Woman wearing a mask holding a present while shopping in a mall

How to Make Holiday Shopping During COVID-19 Less Stressful

  • By Sarah Murphy

COVID-19 can’t stop us from binge-watching classic Christmas movies at home or indulging in a bit too much eggnog, but it will definitely change how we shop this holiday season.

Holiday shopping is stressful in the best of years, but it doesn’t have to be. Customers have enough to worry about, what with a pandemic in full-swing across the globe, so buying gifts for loved ones shouldn’t add to their panic. And associates have been under stress all year trying to meet consumer demand under heavy restrictions and new rules.

We could all use a bit more calm in our lives, especially this holiday season.

So, we’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks for retailers to get through this unprecedented holiday shopping season safely without (hopefully) any added stress.

How to Keep Customers Safe and Reduce Stress In-Store This Holiday Season


Extend Holiday Sales (and Start Them Early)

Typically, in pre-COVID years, the busiest shopping days are Black Friday, the weekends before Christmas, and the days just following Christmas. Ideally, since people working from home have more flexible hours this year, there won’t be such a crunch on last-minute shopping. Retailers can help push customers in this direction by extending their sales beyond one-day blowouts (as often happens on Black Friday).

Starting sales early and running them longer than usual gives shoppers more options as to when they can shop in-store and prevents overcrowding. This relieves pressure on customers who want to get a good deal but don’t want to navigate massive crowds. Starting sales early also saves associates from dealing with extra work—like enforcing social distancing and even more cleaning and disinfection duties—caused by having more people in stores.

Even the National Retail Federation is encouraging consumers to shop early to avoid large crowds and prevent logistical shipping and warehouse issues. Retailers can run long-lasting promotions or various sales as an incentive to get seasonal shopping done early.

After all, 12 days of Christmas sales are better than one. 


Deck the Halls (with Safety Measures)

Most stores are already complying with local safety regulations, but it’s important to stay vigilant as more people head out to stores over the holiday season. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released guidelines for the holiday season and listed shopping in crowded stores as a high-risk activity.

Managing the store’s capacity is important so that customers have room to browse safely, and employees have enough space to work while adhering to social distancing protocols. Customers and employees alike should wear masks when inside the store, and hand sanitizer should be provided at various locations around the store to encourage frequent use.

Encourage shoppers not to stay Home Alone this holiday season, but rather to keep most of the family at home and send out one designated shopper to pick up gifts on everybody’s list. This keeps the number of people in stores and shopping centers to a minimum, keeping other customers and store associates safe.  


Create Some Holiday Hype

If you’re taking measures to offer great sales and keep everybody safe, let people know it! By staying in touch with shoppers via social media, email newsletters, and other ads, you can calm their stress by letting them know what to expect when they come to your store.

In addition to easing anxiety about product pricing and in-store safety measures, communicating with shoppers before they arrive in person will help them plan out their shopping trip, so they can do it quickly, which keeps everyone safe.

Whether your team does the marketing work themselves or brings in outside help, make sure to tell potential customers what you have to offer this holiday season.


Give the Gift of Curbside Pickup

Curbside pickup will continue to be a great way to utilize brick-and-mortar stores throughout the holiday season without creating issues like overcrowding and shipping delays. 

Allow customers to browse and purchase orders online, have staff pick the orders from the floor (this can even be done during hours the store is closed to the public), and then drop them off outside for contactless pickup. (To see how other major retailers have been doing it, click here.)

Curbside pickup reduces face-to-face contact between shoppers and associates. It also prevents additional strain on warehouse or delivery workers (who will already be overwhelmed with online shopping orders). 


Carefully Plan Product Orders

If classic Christmas flick Jingle All the Way taught us anything, it’s the importance of retail planning. No one wants to be fighting Arnold Schwarzenegger for the last Turbo Man action figure on Christmas Eve.

Take inventory of the stock you have and analyze sales data to see what your bestsellers have been in the past and what they will likely be this year. 

Be sure to order plenty of products in advance so that your team has time to receive them, set them up on the floor, and sell them to shoppers. Shipping delays are always a possibility in a normal year, but with COVID-19 making online orders skyrocket on top of the usual holiday rush, they should be expected.

Getting prepared in advance will keep customers satisfied and avoid any last-minute shipping disasters that could result in an empty spot under the tree.


Empower Staff with Product Knowledge and Merchandising

Everyone has someone on their gift list that is impossible to shop for. But a pandemic is not the time to be aimlessly browsing shops and lingering around people and possibly contaminated surfaces longer than necessary. So, retailers should make sure their staff are up to speed on product knowledge and the latest merchandising tips, so they can help customers find the perfect gift quickly and safely.

Product knowledge empowers associates to make recommendations to customers based on the information they share. For example, if a customer at a sporting goods store says they are looking for a gift for a five-year-old kid who likes soccer, an associate with excellent product knowledge could suggest a variety of ideas liker some beginner equipment (i.e., cleats, shin pads, ball), merch (i.e., jerseys, shorts, hats), or related toys (i.e. video games, board games, coloring books, etc.).

Cross-merchandising, meanwhile, helps customers come up with additional gift ideas by seeing strategically placed items on displays or store shelves. If the aforementioned customer asks to see where the soccer balls are, it would be smart to have cleats and jerseys nearby to encourage them to bundle multiple items together.

By making helpful suggestions and placing related items nearby, store associates can help create customer experiences that are much more convenient, quick, and safe.

Following these tips should help ease the stress on employees and customers alike and keep everyone safe this holiday season.

Need help navigating retail’s hectic holiday season? Book a Demo with Foko Retail to see how we can help.


About the Author

Sarah Murphy is a content marketing specialist with a background in journalism. She lives in Hamilton, ON, where she is mom to a 13-year-old wiener dog named Penny. When not watching bad reality TV, she’s probably chasing squirrels out of her garden or baking cookies.