US retailers, facing the prospect of a Christmas like no other, are already making plans for a marketing strategy shakeup forced on them by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consumers can expect to be assailed by seasonal marketing far earlier than Thanksgiving, the traditional start to the seasonal shopping period, according to the Financial Times.

Major chains, such as Macy’s, Kohl’s, Calvin Klein, Guess and Target are planning significantly extended promotion periods to attract customers in-store in a more controlled fashion and so avoid frenzied crowds amid fears of COVID transmission.

Companies including Hasbro, Target and Macy’s have suggested they plan to offer product discounts as early as late October, The New York Times reported.

Even online, retailers are planning to spread demand over a longer period, as the extra online demand expected from shoppers this year threatens to test the logistic capabilities of e-commerce platforms. In fact, e-commerce demand is expected to be so high, logistics companies may introduce delivery surcharges, the FT noted.

While retail sales in the US rose 1.2% in July, up for the third month in a row, that increase has slowed since June. Meanwhile the migration to shopping online has continued apace. The result is that many retailers, including Walmart and Target, have said they will actually close stores on Thanksgiving Day and place their most enticing deals online, and earlier than usual.

“I do think it’s going to be a holiday season unlike any holiday season we’ve seen before given social distancing and masks and everything else,” Chip Bergh, chief executive of Levi Strauss & Company, told the NYT.

There is also the economic fallout from the pandemic for retailers to take into account. With the US jobless rate at 10.2%, and some 30 million Americans relying on unemployment benefits, many people’s ability or willingness to spend as usual during the holiday period is likely to be curtailed.

Sales in November and December, though, are vital for retailers and can account for 20% of annual revenue, and 30% of sales for hobby, toy and game stores, according to the National Retail Federation.

Not only are stores having to rethink their approach to the kind of deals that lead to frenzied Black Friday-style crowds, it seems another Christmas tradition may fall victim to the COVID pandemic – the kids’ visit to the local shopping mall to have a snap taken on Santa’s lap.

“Santas are concerned about catching it, especially considering they’re immunocompromised,” Stephen Arnold, president of the 2,300-member International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, told the NYT. “Almost all of us have diabetes and heart conditions and are overweight and elderly.”

Sourced from Financial Times, The New York Times