How Retailers and Brands Can Meet Holiday Shoppers’ Expectations
This holiday shopping season should be a merry one for retailers and brands. The key to getting more jingle in their cash registers will be meeting shoppers’ expectations, which have ticked upward of late.
Retailers and brands rose to the challenge last year, accelerating their focus on customer experience (CX) and adopting new technologies. As a result, holiday sales surged 8 percent in 2020, more than double the 3.5 percent average gain over the previous five years. To replicate that success in 2021, they must be ready to accommodate shopping habits that have evolved considerably and continue to do so. Here’s what to expect:
An Early Start and a Focus on E-Commerce
The COVID-19 pandemic was a big factor driving increased e-commerce activity in 2020. Even though many people kicked off their shopping in October, some still encountered fulfillment problems as inventory was tight on popular items and shipping was delayed due to unprecedent volume. These dynamics could trigger an earlier kickoff to holiday shopping this year, with e-commerce leading the way through at least mid-November in most categories. Post-Thanksgiving will see digital goods, especially downloads, become more popular since they eliminate concerns about shipping delays.
Seamless Experiences Between Digital and Brick-and-Mortar
This is key to meeting heightened expectations around convenience and CX. Online/offline hybrid solutions like curbside pickup, one-day shipping, and BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) were popular in 2020 and should be more so this year. Hybrid store formats leveraging augmented reality (AR), in-store apps, interactive digital signage, virtual mirrors, and customizable products can help meet customers’ expanded expectations around technology. Brands and retailers need to work together in this area, with the ubiquity of mobile phones at the nexus of their collaboration. They should look at the store’s physical landscape through a mobile lens, with an eye toward maximizing hybrid and digital experiences.
'Choose Your Own Adventure' Shopping Journey
Shoppers want an experience tailored to their purchases on the device that’s most convenient to them. The experience should be streamlined, with complexities removed from the equation. One idea for brands is building shoppable video ads accessible via desktop and mobile, allowing shoppers the ability to customize products and fulfillment methods before reaching the website to finalize the transaction. Giving customers multiple options for discovery and fulfillment and letting them choose their own journey — rather than moving them down a pre-determined path — is particularly important during the time crunch of holiday shopping.
Optimizing for Mobile
Over half of all online shopping traffic will be from mobile devices. The massive adoption of mobile phones has transformed one-way communication from brands to consumers into a two-way exchange of information. The native capabilities of smartphones are driving a resurgence of QR codes as a marketing tool and an enabler of personalized buying journeys. Smartphones make “conversational commerce” a reality via apps that allow consumers to communicate directly with retailers and brands. With the utility of third-party data for marketing purposes increasingly constrained, mobile gives retailers and brands greater access to rich, first-party data, often in real time.
Better Product Return Experiences
This is an area where some got caught flat-footed in 2020. E-commerce has solidified the consumer expectation that any product can be returned at any time for any reason. That presents logistical problems for brick-and-mortar stores, but hopefully they've learned from last year. Returns also present valuable opportunities for additional interaction with customers. Retailers can reach out digitally to find out why a customer returned a product and use that information to suggest something else. Brands can use return information to rethink product features and configurations.
Convenience and price (49 percent of U.S. consumers expect retailers to offer them a discount) will be important to holiday shoppers in 2021. They will expect the digital shopping experience to be more immersive, but almost half will still visit a brick-and-mortar store before making a purchase. Retailers and brands can maximize their sales opportunities by providing shoppers with the information they want, such as product features and store locations, and delivering the personalized, customizable experience they increasingly demand.
Jim Johnson is vice president of account planning at VDX.tv, a global advertising technology company that is transforming the way brands connect with relevant consumers through video.
As Vice President of Account Planning, Jim is responsible for leveraging VDX.tv’s consumer research and insights to develop holistic digital marketing strategies aimed at guiding clients toward their desired outcomes. Prior to joining VDX.tv (formerly Exponential), Jim worked as a Media Planner with Carat on brands including Reebok, VH1, RadioShack and Motorola. He has also worked at Boston University as an event planner and financial advisor, roles he held while simultaneously earning an M.S in Advertising from the College of Communication. Jim earned his B.A in Journalism from Keene State College, splitting time between undergraduate studies and the United States Marine Corps Reserve.