In a tumultuous year for the economy, retailers are rightly concerned that inflation and rising interest rates might hurt holiday spending. But for savvy industry watchers, how much consumers will spend may not be as intriguing as how they’ll spend it.
That’s because long-simmering trends in e-commerce and consumer behaviors are colliding with new expectations and the next generation of tech innovation. The shifts may not feel as dramatic as they did during the dot-com boom of the 1990s, but the dance between retailers and consumers is changing. And both sides will be showing off some new moves. Regardless of spending, this holiday season will reshape how retailers interact with customers, with implications that go well beyond the current economic cycle.
This is, in many ways, a unique moment: Consumers have embraced e-commerce — though many are wary about privacy and data security — but they still want to get out to shop. Much like office employees who are tired of working at home yet want to retain the option, shoppers want a hybrid, omnichannel approach. Meanwhile, retailers are eager to apply new strategies and technology. Those that can combine myriad digital and in-person offerings with better shopping experiences overall will outpace those that can’t or won’t adapt.
Based on our conversations with brands, along with some of our own proprietary data and research, here are some trends that will last beyond this holiday season:
Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) Becomes Permanent
This phenomenon took off in 2020, but its popularity has outlasted the pandemic that made it necessary. It’s about convenience: It’s as simple as online shopping but with even faster gratification. It scratches more than one itch, too: It offers the world from a phone browser, gets people out of the house and, perhaps best of all, doesn’t require passing through an endless furniture department when all you want to buy is a new pair of gloves. That’s a real trifecta for someone like a young mother who doesn’t want to drag her kids through a supermarket but doesn’t have time to wait for home delivery of those last-minute purchases. BOPIS works, and stores have already institutionalized this option. It’s here to stay.
Retailers Use Digital to Lure In-Store Traffic
E-commerce offered retailers a way to broaden reach and reduce overhead for space and personnel. However, the serendipity of in-person shopping remains powerful, which is why retailers are using digital tech to make in-store shopping better. Consider a national drug chain that uses location data to deliver customized coupons to individual stores via push notifications. Consumers may be both intrigued by and wary of technology that seems to know everything about them, but our research found that more than 70 percent would offer more detailed personal information — e.g., their location — in exchange for offers that are personalized and relevant. This is a win-win strategy with staying power — and one way to get customers into stores more often.
AI and Other Tech is Changing the Way Stores Operate and Feel
Look for retailers to embrace technology more than ever, both behind the scenes and on the sales floor. Most enterprise retailers already use some form of machine learning to help them manage data. Now some are using infrared-camera tech to refine layout, traffic flow, and product placement on shelves. Others are leaning on AI to get a better idea of how long shoppers stay in stores and why, and how frequently they visit. Specialized software helps retailers target shoppers with complementary product ads, using insights drawn from shelf placements. Technology is streamlining customer experience, too, a must in this “one-click/buy now” world. And Amazon.com is now removing almost all friction in the shopping experience with its Just Walk Out technology, which is available in its growing footprint of Amazon Fresh stores.
Smart retail outlets will fully embrace a hybrid consumer experience that's sophisticated and strategic — and doesn’t feel transitory. The goal is to do it so well that consumers simply see the brand and remain loyal to it without thinking about channels anymore because they don’t need to.
What smart retailers and consumers learn in this season of experimentation will make them even smarter. That’s cause for holiday cheer, even if the inflation Grinch sticks around.
Christa Carone is the president of Infillion Media, a connected commerce platform.
Related story: What Retailers Must Keep in Mind This Holiday Season
Christa Carone is the current President of Infillion Media at PaeDae. Prior to this, they served as the President of Paidia Gaming, CSM Sport & Entertainment, and Unison Home Ownership Investors. Christa has also held the position of Chief Operating Officer at Group Nine Media and Boston 2024 Olympic Partnership, and Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communication at Fidelity Investments.
Christa has extensive experience in marketing and communication strategy, brand positioning, stakeholder engagement, and sales integration. Christa is a member of the executive leadership team at PaeDae and is responsible for developing and executing purpose-driven brand strategies. Christa is also an expert in social media governance and has created a social media governance initiative that unites dozens of social marketing work streams.
Under Christa’s leadership, Infillion Media has amplified the company’s thought leadership through campaigns and the first-ever spokesperson council. Christa has also launched a talent management system that is customized for corporate marketing and communication professionals. With their wealth of experience and expertise, Christa is poised to continue driving Infillion Media forward as a leading provider of marketing and communication solutions.
Christa Carone graduated from Mount St. Mary Academy in Buffalo, New York. Christa then attended the State University of New York at Geneseo, where they earned a BA in Communications.