How the Latest Consumer Attitudes Will Shape the Season for Retail and Travel Brands

By Ericka Podesta McCoy, CMO, Resonate

Back in March, it seemed unthinkable that the world would still be deep in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic when the holidays rolled around, but here we are. As the virus continues to surge to varying degrees across the U.S., it’s playing a major role in how consumers are planning their 2020 holiday seasons.

As Americans firm and flip (and again firm) up their holiday plans, both in terms of activities at home and potential travel over holiday vacations, they’re doing so based on their personal perceptions of the virus and the threat it poses to their families and communities right now. As such, today’s retail and travel brands face the daunting challenge of aligning their holiday messaging and offers with widely varying and ever-shifting consumer attitudes. Let’s take a look at the latest trends in consumer attitudes toward travelling and engaging with businesses as they make their final plans for this holiday season.

Travel: Limited, But Happening

As of the latest wave of Resonate’s COVID-19 research within its National Consumer Study, nearly two-thirds of consumers (59.5 percent) expect to spend the holidays with only their immediate families. Of the Americans who plan on spending the holidays with loved ones beyond their immediate families, 56 percent say they plan on resuming their leisure travel by winter 2020, which could align with holiday travel to see friends and family.

That said, the vast majority of Americans say they’re still planning to stay close to home for the foreseeable future. About four-fifths of Americans (80.9 percent) now say that they don’t expect their leisure travel to return to normal until spring 2021 or later. Currently, 29.5 percent of consumers say they’re not planning to travel to nearby states until the coronavirus situation is under control, and 19.5 say they’re not even travelling within their states. Likewise, about a third of Americans (34.6 percent) say they don’t plan to travel via airplane or train until the coronavirus situation is under control, with 31.5 percent saying they’ll be avoiding large hotel chains until then as well.

Given current attitudes during this crucial holiday travel planning window, it would appear that the 2020 holiday season will be a slow one for travel brands—but not by any means nonexistent. The key to success during the holidays and coming out of the season will be for travel brands to segment their messaging smartly according to those consumers who are showing interest in travelling now versus at a later date. In terms of consumers who are eyeing spring 2021 as a time to potentially give in to their pent-up wanderlust, travel brands should be getting in front of these individuals now with appealing 2021 offers that emphasize flexibility in booking while still appealing to their desire to begin exploring their worlds again.

Retail: Consumers Becoming More Active at Home

Interestingly, for as cautious as consumers are being on the travel front this winter, they’re demonstrating greater willingness to engage with local businesses now than they were back in August. For example, the percentage of consumers who say they’re not dining in at restaurants until the coronavirus situation is under control fell from 42.9 percent in August to 30.8 percent in our latest wave of surveys. Meanwhile the percentages of people who say they’re dining out monthly, weekly and even daily have risen steadily.

We’ve seen similar trends—albeit less dramatic—in the number of people who say they’re going out to crowded activities such as movie theaters, concerts or sporting events, with the percentage of people who are avoiding such venues completely falling from 59.1 percent in August to 53.1 percent in October.

At the retail level, a significant number of consumers say they’re now venturing out in person to grocery stores (71.1 percent) and big-box stores (58.6 percent), which bodes well for these businesses going into the holidays. Meanwhile, the number of people visiting clothing retailers (39.6 percent), electronics stores (21.3 percent) and other retail venues remain comparatively lower, suggesting these businesses will do well to continue emphasizing ecommerce and curbside pickup through the holidays.

The 2020 holiday season hasn’t been cancelled. On the contrary, more than ever, today’s consumers are looking for a reason to celebrate—and they’ll be opening their wallets to do so. The key for brands is to understand where consumer attitudes sit—at this precise moment—in regard to their businesses and the pandemic. By planning and segmenting messages and offers according to a real-time understanding of consumer sentiment, retail and travel brands can make the most of the 2020 holiday season and be prepared to emerge strong into 2021.

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