Reinventing the Holidays: Christmas 2020

reinventing the holidays - christmas tree

It’s no surprise to anyone that Christmas is going to feel a little different this year. That’s why we’re pleased to continue our Reinventing the Holidays series focusing on the central question of what does the 2020 holiday season hold for consumers and brands alike?

With so many risks, and so many parts of our lives transformed by COVID-19, how can we still make the biggest shopping holiday of the year feel special?

Erica Ruyle, Senior Vice President of Qualitative Insights and Liz Miller, Vice President of Business Development at Maru/Matchbox, used a variety of Maru/HUB tools to attack the challenge of understanding how consumers are feeling, behaving and thinking when it comes to the nuances of Christmas.

We did this by running a rapid quantitative study, alongside a multi-day asynchronous qualitative engagement study through our Maru/HUB Instant Qualitative (IQ) platform. This environment allowed respondents to engage using video, images, or just writing their responses, and through the rich content shared through IQ, we were able to uncover some compelling findings.

A Note on Commercialism

The consensus around Christmas, this year and every year, is that consumers feel conflicted about the commercialism of the holiday. We won’t spend too much time on this tension, but we do want to acknowledge the incongruent feeling that seems to be nearly universal. While consumers hate the forced commercialism of the Christmas season, they love gift giving, decorations (both indoor and outdoor), and the wide assortment of special foods and drinks. Essentially, all the physical items that create a cozy Christmas environment.

But how can you have all that “stuff” without some commercialism?

One possible conclusion is that while people do think of all the physical things and consumable goods that define Christmas, it is the perceived obligations that really frustrate consumers. We want to give because we want to, not because we feel forced to. We want to host because it’s an important time for family, not because we feel we must.

Genuine giving, which often includes buying, is not the force behind anyone’s Christmas grouchiness. And after this year, where people are forced to be separated from each other, and according to several respondents, “Christmas 2020 is more or less cancelled”, perhaps giving and celebrating will feel all-the-more like a desire and not a requirement in the future.

The Feeling of Christmas

Pine scented candles, a cozy fire, either in the fireplace or one of Netflix’s many “virtual fireplace” options, the glow of Christmas lights, the smell of fresh cookies, cheery seasonal Starbucks cups, plaid pajamas for the whole family, a fresh pine wreath with bright red berries – these are just a small sampling of the many indicators of Christmas. Many respondents in our study described a cozy, warm feeling of Christmas merriment and joy. 97% of our respondents are still celebrating Christmas this year, with 64% of those celebrating with added changes.

The intangible feeling of Christmas is driven largely by the tangible – especially Christmas decorations. One thing we learned from this study is that, especially compared to other holidays, Christmas inspiration comes from a wide range of sources. Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram all continue to be key sources of new ideas. But perhaps due to how ingrained Christmas is in our culture and how widely represented it is across many mediums, we also learned that store displays play a big role in generating new ideas. This is unique when compared to our other 2020 holiday research including Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

Another unique inspiration source among respondents – movies. Christmas movies have developed a culture all of their own (thanks, Hallmark!), and many stated that they felt movies and TV shows are a source of Christmas inspiration, particularly because they show such a “romanticized version” of the holiday.

COVID-19 Impacts and Looking Ahead

Christmas has been severely impacted by COVID-19, as cases continue to ravage the nation, and very few areas are at even moderate levels at this time. As the nation surpasses 300,000 deaths from the pandemic this year, many have decided it’s better to celebrate alone or with their household than to put any loved ones at greater risk.

As can be expected, the lack of large celebrations will impact spending, with 62% of respondents expecting to spend less than last year.

In our research there was a widespread sentiment of missing family and longing for traditions and normalcy. “If this year has taught me anything,” one participant shared, “it’s that spending time with family is so important for our souls.”

Most of our respondents shared that they really miss being able to spend time with family or being able to travel to see loved ones. As we asked respondents to think about how they might adjust their plans for 2021 and beyond, many said that they will be more likely to travel in the future, either to visit with family and friends, or to go on a vacation during the Christmas season. There is a yearning for bigger celebrations, and the need to make up for what, to many, feels like a lost year.

There are also major shifts in how people plan to celebrate, with parties, large dinners, and holiday events being some of the most severely impacted activities, but many, like decorating and buying gifts for family, remain important parts of how people will celebrate this year.

reinventing the holidays - christmasSource: Maru/Matchbox December 2020

Opportunities for Brands and Retailers

As part of our research, we asked respondents to share their opinions about how brands and retailers can do better during Christmas, and we also asked respondents to share what role they want brands and retailers to have in shaping traditions. Here’s some of what we learned:

  1. Consumers Seek Sustainability: We heard many requests for sustainability in packaging (reusing or recycling paper, less packaging), although there continues to be a tension between wanting sustainable products and willingness to pay more for them. One other example that was shared was sustainability around trees, with some of the tree rental companies being called out specifically.
  2. Make Holiday Travel Easier: Looking ahead, consumers are looking for holiday travel to be easier. Brands can play a role in facilitating easier holiday get togethers by offering more inclusive holiday travel packages. Another idea that came up was interest in pre-decorated ‘Hallmark Holiday’- feeling homes for rent. Renting a fully equipped home, ready for hosting family get-togethers, was very appealing to some, and seems like a strong opportunity for home rental services.
  3. Professional Decorators: As we’ve discussed, many people associate Christmas, and “the feeling of Christmas” with elaborate decorations and visual symbols. Decorating, especially outside, can feel overwhelming and intimidating, and people are looking for support. Professional decorators feel out of reach for many. Could brands offer services that are more accessible, perhaps more “out of the box”, but include support for decorating and also for removal?
  4. Packages/Sets/Kits: Unsurprisingly, the theme of kits and sets, and support from brands, continues to show itself in our Christmas research. From decorating support, to making traditional Christmas foods, people are looking for support and ways to make an experience easier, yet still genuine. We expect to continue to see calls for kits and brand-led guidance going forward.

Thanks for joining us in our 2020 journey through Reinventing the Holidays. In what has truly been a year like no other, we’ve been proud to share our findings, and show you what we’ve uncovered through both qualitative and quantitative research.

As we enter 2021, we will continue to provide more Maru/HUB-fueled insights about how people are reinventing the holidays. Please share your feedback and suggestions as we help drive your business, and provide recommendations for better research outcomes. Contact our team today for a demo of our tools or to provide feedback.

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