COVID-19 has hit retail hard. Unemployment is at all-time highs, and global GDP is expected to contract by 5.2% according to the World Bank. As countries around the world have started to reopen, questions linger around the safety of in-person experiences, especially with no clear timelines for a vaccine. Both retailers and consumers are struggling to live in the new normal, and everyone is trying to understand what the future entails.

My company, Braze, recently published a research report titled, “The Future of Retail,” that looked at consumer retail preferences in light of the pandemic. The research examined the impact on the retail industry and also looked ahead to this holiday season to see what trends to expect. Here are recommendations on how to incorporate these insights into holiday planning.

The Move Online Is Here to Stay

It’s not surprising consumers shifted to online channels during the peak of COVID-19 as stores were forced to shutter. Looking toward the 2020 holiday season, we see the long-tail impact of the pandemic will continue, with 83% of consumers saying they intend to shop online the same amount or more, even as restrictions ease.


Looking at the main motivations for sticking with online shopping showed global, regional and generational similarities and differences:

  • At the global level, consumers prefer to shop online for convenience (53%), limited exposure to health threats (42%) and better prices (40%).
  • The top reasons for repurchasing from a brand varied based on region: In APAC, the top consideration was better quality (67%), while in the US, it was better availability (47%), and in Europe, consumers prioritized better value (45%).
  • And different generations had greater propensity to repurchase from a new brand they tried during COVID-19. Gen X (60%) and Millennials (54%) ranked the highest, followed by Gen Z (45%) and Boomers (40%).

Related Article: Preparing for a Holiday Shopping Season Like No Other

COVID-19 Customers Have Similar Retention Traits to Holiday Customers

Consumers are more likely than ever to jump ship. Our report found that 26% of global consumers tried at least one new brand during the pandemic, and a whopping 95% reported intentions of buying from one of these new brands again in the future.

Last year, Braze started tracking newly acquired customers from the 2019 holiday season. We found that holiday customers had a higher likelihood than those acquired during a non-holiday period to not return for a second purchase. We thought it would be interesting to compare customers acquired during COVID-19 to customers acquired during the holiday season and found these segments were similar.

covid chart

New customers from COVID-19 actually had lower retention rates than holiday customers. After two months, customers acquired during COVID-19 have an 82% lower retention rate than those acquired during a non-COVID, non-holiday period. What’s more, over 50% of new users acquired during the COVID era have already churned.

Couple this with the fact that 42% of consumers expect to slightly or significantly decrease their spend this holiday season provides challenges for any brand.

Related Article: The New, No-Touch World of Commerce: Reimagining Customer Experience

Learning Opportunities

Customer Engagement Strategies for This Holiday Season and Beyond

Now is the time to start preparing your customer engagement strategies for this holiday season. While all brands will face challenges moving forward, any brand can start focusing on certain tactics now to build towards long-term customer retention.

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Focus on Mobile Acquisition With Continued Cross-Channel Engagement

Our friends at Apptopia saw a dramatic spike in global downloads for 30 of the top retail apps during April and May 2020 that exceeded the 2019 holiday season. And looking at Braze data, we saw a 62% rise in mobile acquisition in our retail and ecommerce segment, and a huge uptick in mobile purchases. Users acquired via mobile are 10 times more likely to make a purchase and 12 times more likely to make a second purchase. Prioritize mobile acquisition, while continuing cross-channel campaigns, which are proven to deliver 800 times higher engagement rates.

Drive More Conversions With Action-Based Messages

API-triggered and action-based messaging drive up to a five time increase in campaign conversion rates. This tactic, combined with personalized messaging to specific audience segments will result in higher conversion rates. For example, 43% of millennials were extremely or very likely to drop a brand based on their response to employees or customers during COVID-19, which was the highest rate of any generation. A campaign targeted to millennials can include up-to-date information on the status of stores and the well-being of your employees, while also providing clear recommendations and actions on how to further engage with that brand. 

Build out Onboarding and Lifecycle Marketing Programs

It’s essential to build out effective onboarding and lifecycle marketing programs, as brands only get one chance to make a positive first impression. Well-crafted lifecycle marketing programs that onboard new customers with care will create positive habits early. This customer-centric approach can also lower overall acquisition costs by reducing new user churn and increasing the chances that customers re-engage and make additional purchases this holiday season and beyond.

Be Empathetic

This past year has been a trying time for everyone. Our current situation isn’t “new” anymore — it’s just normal. Brands and consumers alike have to accept this and evolve customer engagement practices to meet the rising expectations of empathy and consideration that customers crave, now more than ever. Continue to put your customers first and make empathy a consideration for all campaigns moving forward. It’ll benefit your brand in the long run as retail customers are 1.7 times as likely to make a purchase from brands that successfully demonstrated human communication.


Braze partnered with Wakefield Research on a global survey of 8,000 consumers from 10 different countries, and also looked at aggregated user data from the Braze platform’s 2.3+ billion MAU around the world, zeroing in on the efficacy of ecomm marketers’ tactics along with consumers’ response.

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