COVID-19 pushes holiday spending online

With safety precautions in place worldwide, many business and holiday shoppers have turned toward online platforms to stay safe this holiday season. Christina Cannady | Photographer

By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer

The arrival of the holiday season brings a wave of Christmas shoppers with their wallets at the ready. But this year, COVID-19 is increasing the demand for online shopping. While this benefits big companies like Amazon, smaller businesses without established online platforms might struggle.

Online shopping was already on the rise, but because of the pandemic, Digital Commerce 360 is projecting online spending this holiday season will reach about $199 billion, which is a 43% increase from 2019’s $139 billion spent from November to December.

“There’s been a trend in recent years towards more online shopping and away from shopping in stores, but the effect of COVID has put that on steroids,” Dr. Steve Gardner, Baylor’s Herman Brown professor of economics, said.

In-store consumer sales typically peak during the holiday season because of gift-giving and additional travel, Gardner said, but with COVID-19, stores are open for fewer hours, customers don’t feel as comfortable shopping indoors and travel has decreased. Gardner said this will lead more people to shop online.

Gardner also said there is likely to be a reduction in consumer sales in general because of the overall condition of the economy and how people are needing to spend their money now.

“We have higher unemployment than we did a year ago,” Gardner said. “The economy is not in the greatest shape. There are people who will just not be able to afford to buy as much as they would have a year ago.”

Smaller businesses like Barefoot Campus Outfitter, located on Speight Avenue, have had to adapt to the pandemic in order to stay afloat. Store manager Jalyn Thomas said they have placed more emphasis on their website and social media presence to attract customers from home.

“Since COVID, our sales have gone down a little bit even with holiday sales going on,” Thomas said. “We are noticing that we are getting more online orders rather than people coming to the brick-and-mortar site to shop with us.”

In preparation for the holiday season, Barefoot Campus Outfitter has been doing Instagram and Facebook live streams to tell customers about new inventory and upcoming sales. They also provide curbside pickup and shipping for customers who don’t want to come into the store.

Thomas said she hopes they will be busy again this holiday season and that she is excited about the upcoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. She said Barefoot Campus Outfitter is a great place for parents to buy gifts for their college students.

Other small businesses are functioning entirely online. Houston freshman Mary Turner started her own company this year named Joyful Apparel Co. She uses the company’s Instagram as her main source of sales through direct messages and conducts payments through Venmo.

Turner said she founded her business on the idea of incorporating her faith with her apparel merchandising major in order to spread joy to those around her. She sells hats and shirts with smiley faces, the word “joyful” or “all the glory to God” printed on them.

“Through Joyful Apparel, I have really been able to reach people and spread joy in a cool way, and it’s been really fun to do,” Turner said.

She said she has even reached customers from out of state and is able to ship products quickly. With her first holiday season as a company approaching, Turner said she is excited about the new products she is releasing over the break and the chance to share her business with her hometown.

“I’m going to be doing a holiday giveaway, which will hopefully attract more people to my brand, and from there, I’m going to be doing holiday specials where you’ll get a deal for a hat and a sweatshirt, so it’s better for a gift,” Turner said. “The packaging will be super ‘Christmasy’ and I’m super excited because I get to go home and have a lot more space to be creative.”

Turner said she thinks it’s important to shop small, especially with how COVID-19 has impacted smaller companies like her own. She said her experience as a founder and owner has shown her part of the joy of shopping small comes from helping others reach their goals.

“You have a small business because you want to do something in the world like bring joy to people, so by supporting their business, you are supporting their health,” Turner said. “It’s what they want to do and it makes it more fun when people are supporting them.”

From an economic standpoint, Gardner said the small business sector is vital in creating market competition and innovation. With a greater push for online shopping, Gardner said it is important for smaller companies to have an online platform to keep sales going during this season.

Even with a solid online market, Gardner said, COVID-19 has impacted the economy in a way that even the holiday season might not be able to recover.

“I will be surprised if we are able to match last year’s holiday sales,” Gardner said. “We may do it. People may make such a switch to online sales that we may be able to match last year’s expenditures, but … there’s no question that consumer spending will be much lower.”

Because of this, Gardner said production sales of the products and incomes for companies will be smaller this year. Online shopping can only do so much, so in order for a full economic recovery, Gardener said the virus needs to be controlled. He hopes the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine is coming soon.

“The good news is that we can see our way out of this thing now,” Gardner said. “[But] that’s the big question: how quickly can we get [the vaccine] out and get past this pandemic so we can return to a more normal economy?”