By Lenore Fedow
The holiday season is upon us and the only thing for certain—nothing is certain.
As retail analysts muse on what this holiday season will bring, I’ve chosen to leave my crystal ball sitting in the corner to gather dust.

I could’ve waved my hands over it a thousand times and still never predicted what this year would hold.

So, as a business journalist by training, I will stick to what I know and dig through the data to provide some clarity.

I’ve read the holiday prediction reports from the National Retail Federation, CBRE, Deloitte and Oracle to add some substance to my musings on the upcoming season.

We can adapt to almost anything.

I have a penchant for dramatics; a few minor inconveniences will leave me holding my head in my hands.

But if life, and this year especially, has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is the end of the world.

We are more capable and resilient than we ever could have imagined.

Worst-case scenarios, the things I thought would break my heart for good, have come and gone, and here I am still.

I have been in New York City since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and have spent very little time away from my hometown since it began.

I wince at cheesy slogans, like “New York Strong,” but it’s the honest-to-goodness truth.

I’ve seen first-hand how my city, and the country at large, have come together and, with a few glaring exceptions, done the best we can.

When it was apparent that no one was coming to save us, not a magic cure or federal money, we stood up to save ourselves.

And it’s that resilience and hopeful spirit that I believe will carry us into the holiday season.

It’s never too early to start holiday shopping.

As the pandemic drags on, I find myself less and less in tune with frivolous things, like what month or day it is. Every day feels like a Monday at 4 p.m.

A few of the reports I read predicted that U.S. consumers will be getting a head start on holiday shopping, and National Jeweler columnist Peter Smith has suggested retailers do the same in their stores.

The National Retail Federation’s annual 2020 Holiday Survey found that 42 percent of respondents planned to start their holiday shopping by the end of October and 41 percent in November.

And I say, why not? Time is a manmade construct anyway!

If we can have pumpkin spice lattes in August, you can start crossing things off your wish list before Halloween.

I’ve been leaning on online shopping throughout the pandemic and I’m already seeing obscenely long shipping times for some items.

“The longer consumers wait to shop this holiday season, the more they face limited inventory availability, increased shipping prices and delayed delivery,” CBRE said in its holiday report.

It’s probably not such a bad idea to get a move on with that holiday gift list.

In-store and online shopping will both have a place this year.

There is a time and a place for everything, so they say.

When I’ve done my research and know exactly what I want, I tend to shop online. It lets me comparison shop and then I know for sure that I’ve gotten the best possible price.

This method works best when I’m buying gifts for myself or for someone on my list who has already told me what they want.

Now, there are some people on my list who are nearly impossible to check off—the person who has everything, or worse, just buys whatever they want for themselves.

To know what you want and go for it is an admirable quality, but it makes gift-giving a nightmare.

For these lovable thorns in my side, in-store shopping is usually my best bet. I find inspiration through browsing.

I don’t plan to do too much in-store browsing this year, for safety reasons, but I may spend an afternoon or two popping into some stores.

Oracle’s consumer research found that 47 percent of consumers are planning to do a bit of both shopping online and in person. Only 19 percent plan to shop exclusively in-store.

My friends and I are loyal patrons of the Winter Village at Bryant Park, a pop-up holiday market with rows and rows of lit-up stalls occupied by local businesses, all set against a winter wonderland backdrop.

The Village’s mix of outdoor shopping and local vendors may be the best of both worlds for me this year.

I love being alive more than I love a sale. And you should too.

I am not above searching for a deal.

The NRF survey found that a good deal would convince 53 percent of consumers to begin shopping early.

Pre-pandemic, you could find my sister and I in a TJ Maxx on any given Saturday, browsing through skin-care items we can’t afford at full price. The thought of touching all those bottles now is the stuff of nightmares.

A Deloitte survey found that 51 percent of consumers are anxious about in-store shopping.

There is nothing more important to me, right now or ever, than the safety of myself and my loved ones.

You could have a 90 percent off sign in your window. But if I peek in and I see mask-less customers walking around, I’m heading next door to pay full price and live to tell about it.

Safe shopping is possible, and people are warming up to the options out there, so long as they feel a solid effort is being made to protect them.

“Retailers that can be agile in meeting shifting consumer demands, both online and in stores, while also showing care for customer safety will benefit this new environment,” Oracle said.

I won’t be heading to many stores in person this year, so I’ll only be giving my business to places who show they take customer and employee safety seriously.

Contactless payments and curbside pickups will be popular.

Prior to the pandemic, I rarely thought about how often I come in contact with high-touch surfaces.

I would always wash my hands after getting off the subway, but I wasn’t as hyper-aware as I am now of what I was touching and how many other people had touched that surface before me.

Now when I’m in a store, I keep my hands to myself and do my best to only pick up what I intend to purchase.

A contactless payment option may seem like a small thing, but it’s one less worry, one less thing to touch, and one more way to keep myself and others safe.

Contactless shopping experiences are in demand, said Deloitte, with 73 percent of shoppers planning to have items delivered, compared with 62 percent in 2019.

And preference for curbside pickups has more than doubled year-over-year.

Spoken like a true introvert, the less contact I have with people the better, at least when it comes to holiday shopping.

I wish I had more clarity for you on the holiday season but the truth is, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Anyone who says they do probably also has a bridge to sell you.

Like the little drummer boy, I’m here to give you the only things I have: a little intuition and some spirited musings.

TAGS:   Retail
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