Last year, holiday-related e-commerce reached a new high of $142.5 billion in the U.S. alone. This growth continues this year not just domestically, but around the world. Many cross-border e-commerce brands have already been experiencing increased demand throughout 2020. How will this impact e-commerce merchants’ ability to execute as we continue into the holiday retail season? Are online retailers prepared to respond to the continued growing global demand?

According to Criteo, online retail sales were up 30% in the Americas and 17% worldwide during the two weeks from June 15–June 28, 2020, compared to a pre-pandemic average from February 2–February 14. And the holiday season is shaping up to be another record-breaker for e-commerce.

Due to the ongoing public health crisis, consumers are moving online in greater numbers to avoid crowds at brick-and-mortar stores. Furthermore, some large retailers are planning to close down their physical stores on Thanksgiving and are offering Black Friday-level e-commerce deals in October to cut down on crowd sizes and long lines. These changes in consumer shopping behaviors are positioning e-commerce as the big winner this year for holiday shopping.

But even with months to learn and respond to what consumers need this year, only 39% of U.S. retailers are proactively preparing their businesses for the holidays, according to a one survey. One in five businesses stated that the future of their business depends on their sales performance during the holiday season this year, however only a little over half (57%) started preparing for the big shopping push at the time when the survey was conducted in August 2020. 

There is still time to get your cross-border e-commerce holiday strategy in place, even now. But first, it’s important to understand what’s changed this holiday season compared to previous ones. Here are eight emerging trends that cross-border e-commerce merchants need to respond to as they execute their holiday shopping strategies. 

  1. Holiday shopping season is starting early. Fueled by ongoing merchandise shortages that began at the beginning of the pandemic, consumers will start holiday shopping earlier than usual to make sure the items they want are available and to ensure timely delivery. Some experts predict that consumers will start making purchases as early as this month to ensure that the items they want are in stock and arrive with plenty of time for gift-giving. 
  2. Despite the economic downturn, consumers plan to spend. Even with unemployment rates and less disposable income looming large in many countries affected by the pandemic, consumers still have an appetite for gift-giving. A report by Deloitte predicts that e-commerce holiday sales will surpass last year with 13.6%. This is likely due in part to many consumers forgoing their usual travel plans and having more money to spend on gift-giving instead.
  3. Mobile e-commerce will explode. Between April and May 2020, consumers in the U.S. alone spent more than $50 Billion via mobile apps. Additionally, shopping engagement on apps during the pandemic surged by 40%. Online retailers would do well to ensure that their mobile experiences — on apps and mobile browsers — are as optimized as possible across all markets so that shoppers can transact seamlessly and brands won’t miss out on any sales.
  4. Loyalty will win big this season. Earlier this year, as e-commerce demand surged, consumers were more open to taking a chance on new or unknown brands. Consumers discovered new favorites during lockdown across several online retail categories. One recent example is Rowing Blazers: the brand saw an increase in domestic and global demand for their goods during the pandemic. Many shoppers will plan to return to these recently discovered e-commerce stores if they were happy with the products and the overall customer experience. Heading into the holidays, 83% of consumers surveyed by Criteo said they planned to purchase gifts from new stores they’d discovered while shopping from home. 
  5. Purpose will play a larger role in purchasing decisions. Purpose-driven brands are at the top of consumers’ minds. More than one in five shoppers (21%) said they plan to support businesses and brands this holiday season that support the Black Lives Matter movement. More specifically, 27.9% of Gen Z shoppers indicated that they will shop more with businesses expressing support for the movement. 
  6. Stay-in-place orders will influence gift categories. Our new way of life means that people on your gift list will have different gift preferences this year. Criteo’s report shows that 52% of consumers are doing more cooking at home, 36% are exercising at home, and 26% are either working from home or staying home to handle home-schooling. Jack Kleinhenz, the chief economist for the National Retail Federation, forecasts a big uptick in the home entertainment category for the holidays. Remote learning tools such as iPads and laptops, gaming systems, connected speakers, and other electronics will be popular. 
  7. Prepare for more returns than usual. It’s likely that consumers will buy more than what they need online this season since they can’t go into the store to see items in real life. Often, this type of buying leads to a high return rate. Clear, accurate product descriptions and localized sizing charts will be more important than ever to help stem some of this return activity for cross-border merchants.
  8. Consumers want more convenient ways to pay. COVID-19 has accelerated the existing trend of more diverse e-commerce digital payments. Many consumers are feeling the crunch from the economic downturn, but still want to spend. This is making the “buy now, pay later” payment model of several digital payment platforms much more attractive. 

When it comes to holiday selling, it’s not just about when to offer special deals to global consumers, but also what to offer. Keep in mind that each country into which you sell has its own set of traditions and cultural associations with certain holidays. Many countries that celebrate Christmas do it in a very different way than Western nations and your localized e-commerce store should reflect that. Brands and retailers should be cognizant of certain traditions in each market, and the types of goods associated with each holiday. 

To learn more about how Flow’s flexible cross-border e-commerce platform can better prepare brands for international shoppers, check out this short video on how our technology works. For more tips on navigating gift-giving holiday retail opportunities in each market you sell to, download our free Gift-Seller Guide to Global Holidays.