Online retailers hold the advantage of 24/7 accessibility, but their brick-and-mortar counterparts have found ways to chip away at it over the past few years.
A major taboo fell by the wayside in 2014 when several national retail chains opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day. With the holiday shopping season recently concluded, retailers are evaluating results and assessing future opportunities. The possibility of opening physical stores on Christmas Day will likely be a consideration – and a recent survey indicates that one in five consumers would take advantage of it.
LoyaltyOne Consulting, a firm specializing in assessing, designing and implementing analytics-driven loyalty and customer experience strategies, conducted research with more than 1,200 American consumers in November 2015. The results showed that 18 percent of respondents would use the extra time to shop if retailers opened for business at 6 p.m. Christmas evening. The number jumps to 30 percent in the millennial (age 18-24) group.
The concept has been already been quietly considered by some retailers, and although none have yet taken the plunge, it’s likely to happen within the next three years.
The possibility of Christmas Day shopping reflects cultural shifts in the way that people celebrate the holiday. Because of issues like extended family dynamics, many families don’t necessarily celebrate on Christmas Day itself – and when consumer expectations change, retailers must change with them.
Not that retailers opening their doors on Christmas Day don’t risk some blowback. The survey revealed that 58 percent of the general population said they simply wouldn’t shop on Christmas. Furthermore, 24 percent of respondents said not only wouldn’t they shop on Christmas, but would be less likely in the future to shop at a store open on Christmas or to recommend such a store to friends and family.
Retailers must weigh the risks and rewards of opening their stores on Christmas Day. You're likely to alienate the general public by opening on Christmas. But the survey shows there is some consumer interest, and with increasing pressure to make sales goals and meet annual numbers, retailers must continue to carefully monitor consumer sentiment.
Despite the sharp divide over the issue, respondents found significant consensus in their expectations of customer service during the season. Retailers should take note:
- Ninety-four percent of all shoppers surveyed said they expect retailers to take extra measures to keep checkout lines moving during the holiday rush.
- Eighty percent of respondents said they blame the retailer if they have to wait because of another customer’s coupons, returns or service problems, with the exception of the millennial demographic, where four out of 10 said they resent the other customer – not the store – for making them wait.
- Eighty-nine percent of all shoppers said they expect retailers to take extra measures to keep departments orderly despite the busy season.
- Fifty-nine percent of shoppers said holiday gift return policies make or break their opinion of a retailer.
- Twenty percent of shoppers reported an unhappy experience during last year’s gift-buying season that completely ruined their holiday mood. For respondents age 18-24, that number soared to 40 percent, while for ages 25-34 it was 30 percent.
As always, the holiday season represents high stakes for retailers. While the possibility of shopping on Christmas Day still meets resistance, consumers uniformly demand outstanding customer service. With that in mind, and based on the survey results, here are some guidelines for planning and preparing for the 2016 holiday season:
- Staff sufficiently. Few things frustrate customers more than a lack of assistance, whether at checkout or in the aisle. Be sure to have enough employees on hand, especially at the busiest times.
- Train thoroughly. Associates must be ready to answer customer questions or have a direct line to someone who can. Prepare employees to handle product inquiries as well as demanding customer interactions.
- Communicate clearly. Use the various channels at your disposal (website, email, in-store signage) to reach customers with helpful information, including store hours, sales and specials, and return policies.
Jeff Berry is the senior director of research and development at COLLOQUY, a publishing, research and education practice that brings together thousands of loyalty professionals.