For most shoppers, the holiday season brings to mind long lines and early mornings hunting for great deals and the perfect gifts for friends and family. But for retailers, it presents an opportunity for growth within their physical environments, as the volume of both regular and first-time shoppers can increase market share during a holiday season that's projected to grow by 4.1 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.
With the heightened holiday shopping season comes equally heightened customer expectations. In the last decade, the growth of omnichannel has placed even greater pressure on brick-and-mortar retailers to create seamless experiences across their web and physical presences. Customers have grown to expect integration at a higher level during the holiday season.
So how can physical retailers meet the expected increases in shopper expectations and sales volume this holiday season? Ultimately, it comes down to how well retailers keep up with today’s consumer. This includes understanding how they prefer to shop, what motivates them to buy, and what retail and marketing experiences have the most impact during the busy holiday season.
Here are three ways for your physical retail environment to exceed your customers’ elevated holiday expectations.
Embrace the Holiday
In a study on what motivates consumer shopping during the holidays, Bazaarvoice found that holiday experiences draw shoppers into the store because of how it made them feel. Bazaarvoice's study discovered that 42 percent of holiday shoppers said they brave the crowds and shop in-store because they enjoy the festive ambiance, and 32 percent feel that holiday activities (e.g., visiting Santa or a gingerbread village) are central to the in-store shopping experience.
Social media is another tactic that has proven to be a key marketing strategy for brick-and-mortar retailers. Consumers typically turn to recommendations from friends and family for inspiration on where to shop, while also looking to promotional advertising. The new trend among consumers is to look to social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on the latest deals and promotions. Using the holiday theme, retailers can connect with their customers by appealing to the sentiments of the holiday with digital content. It’s important to remember that while customers return to the stores they know, they return more often and spend more at stores that emotionally engage them.
Stock it Up
Once you develop and promote your in-store experience, be sure to deliver on your promise so shoppers can leave with purchases in-hand. Having available inventory may seem like table stakes when it comes to completing a sale, but it's never more important than during the rushed and “I need it now” holiday season. Too often, we see retailers advertise a seasonal special only to quickly sell out. Some shoppers may switch to in-stock options, but others will be disappointed and possibly angered that you can’t deliver on the promised experience. You run the risk that these disengaged shoppers will buy the item from another retailer.
Remember that one of the key differentiators between the online and physical retail environment is the ability to interact with a product prior to purchase. Take advantage of this with engaging displays for promoted products. And if there are physical space constraints to maintaining adequate inventory levels, be sure to leverage off-site warehousing and online product delivery to quickly fulfill purchasing demands.
A 2017 Salesforce study found that 74 percent of consumers are extremely likely to switch brands after having a difficult purchasing or checkout process. Thus, understanding your inventory demands during the holiday season will go a long way in satisfying shoppers.
Turn to Technology
Customer-facing interactive display technology is one of the best ways to leverage innovation for that “one of a kind” customer experience. For example, some stores use smart screens to let shoppers virtually “try on” makeup shades, while others are using attention-grabbing droids or bots to roam around the store and interact with customers. With technology costs dropping and more options available, creating that unique sense of wonder may be easier than you think. Keep in mind that despite technology evolving and competition heating up, retailers must deliver experiences that are entertaining, valuable and relevant.
It’s a fact that people shop at brick-and-mortar stores because they want a personal experience. Ensuring that you have the proper staff on hand to deliver that experience is a technology exercise as well. In taking the time to shore up internal technology processes, retailers can apply innovative solutions to handle operation both on and off the retail floor, ultimately allowing for more time to be spent focusing on coaching and empowering employees to deliver great service to each and every customer. It's important for retailers to remember that employee engagement paves the way for customer engagement. The experience for customers plays a huge role in their purchasing decisions for the holiday season.
Prepping for Peak Season
Whether you're a retailer who works eight months of the year in preparation for the holiday season or one who maintains a constant flow of consumer traffic throughout the year, you have one opportunity to deliver an exceptional customer experience during the highly competitive holiday season. Business as usual could deliver disappointing results given today’s savvy, time-starved, customer service-seeking shopper.
So how do you win? Deliver a seamless experience for the customer with a personalized customer engagement experience through appropriate digital or immersive technology, have ample in-store and/or available inventory, and elevate your in-store customer service so that questions are addressed quickly and accurately. Remember, it’s how you make them feel during the experience that lasts and begins the journey of a brand-loyal customer.
Ron Lutz is executive vice president and chief client officer at Miller Zell, a fully integrated retail experience company..
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