We’re seeing a lot more preplanning, so there will be more shopping transactions leading up to the holidays than in the past.”

IRVINE, California — Pandemic shopping trends will continue into the holiday season, pushing consumers to shop for the holidays earlier, amplify online gift browsing and shift holiday grocery shopping online, as planned gatherings are smaller and baking products drive sales even more than usual, according to a panel of four retail and consumer goods e-commerce experts at the “Holiday 2020 E-Commerce Trends Webinar” hosted by Advantage Digital Commerce.

“People are planning earlier and stocking up on key ingredients, so we’ll likely see more transactions, but the baskets will reflect buying for smaller gatherings,” said Nick Sabala, vice president of strategic insights and engagement for Advantage Sales. “We’ve seen new menus created by the shopper and more cleaning during COVID — and those trends will pick up even more. Our latest survey, for instance, shows 33% of adults celebrating Thanksgiving expect to do more cleaning before the holiday.”

Joining Sabala on the panel were Erin Heikkinen, senior director of e-commerce strategic consulting, Advantage Digital Commerce; Suzanne Skop, director, agency sales, Instacart; and Julia Werb, head of shopper marketing and consumer promotions at Upfield.

One indication shoppers will do more online buying this year: More plan to participate in Cyber Monday versus Black Friday — 39% compared to 28% — though nearly four in 10 say they plan to spend less, Heikkinen said.

Other key takeaways from the “Holiday 2020 E-Commerce Trends Webinar” include:

Social media will play a key role in turning consumers into shoppers.

“Using social media to leverage discovery of new products and innovations will help shoppers convert,” Heikkinen said. “We know consumers are spending more time on social sites and streaming as the number of in-person gatherings go down. Social is a great place for brands to show up and capture that sales opportunity.”

At-home eating will drive holiday grocery sales.

“We expect to see people adjusting their Thanksgiving and other holiday meals to serve fewer people and fewer courses,” Werb said. “There is a renewed interest in wellness and people will be looking for heathier foods. And financial uncertainty will lead to more coupon redemption, value buys and stock-ups.”

Consumers will be making more meals from scratch and those who usually explore new recipes will try even more, Sabala noted. “We’re seeing a lot more preplanning, so there will be more shopping transactions leading up to the holidays than in the past.”

Skop added: “We expect many more of the last-minute trips to be online delivery or pickup orders. Eighty percent of the [Instacart] orders we saw the day before Thanksgiving last year were last-minute, same-day pickup orders. Forty-four percent ordered four days before Thanksgiving — the Sunday before. With more people working from home, it will be interesting to see if those orders happen later in the week since shoppers will be home for delivery.”

More holiday grocery shopper journeys will start online this year.

“We invested a tremendous amount of energy into making sure product content on retailer sites is top notch and optimized for search,” Werb noted. “In some cases, we’ve updated our packaging to make sure it pops [on the retailer] channel.

“We’re also investing much more in digital marketing and have built out cohorts for our brands — really homing in on who our consumers are and what they want from our brands and how they use them — and offering them new ways to use our products, which is especially important for all of the consumers who are exploring baking from scratch and looking for more recipes. We’re also upping engagement with retailer platforms and optimizing those sites, testing and learning, and where there is the capability, integrating recipes and driving the lower-funnel purchase options.”

Shoppers are concerned holiday ingredients will be out of stock.

“I would encourage brands to acknowledge their product availability and availability of shippers and communicate with the retailer about inventory management,” Sabala said. “It’s a challenge, because shoppers want the indulgent and specialty items, as well as mainstream items, and we need to maintain the proper space for each of these.”

Consumers are concerned there will be shortages of turkey and beef, which may lead to menu changes, he added. “It’s important retailers feature protein alternatives and different ingredients that complement those proteins.”

Upfield has invested heavily in the supply chain since COVID-19 hit, increasing capacity in the U.S. “We invested this way because our surveys showed changes in shopper behavior around eating at home will continue, even after the pandemic,” Werb said.

Digital marketing investments will be key.

“We anticipate a lot of competition on retailers’ platforms and in search marketing,” Skop said. “Consumers rely on their list of previously purchased items — they make up an increasing percentage of Instacart purchases — and it’s very important to get your products onto those lists before the heavy holiday shopping begins.”

Added Heikkinen: “Each online marketing tactic should be targeted. People are getting ads and communications left and right, so make your message extremely relevant. Think creatively; get outside of the box.

“Our approach is to reach consumers where they are making decisions. Brands should consider increasing digital spending that drives consumers to add items directly to the cart.”