a little early holiday shopping.”

While some consumers were able to finish their Christmas gift shopping with ease, nearly half of the shoppers surveyed admitted they have not started. This coincides with the jarring projection that almost a third of consumers expect to accrue debt this holiday season.

Shoppers who have either been furloughed or have had their income reduced due to the ongoing pandemic are at the greatest risk of incurring debt this holiday season. As a result, these shoppers have become more conscientious about how and where they are spending their money.

Approximately 60% of consumers surveyed by Deloitte cited free shipping as one of their top reasons for shopping online rather than in-store, while 53% touted the easy to compare prices. Safety still remains the top priority for many shoppers, however, as 65%of shoppers claimed health risks associated with large crowds as their top reason for choosing to shop online.

The major shift to online shopping this holiday season will have a trickle-down effect, pressuring several of the most prominent shipping companies to deliver on time. New data is projecting there could be nearly 7 million more packages than FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service can normally handle between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to NBC News.

“This will be an unprecedented peak season,” Brie Carere, FedEx EVP, CMO and Communications Officer said. “I think during cyber week there will be a couple of days where the industry will be overcapacity and you could expect a delayed transit.”

To battle the seemingly inevitable delays in shipping, consumer experts are advising shoppers to plan ahead this holiday season. “Prepare to buy online and pick up in-store,” Nishen Radia, Focalpoint Partners managing partner, said. “Maybe buy a gift card instead of a physical gift.”

Businesses are encouraging consumers to shop early by promoting sales characteristic of Black Friday deals in October. Experts say this is essential for all retail businesses if they want to make up for losses caused by lockdowns earlier this year and provide consumers enough time to finish their shopping during the pandemic.

With the CDC’s recent declaration of shopping in crowded stores either on or after Thanksgiving as a high-risk activity, businesses looking to survive the holiday season will be as reliant on online shopping as consumers trying to stay safe.

Although holiday celebrations are still shrouded in uncertainty, the season of giving prevails even without gifts during the pandemic.