Home for the Holidays: Preparing for the Shopping Season and the Year Beyond, Part 2
The 2019 holiday season feels like a lifetime ago, in a robust economy and pre-pandemic. Taking a look back, we see that initial retail forecasts were lackluster, with analysts predicting a downturn from 2018. Final figures belied those early grim predictions, however, with the National Retail Federation (NRF) confirming that retail sales for the last two months of 2019 grew 4.1 percent year-over-year (YoY) to $730.2 billion.
Following the 2019 holiday season, brand managers and retailers anticipated a year of steady growth. Unemployment was at historic lows. The stock market was high. There was reason to expect a prosperous 2020, culminating in a successful holiday season.
Then the coronavirus set everyone back. We're now dealing with the greatest economic downturn since 2008. Along with the challenges, there are and will be opportunities. The first part in this series identified how to communicate with customers during uncertain times; what follows are practical actions you can take in your marketing approach to help you succeed.
Bridge the Gap Between Offline and Online
As shelter-in-place orders took effect, shopping in physical stores became impossible. Savvy merchants pivoted, using video to replicate the in-store experience. Consumers responded favorably. A Forbes survey found that 65 percent of consumers are more inclined to make a purchase after viewing product videos. Moreover, a single video can prove effective as a sales engine. For example, Dollar Shave Club garnered 5 million views and received 12,000 orders within two days of releasing an amusing product video.
Retail videos have been trending, and this tactic will remain essential through the 2020 holiday season and beyond. Forbes found people of all ages have a strong desire for videos, ranging from 43 percent for people 55 years and above to 65 percent of shoppers ages 18–24.
Merchants can leverage the power of physical retail and e-commerce by using store associates to support digital initiatives. This allows consumers to obtain information that isn’t explicitly conveyed online.
Accept That Contactless Purchasing is Here to Stay
As new paths to purchase have emerged and evolved, one stands out as particularly effective: an omnichannel strategy that includes buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS). Subsequent to the pandemic, this approach has expanded into curbside pickup, minimizing physical interactions without compromising convenience. Our research has shown that consumers prefer contactless delivery: 54 percent of U.S. shoppers opt for it, as do 88 percent of Canadians, 61 percent of Europeans, and 74 percent in the Middle East. As customers gravitate toward curbside pickup, retailers must concentrate on delivering a flawless experience.
Accurate store inventory levels and clear communication are of the utmost importance. Merchants must build trust by confirming that items are in stock. Communications must be seamless — from order confirmation to ready-for-pickup notices, with consistent updates during the process.
Flexibility is Paramount — Retail is Not a Static Process
The pandemic has forced businesses to revisit and reimagine their strategies. Companies that have invested in a customer-first mind-set transform consumer needs into real-time opportunities, shifting business models to meet demands.
Responsive businesses tested new initiatives. Some restaurants, for example, added groceries and essential items available for pickup and delivery, making life easier for customers. Apparel retailers implemented “try before you buy” policies, charging only for items customers keep.
Our research has determined that the aggregate grade of all customer service engagements has declined since the pandemic, with a grade of “B” or higher falling 11 percent, while grades of “C” or below climbed by 64 percent. Many retailers failed to respond quickly enough. Maintaining an “A” from your customers through the holidays is more than possible. With the requisite insight and commitment to action and flexibility, it’s inevitable.
E-commerce will only grow, so you must be deeply invested in digital commerce to thrive during the holiday season. Brick-and-mortar won't go extinct, however. People enjoy — need, really — the experience of shopping in physical stores, especially during the holidays. However, the future belongs to the retailers that understand the omnichannel ethos and figure out how to integrate the convenience, speed and power of e-commerce with the sensory appeal and excitement of physical stores, ultimately creating a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts.
You can’t do one or the other in the post-pandemic world; you have to do both.
To access our Holiday Preparedness report, click here.
Renata Akers is the digital commerce analyst for Astound Commerce, the world’s most trusted independent digital commerce specialist, empowering success through experience-driven ecosystems that fuse technology, data, design and storytelling to propel business growth.
Renata Akers is the Digital Commerce Analyst for Astound Commerce, the world’s most trusted independent digital commerce specialist, empowering success through experience-driven ecosystems that fuse technology, data, design, and storytelling to propel business growth.
She has eight years of analytical experience in the digital commerce space, coupled with 15 years of hands-on retail operations knowledge.
Astound Commerce is a global digital agency focused on developing innovative commerce experiences. We combine experience design, technology development, and marketing strategy to help brands engage with their customers at every stage of the buying cycle.