2020 has been unprecedented and the Holiday Shopping Season will be no different: here's how to prepare

Published on October 29, 2020
Edut Birger
Marketing Associate

Historically the next few months are a huge spending period for the global economy, but COVID’s unprecedented impact will disrupt holiday season expectations in many ways. Most Americans, 71%, say that they will be changing their holiday traditions for 2020 and this shift is guaranteed to include adjustments in the way people shop, travel and celebrate. 

Holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and New Years are traditionally full of large gatherings. Because traditions and historical footfall patterns will be disrupted this year, retail companies are turning to external data to better inform their demand forecasts for inventory, staffing and safety management. Being aware of events near your locations that will drive consumers enables you to prepare for the future demand will be important for many businesses hoping to reclaim lost revenue from earlier in the year.  This year, the CDC is discouraging certain traditions such as Turkey Trots, parades, and other crowded events. Instead, they are recommending  lower risk events such as visiting pumpkin patches and apple orchards as potential festive alternatives. 

Black Friday, for example, usually sees shoppers crowd malls and stores to find the best deals for holiday gifts. This year, that demand is going to be displaced. Black Friday shopping has officially been flagged as a high-risk event and many shoppers will be avoiding in-person stores to reduce any risk of catching COVID. This coupled with the more than 100% increase in ecommerce sales this year, means consumers will be taking advantage of online and ecommerce holiday sales, rather than shopping in-person. This is going to create operational issues if your business isn’t gearing up to meet another spike in online demand and a decrease in brick and mortar sales. Adjustments such as scheduling fewer in-store staff and more warehouse fulfillment workers can help ensure that your business is cutting unnecessary operating costs, while meeting demand in all the right places. On the other hand, you still need to plan your in-store workforce to accurately meet demand there and ensure that you still provide a positive customer experience for patrons who do visit your stores.

DateLocationEvent NameEvent StatusPHQ Attendance in 2019
Oct 31st - Nov 9thTokyo, JapanTokyo International Film FestivalActive200000
Nov 13th - Nov 16thNantes, FranceWine and Gastronomy FestivalCancelled210000
Nov 14th - Nov 15thHouston, TexasHouston Music and Arts FestivalActive20000
Nov 21st - Dec 24thPhiladelphia, PennsylvaniaChristmas Village in PhiladelphiaActive800000
Nov 26th - Nov 29thDaytona, FloridaTurkey RunActive150000
Dec 19thAtlanta, GeorgiaSEC Championship FootballActive14,000,000 Viewers
Dec 31st - Jan 1stNashville, TennasseeMusic City MidnightActive200000
Dec 31st - Jan 1stSydney, AustraliaSydney New Year’s EveActive1500000

The importance of workforce planning during the holidays

Industry experts are anticipating that this holiday season could see up to a 1.5% uptick in spending with holiday shopping beginning as early as October. For example, October 13th and 14th were both Amazon Prime and Target Deal Days, indicating retailers are attempting to spread the holiday shopping season over several months. According to IBM's annual retail survey, Americans will likely be buying more groceries, alcohol and home improvement supplies, and fewer personal electronics and clothes, as people will be celebrating at home more this year. All of these factors compound to create a very unusual shopping season.  

While planning for an increase in online shopping is going to be important for many businesses, the need to anticipate in-store demand should not be overlooked. Using external data sources to run promotions in-store that appeal to loyal and high value customers is crucial, as those buyers are going to be the ones helping you recover from months of slower business. 

With all of these factors influencing consumer behavior, it’s more important than ever to be able to accurately forecast demand for your business. Studies by MIT’s School of Management found staffing stores accurately can lead to a 10% increase in sales. In these chaotic and dynamic times, leading companies are using data and artificial intelligence to staff stores to meet exactly the amount of demand they will experience. 

Using event data to improve labor forecasting 

Workforce planning is tricky even in the best of times, let alone in 2020, a year of huge disruption across virtually every industry. The key to solving this highly dynamic problem is to leverage as many data sources as possible to make smarter business decisions around staff rostering. PredictHQ’s demand intelligence data provides insights on how events like Health Warnings, Live TV Events, Sports Games, and more impact demand for your business. Since we aggregate data from hundreds of sources, our network of events and insight into which venues are open is constantly growing. Our API updates in real-time if an event is rescheduled, cancelled, or postponed. This provides a single source of truth for intelligent event data to ensure no impactful events will slip through the cracks.

Example: How you can plan your staffing around the local Pumpkin Festival 

Imagine you’re managing a coffee shop that’s near the local pumpkin patch. You know that the annual Turkey Trot that occurs nearby was cancelled, but you still need to account for the Pumpkin Festival that’s still scheduled to take place. Here are ways PredictHQ can help:  

  • Use Historical Data to understand how impactful these events were in the past. 

  • Plug your own transactional data into Beam to drill down into how each specific event correlated to your previous sales. 

  • Get Notified instantly if the Festival changes their hours or dates in order to accommodate local social distancing requirements.

All of these features help you reduce error in your forecasting models to streamline the workforce optimization process at scale. By understanding the impact of events – or their absence – on demand, you’ll be better prepared to make smarter decisions on when and where to schedule your staff. If you can identify days of decremental demand, you can plan promotions or marketing campaigns to try to drive more sales. Alternatively, you can increase staffing for distribution and fulfillment at your stores on high-demand days when you might experience a surge in online orders. 

These are just a few examples of ways we help with workforce optimization. If you’re interested in learning more about these use cases and how we can help you make smarter staff planning decisions for the 2020 holiday season and beyond: