Will Santa Claus Come to Town This Year?

Retailers worry about a softer holiday season, which will likely tilt toward online purchases.

September 04, 2020

MEMPHIS, Tenn.—The calendar might have just ticked over into September, but retailers are already bracing for a subdued holiday season, the New York Times reports. One sign that all might not be well this Christmas is how nervous Santa Clauses are about welcoming children on their laps with the coronavirus still out in force.

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

Santas aren’t the only ones rethinking the holiday season. Retailers have been already deciding inventory and staffing for Christmas shopping, along with how to keep customers and workers safe. Already, major chains, including Target, Walmart, Kohls and Best Buy, have announced Thanksgiving Day closures.

The U.S. Department of Commerce found that U.S. retail sales jumped 1.2% in July for the third consecutive month of growth, but the way Americans purchase goods has altered from in-person to online. This has led retailers to up their e-commerce game by focusing more on online deals revealed earlier in the shopping season. As a result, store workers will spend more time delivering curbside pickup orders than helping customers inside.

“It’s a very important time of year spiritually, and people will make sacrifices so that they can go get Christmas presents,” said Kenneth Rogoff, an expert on economic calamities and a professor of economics at Harvard University. “But it’s hard to see a blowout Christmas season when you have a 15% unemployment rate.”

On average, retailers traditionally generate 20% of their annual revenue in November and December. Several chains have announced discounts over a longer period of time to goose sales, some starting in late October. “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,” said Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Company. There’s “the combination of pandemic, which won’t be gone by this Christmas, and the economic fallout from it, which, who knows how bad it’s going to be by then?”

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.