The 2014 holiday season generated a whopping $616.1 billion in revenue, with e-commerce accounting for $101.9 billion of the Christmas shopping pie. And 2015 is on track to be even bigger. A recent eMarketer report estimated increases of 3.2 and 14.4 percent for overall and e-commerce purchases respectively, rounding out holiday sales at an anticipated $900 billion.
A merchant’s ability to meet shopper demands will either make or break their holiday strategy. This season, consumers will be looking for the ability to shop via the channels they choose, be it in-store, online or, increasingly, by mobile device, as well as for enhancements in card security and smooth store operations. Good things take time, so the earlier retailers can prepare for the holidays, the better.
Consider these tips to implement a plan that keeps your business on your customers’ nice list:
1. Upgrade your omnichannel approach. The holiday shopping season in particular highlights the need for retailers to provide a superior, seamless shopping experience from start to finish. Consumers now expect the flexibility to begin, resume and finish transactions across environments, whether that’s browsing products on mobile, purchasing them online and then returning or picking up in-store. A robust, multichannel inventory management solution is one way to link the stages. Features that let you monitor inventory on all platforms, order product from vendors within the interface and present real-time alerts of what's in stock, what's selling best in each location and where to move inventory can help you consistently meet customer demands.
It’s no secret that shoppers are wired to their mobile devices. Desktop shopping has staked its claim through its ability to convert browsers into buyers. Though users spend more time on mobile devices, they convert at a significantly lower rate — a phenomenon analysts call the “m-commerce gap.” Retailers can help close that gap by optimizing the mobile shopping experience. Features to consider include creating an account that’s usable across mobile platforms, in-app customer service and payment processing technologies like credit card vaulting, pre-authorization on transactions and mobile wallet compatibility that make it as easy as possible for customers to return for future purchases.
2. Protect customer data. The widespread system breaches of major retailers have only heightened unease among shoppers. Additionally, the EuroPay MasterCard and Visa (EMV) liability shift on Oct. 1 means retailers have even less time to upgrade their payment technologies for the holiday shopping season, as those not EMV-ready with chip-and-PIN functionality will now incur liability for fraudulent card present transactions that occur on their network.
The right payment partner can help to ensure the highest level of security and all-around customer care. Retailers can assemble a project team with their payment processor to update point-of-sale terminals and educate staff on changes to the checkout process. More people in-store means more questions; a fully knowledgeable staff can navigate the holiday flux more easily. The uptick in online and mobile shopping calls for enhanced cloud-based security features like tokenization, vaulting and point-to-point encryption.
Merchants can (and should) talk to their service providers about which solutions are currently in place and others that can be rolled out in preparation for the holidays. Shoppers want to buy from businesses whose commitment to security is evidenced by trustworthy, customer-centric initiatives. Retailers must take a proactive stance on data security.
3. Have a back-up plan. The radical increase in transaction traffic can also cause in-store servers and POS terminals to go down, websites to crash and apps to become overloaded. Manual options, like knuckle-buster impression machines and having more associates on call can help to manage the flow and keep things running smoothly. “Roaming” cashiers with tablets that act as mobile POS terminals can check out customers anywhere in the store, too, getting them in, out and on their way as quickly as possible.
To avoid the potential pitfalls the holiday season can create, it's wise for businesses to begin integrating strategies now. Those that allow consumers to shop how they want, make security a high priority and maintain operations all season long will distinguish themselves from the rest during and after the holidays have passed.
Chester Ritchie is the senior vice president of Worldpay US, a global payments technology provider for any platform: in-store, online and via mobile devices.