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Examining the impact of COVID-19 on upcoming Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah and New Year’s Eve celebrations

September 16, 2020
Dara St. Louis

Dara St. Louis

SVP & Founding Partner, Reach3..

With people staying close to home, traditional routines around holidays will change...This new reality could open the doors for new consumer needs.

As summer winds down and back to school is well underway, many companies have quickly moved on to the approaching holidays and how they can get ahead of and influence the seemingly changed shopper. For many brands, the last few months of the year are some of the most profitable, but with the COVID-19 crisis still raging on and with many people rethinking their travel and celebration plans, this year’s shopping will look very different from previous years.

seasonal-holiday-market-research-surveyTo help brands prepare for the various holidays ahead, Reach3 Insights recently conducted a study exploring consumer sentiment and intentions around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah and New Year’s Eve. Using the market research platform from our sister company Rival Technologies, we engaged our Mobile Community of American and Canadian consumers to get a sense of how people will change their plans amid the pandemic. We leveraged our conversational, mobile messaging-based techniques to capture robust quant data and get rich, stream-of-consciousness qual feedback (including videos) from our community members.

Findings from our study provide insights that retailers and companies in consumer goods, food & beverage, and travel can use as a starting point when planning out both tactical and strategic efforts this year. Below, I’ve highlighted three notable takeaways and what they mean for brands.

Smaller, more intimate celebrations

While consumers are well aware that we’re living in unusual times, many still plan to celebrate key holidays. In fact, a majority of American consumers we engaged said they will “definitely” celebrate Thanksgiving, Hannukah and Christmas—holidays that are religious in nature or that involve families.


Of the occasions that we looked at, there’s less certainty for celebrating Halloween. Consumers are rightfully concerned that certain Halloween traditions like trick-and-treating and going to bars are sure-fire ways of transmitting or getting the coronavirus. But many still plan to celebrate in some fashion through home-based activities and taking events into their own hands so that it doesn’t feel that different in the household. As one participant said, “We are still going to dress up and carve pumpkins and decorate the house and do everything else the same.”

This idea of keeping it small is a theme across all holidays we explored. “This year will probably be spent more with close friends and family and small church groups instead of attending larger parties,” remarked one participant. “Large parades may or may not be taking place so might not be able to go to those.”

Implications for brands: With people holding smaller parties, it’s important to re-consider everything from your ad campaigns to how you are packaging your products. There’s an opportunity to inspire consumers how they might celebrate with fewer people, but still make it feel like a memorable event. For many consumers, celebrations this year will be smaller but also perhaps more intimate and more meaningful, involving only those they consider most important. How can you bring this emotion to life in your marketing campaigns?

There’s an opportunity to inspire consumers how they might celebrate with fewer people, but still make it feel like an event or season with memories.

Optimizing your offerings and channels for various holidays requires understanding the unique and shifting needs of your customers at this time. Will shoppers resort as much as possible to online or have a “get in, get out” mindset or will there be time for browsing and finding the right gift in stores? Understanding the pre-shop journey online and how brands can navigate and trigger trial online will be critical this year.

Saying no to travel

For certain holidays, visiting family and friends is usually a tradition. According to our research, 39% of Americans visited family or friends last year for Thanksgiving, 40% did so for Christmas and 16% for New Year's Eve.

Not much of that is happening this year. To avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus, many people are planning to skip traveling this year, especially if it involves going from one state to another.

“We usually travel to another state to celebrate, but if covid doesn't ease up, we may not go,” said one participant.

Another person shared, “Typically, I have family fly over from across the country for Thanksgiving, but that is now not possible so I guess it will be me and my immediate family this year. The biggest change will be that I won’t be able to see my grandma and others.”

The implications for brands: With people staying close to home, traditional routines around holidays will change. Rather than hopping on a plane to see friends and family this year, many will be logging in to Zoom or Skype to celebrate virtually. This new reality could open the doors for new consumer needs. For instance, some people may not visit family and friends but may still want to buy gifts online to send to their loved ones via mail. What are your customers’ unmet needs at this time, and how can you fill the void? Understanding the shifting consumer dynamics will help you come up with products and campaigns that meet the gaps in the market.

Uncertainty is dominating everything

People have very conflicted emotions about the upcoming holiday season. Some are excited, but there’s also anxiety and stress.


To deal with the uncertainty, some people are cutting back on expenses; others are thinking ahead, shopping a bit early to get what they need for various celebrations.

“Some foods have been hard to find and it’s getting harder to get some foods so it may have to be some untraditional foods at dinner,” shared one consumer. “We have started buying some of the things we can buy ahead of time like canned items and are saving them so we know we will have them.”

Many people are eager to continue their holiday traditions as long as they can do so safely. “I’m unsure how to navigate Halloween,” confessed one participant. “Is there a way to safely trick or treat away from others? Can passing out candy risk transmission of Covid?”

Implications for brands: Think about ways people can consume your products in the safest way possible. Understanding consumer concerns is the first step. Which traditions are people most worried about, and what can you do to assuage those concerns? How can you use various communication channels to assure people that they can enjoy your products without transmitting the virus? Reducing uncertainty and keeping consumers safe should be your priority at this time.


With COVID-19 still an unfortunate reality in everyone’s lives, the upcoming seasons will be like no other. It will be more important than ever to stay close to shoppers as possible and understand the underlying motivations driving new behaviors and routines.

Needless to say, activation playbooks around assortment, merchandising, pricing, shelving, channel and delivery optimization from previous years do not apply. Capturing ongoing, in-the-moment insights on the realities of people’s lives today has never been more important.

To help retailers and CPG companies navigate these unprecedented times, we’ve developed a holistic conversational Seasonal Shopper Learning Platform to enable the engagement of shoppers in an iterative organic fashion. If you’d like to learn more, please reach out to our team or check out the interactive deliverable we created from this study. 

Dara St. Louis
Dara St. Louis

SVP & Founding Partner, Reach3 Insights

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