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Christmas during COVID: three tips for marketing in a year of change

The countdown to Christmas has begun. And with Coronavirus having shaken up the industry, the holiday shopping season — like most other retail events in 2020 — will look very different to those of previous years. Brands will no longer be able to rely on last year’s strategies. To win their slice of festive spend, they’ll need to think and act smarter than ever before.

Consumer behaviour saw a sharp shift this year as the national lockdown and shop closures caused people’s lives to turn upside-down. Many shoppers came to rely on e-commerce for their retail needs and, according to a Gartner survey, 46% of consumers increased their frequency of online purchases between March and May. Meanwhile, as lockdown life prompted people to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, our recent research found that 27% of consumers planned to start Christmas shopping earlier than they did last year.

Faced with this transformed retail landscape – from changed consumer behaviour, to increased dependence on e-commerce and early Xmas shopping – it’s clear that brands must ensure they’ve got stellar digital marketing and e-commerce strategies in place to remain competitive and relevant this Christmas season.

Here’s what they should focus on to win their share of the festive market:

* Prioritise brand awareness

Even before COVID-19 accelerated the shift to ecommerce, online had become an extremely competitive playing field and this Christmas, brands will need to work extra hard to ensure they’re front of mind.

A simple way of achieving this is by investing in digital marketing that boosts brand awareness and ensures they’re visible even in the early stages of the shopping journey. Early brand awareness will pay dividends when consumers are ready to spend.

* Fresh data will be essential

We know that consumers appreciate excellent online experiences — from being recommended the best products, to being served interesting and relevant advertising. But it’s only by harnessing data insights that brands can truly deliver this premium and more personalised experience. And, with this year’s events having prompted significant changes in habits, interests and lifestyles, it’s especially important that brands tap into the latest data insights to inform their strategies.

Our recent research revealed that purchases are due to be more passion-driven this festive season, with 56% of consumers revealing they took up a new hobby or interest during the national lockdown. The most popular new passions were gardening (20%), baking (20%) and DIY/ home improvements (14%). And, with 75% of respondents saying they intend to continue with their new-found hobbies for at least the rest of the year, these interests are likely to influence Christmas wish lists.

Understanding how behaviour and interests have changed will be key to successfully engaging with consumers over the next few months. For example, someone who didn’t spend time in the kitchen pre-pandemic may well have since become an avid baker. If you only rely on historical data insights, you could risk overlooking new audiences or customers – many of whom have purchases to make in order to embrace their new hobby/ passion!

Brands looking to have a fruitful festive season need to think smart and use the freshest data possible — such as real-time searches, basket info, as well as recent purchase histories. This will allow them to gain a deeper understanding of the customers and their shopping habits, plus enable them to serve the most relevant content that enriches the experience.

* Stay flexible

Not only is fresh data crucial to delivering relevant content to consumers, it’s also going to be a critical tool for brands looking to stay agile and adapt their strategies, messages and campaigns in line with real-time shifts in consumer behaviour – or new government regulations.

With Christmas carrying so much meaning to many people, sensitivity and relevance to the current climate will be key to effectively communicating with consumers. Our research highlighted the importance of this, with 34% of shoppers saying they want brands to provide messages that are ‘in touch with reality’, while 18% want them to be “empathetic”.

Whether Christmas party season is cancelled, or families suddenly find their movements restricted, brands should be prepared to change their messaging accordingly and ensure their messages or content are sensitive to the new situation.

The shifting tides of 2020 have brought forth many changes in consumer shopping habits that are likely to stay in the run up to Christmas and beyond. For brands, understanding their audience’s current mindset and adapting their strategy as needed, will be crucial to creating a relevant and enriching experience for shoppers – and winning their share of festive spend.

Harmony Murphy, Head of Advertising UK at eBay.

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