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How retailers can make the most out of this unusual holiday shopping season

The retail industry is undergoing rapid change this holiday shopping season. Holiday retail sales between November and January should rise between 1% and 1.5%, amounting to between $1.147 trillion and $1.152 trillion, according to DeloitteThat’s compared with growth of 4.1% in 2019, when sales were nearly $1.14 trillion. With the disruption of the global pandemic, some economists are now predicting a K-shaped recovery, customers who have means are primed to spend more because they’ve been traveling less, while other customers who have lost jobs will decrease discretionary spending. As a result, this year we have a different customer shopping, one with new demands and behaviors.

How is the new holiday shopping season changing?

Retailers are approaching this holiday season in fear that they’ll be unable to keep up with order volume or that they won’t have appropriate staffing levels to provide the service and products customers are looking for. As a result, retailers are adjusting their holiday selling seasons to adapt to the changing customer. Amazon’s biggest shopping event of the year, Prime Day, has moved its date back from July to October and has extended its event over 48 hours. In response, a new holiday called 10.10 has launched, attempting to replicate China’s Singles’ Day (11/11), which is held November 11, and is the world’s biggest shopping event. Retailers are also preparing for Black Friday this year as we’re seeing stores adjust, such as BestBuy and Walmart, having made commitments to close physical stores on the day to focus on e-commerce.

This year, consumers will continue to shift to digital for their shopping needs. Salesforce forecasts nearly a third of 2020 US holiday sales will occur online. Normally there is a lot of foot traffic leading up to events, but with the pandemic, consumers will be less inclined to visit stores, while the amount of people lining up and entering stores will be limited given health and safety concerns. However, not every shopper will want to shop online. Customers who do visit stores will arrive at the doorstep with more intent than ever before—rather than coming in to browse, the customer will be shopping in-store with a purpose.

With customer behavior changing and demands growing stronger, retailers will need to prepare the store and make adjustments to create a successful shopping period for the customer and for the brand. Here are a few ways retailers can prepare to welcome customers during the holiday season.

Bring the store experience to your customers

Begin now by providing customers with early offers and experiences such as sharing a holiday gift guide, but with an added twist. Instead of sending static images of holiday gifts, create a video to walkthrough your offerings to make the experience interactive. Also, take advantage of virtual connections by providing customers with options to connect with their favorite store associate through web, video, text or social messaging chats. Through virtual video consultations, sales associates can extend the clienteling service by sharing gift buying advice, showcasing products, setting aside items for pickup, or helping customers fulfill the order through remote pay. Some customers may prefer to have the same benefits of an in-store experience online while maintaining social distancing from the comforts of home.

Create personalized experiences in-store

Provide customers with extra assistance through shopping concierge in-store. Neiman Marcus Group is offering customers who don’t feel comfortable wandering the aisles to book a private room where associates bring items directly to them. Share exclusive offers to clientele that shop through private appointments in store to encourage participation. As well, offer gift wrapping services to those shopping online and ship directly to the gift recipient with personalized messaging. Customers will be more interested in making a purchase if you make their lives easier. Also, build efficiencies by offering bundle promotions during gift-giving holidays. It’s a great opportunity to group products into a unique gift, increasing sales and customer convenience. 

Provide safer, and more digital contactless in-store shopping experiences

Ensure your physical customer journey reflects your customer needs. Aside from providing customers with masks and sanitation stations throughout the store, offer customers a convenient and safe shopping environment by clearly marking areas for Buy Online and Pickup in Store (BOPIS), checkout and returns. Have a sales associate readily available to help customers move throughout the store with ease to find merchandise or tend to inquiries. Offer customers express checkout from anywhere in the store using a mobile Point of Sale. This will help maintain social distancing within the store and streamline the payment experience.

Turn physical stores into a mini fulfillment stations

Shoppers will be looking to make purchases and have items delivered last minute. With supply chains strained and online orders in high demand, distribution centers and major delivery services have a higher probability of longer and interrupted delivery times. Stores can look to alternative delivery methods such as localized distribution by turning their physical stores into mini distribution centers. BOPIS, Reserve Online and Pickup in Store (ROPIS) and curbside pickup can help improve customer experience and optimize workflows within the store. Customers can pick up their purchases at their nearby store at a time convenient for them, minimizing the risk of not receiving their package. At the same time, be prepared to shift more labor hours to the back of house to help fulfill orders and package them for customer pickup.

The holidays are upon us and retailers this year are faced with more challenges than ever before. The global pandemic has altered the consumer and the retail industry significantly. Retailers will need to adjust their holiday selling strategies to adapt to the new customer while maintaining high health and safety standards to protect both store associates and the customer. It won’t be the easiest holiday season, but with the right strategies and practices in place, retailers can prepare to welcome customers, creating seamless experiences while increasing sales.

This blog was written in partnership with Rebekah Kondrat, Founder and Principal of Kondrat Retail. The consulting group helps brands build exceptional retail experiences and scalable practices that drive revenue and long-term customer loyalty.