Holiday shopping during a pandemic? Experts share tips

The 2020 holiday shopping season is under way and it looks a lot different in the Bay Area during the pandemic with required masks, capacity limits and resulting lines.

In San Jose Monday, new signs warning about capacity limits were posted in storefronts.

Santa Clara County and the majority of the Bay Area are currently restricting capacity inside retail stores to 20%.

Retail expert Kirthi Kalyanam said while the restrictions were not unexpected, they are still a gut punch to consumers at a crucial time for businesses.

"The capacity restrictions makes it really hard because now you have to stand in line outside the store," said Kalyanam, a marketing professor at Santa Clara University.

Silvia Teran was picking up items Monday in San Jose.

She said holiday shopping this year for her means less window shopping and less time in stores.

"I just have to be a little bit more organized," said Teran. "I'm doing more online shopping and curbside pickup."

According to the National Retail Federation, 96% of retailers surveyed expect their online sales to increase.

As of late November, 85% of consumers had started their shopping and had about half of their shopping left to complete.

"This is really the strangest holiday shopping season on record," said shopping expert Trae Bodge.

Bodge follows shopping trends and says she has already seen at least a 20 percent jump in online sales across the board.

She says while she's seeing some delays and restrictions popping up for online retailers, she suggests people get their shopping done before December 14.

This year, that date marks Free Shipping Day, the last day retailers guarantee shipping in time for Christmas.

Green Monday falls on the same day, which is known as the biggest online shopping day in December.

"Will FedEx, UPS and USPS be overwhelmed by that point? It is very possible. So I do think it's smart for consumers to get their shopping done earlier rather than later," said Bodge.

Kalyanam is the Executive Director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University.

"Retailers have worked hard and opened a new channel for consumers, which is buy online and pick up in the store. And I think that is quite convenient and still the way to go," said Kalyanam.

He studies e-commerce and says he is most curious how consumers behaviors may change during this tough time.

"What are they going to be buying differently? And I suspect they're going to buying things for others that are kind of cheer you up, celebratory kind of things," said Kalyanam.

Bodge says she is concerned about projections of increased spending at a time when money is tight for many, and suggests consumers be mindful of their budget to avoid dealing with debt in January.

As for shopping deadlines, Bodge adds if you run out of time to order online or find what you want in a store, a digital gift card is always a safe option.