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Insights on Changing Holiday Plans During COVID-19

How will COVID-19 impact holiday planning this year? A recent Digsite research study got a pulse on the changing expectations of consumers regarding Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

We started by surveying 150 participants from a mix of ages, ethnicities and U.S. regions, then pulled out 25 participants for a deeper qualitative dive. In this blog post, I’ll share what we learned and what may give you ideas regarding how to move forward and scope out additional iterative research as the holidays approach.

Because of Digsite’s agile research capabilities, this research study took less than a week from start to finish, allowing us to provide you with up-to-the-minute insights.

The big takeaway: 

Nearly two-thirds of consumers said COVID-19 will affect their holiday plans this year

Can Halloween happen?

Trick-or-treating, visiting pumpkin patches, attending Halloween parties – these traditional fall experiences will all be impacted this year. Participants voiced concerns about their kids going door to door to trick or treat as well as being in big groups. If Halloween parties are canceled and if trick-or-treating doesn’t feel safe, what does that mean for kids?

View the Slides

Opportunity #1: Help parents make Halloween fun for the family

  • Provide ways to enjoy the costume experience: How and where can kids (and adults, for that matter) wear costumes this year?
  • Consider how to exchange candy and enjoy treats: Can trick or treating happen in a different way that is safe yet still allows for the experiential component of Halloween?

Holiday travel plans are on hold

We asked participants what holidays they normally travel for and what holidays they anticipate traveling for this year. Not surprisingly, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be most affected. 

Holidays Consumers Plan to Travel For This Year

Two-thirds of the participants who usually travel for these holidays won’t travel for them this year, and half say they won’t travel for any events for the remainder of the year.

Rethinking Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions

How else will these holidays look different for families? Participants indicate feeling disappointment that family traditions like making cookies, wrapping presents, holiday shopping, and gathering for holiday meals together will likely not happen this year. They want to keep elderly relatives safe and don’t anticipate hosting big meals. Several commented that Thanksgiving and Christmas at home with immediate family is most likely.

Participant Quotes-1Participant Quotes

Opportunity #2: Help consumers through family gatherings

  • Make travel and gatherings safer for those who choose to get together: What products and ideas can make travel safer for those who plan to do so?
  • Find new ways to remotely include extended family in meals and other traditions: What can you do as brands to help facilitate family togetherness?
  • Provide alternatives to traditional gatherings to share food or exchange food gifts: How can you look beyond traditional ways to share food and exchange gifts in order to help create an amazing experience for customers?

Holiday gifts in the COVID era

Holiday gift-giving will look different, and less personal, this year. Consumer shifts seem to be focused on three areas:

  • Shopping: Choosing gift cards instead of actual gifts; steering away from food gifts; shopping online and avoiding malls
  • Timing: Ordering gifts earlier than usual to ensure they arrive on time – most say they’ll start shopping by October

    When do you plan to begin shoppingplanning for holiday gifts? 
  • Budget restrictions: Cutting back on quantity and cost of gifts; considering homemade gifts

Restaurant gift card considerations

The likelihood of giving gift cards came up frequently in our research, so we dove deeper to specifically probe about gift cards to restaurants. Our research indicates that consumers are more likely to choose gift cards to restaurants that offer takeout or curbside pickup and have a history of delivering a safe in-person experience. Participants say they’ll avoid gift cards to restaurants that require dining in or are buffet-style.

Restaurant gift card considerations-1

Opportunity #3: Make gift-giving safe, easy and affordable

The challenges around giving gifts during COVID-19 present opportunities for retailers. Anticipating consumer concerns will benefit both retailers and consumers alike.

  • Create earlier promotions to prevent shipping concerns: Don’t wait until Cyber Monday! Start earlier so shipping and timing worries don’t impact buying decisions.
  • Think about safety beyond purchase to redemption: While the purchase itself needs to feel safe, how can you also ensure that redemption of a gift card can also feel safe for the consumer?
  • Help the gift-giving experience feel more personal: Think about the exchange process. How can you make it a more positive, intimate experience for families?

Top 3 Takeaways

  1. Most consumers are putting their holiday travel plans on hold and are looking for alternatives to traditional gathering and gift-giving.
  2. Consumers are looking for less-expensive gift options and are planning to shop online instead of in stores.
  3. The takeout experience and quality are key purchase drivers when deciding what restaurant gift card to buy.

Hopefully these insights will help as you navigate the holidays for your business. Ensuring your messaging is correct will be a key to success.

If you're looking to conduct your own market research during COVID-19 but aren't sure where to start, check out our latest eBook, How to Conduct Market Research During the COVID-19 Era. The eBook explains how research participants are responding differently during the COVID-19 crisis, the top four ways to conduct online qualitative research during COVID-19, and includes case studies with real-world companies that have successfully conducted research during COVID-19. 

How to Conduct Market Research During the COVID-19 Era eBook-2

Read the eBook


Topics: Market Research, Voice of Customer, Quantitative Research, Online Communities, Agile

Monika Rogers

Monika Rogers

Monika Rogers is the CEO and Co-founder of Digsite. She has more than 20 years of marketing, innovation and market research experience, including positions at General Mills, Pillsbury and the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.