Preparing for a Familiar Holiday Shopping Season
The holiday shopping season is pivotal for retail revenue generation. Over November and December, National Retail Federation (NRF) studies have found that American households each spend nearly $1,000 on holiday items — ranging from gifts and decorations to traditional foods.
With in-store operations mostly resumed, 2021 holiday shopping is looking more familiar to consumers. However, after a year of social distancing, demand is expected to skyrocket now that in-person family gatherings have resumed. As a result, holiday shopping is projected to reach over $206 billion in sales this year. This surge in activity can be overwhelming, but for retailers with the agility to adapt to this increased demand, the upcoming seasonal shopping period will be more profitable and successful than ever before — but only if they capitalize on it.
Below are three ways retailers can effectively prepare their supply chains, e-commerce sites, and in-store operations for a familiar — yet chaotic — holiday shopping season to deliver quality customer service and drive record-breaking sales.
Combating Seasonal Supply Chain Volatility
Customer expectations for fast delivery times, accurate tracking and fully stocked shelves haven’t changed, meaning the pressure is on for retailers to keep their supply chains streamlined and efficient during holiday shopping surges. Unfortunately, common challenges like unexpected rises in demand, increased theft occurrence, and unpredictable weather naturally open the door to volatility throughout the supply chain.
Retailers can get ahead of supply chain issues by investing in supply chain visibility and demand sensing solutions to gain real-time insight into demand fluctuations, allowing them to adjust plans and operations as appropriate. Because of the unprecedented nature of 2020, forecasting technologies cannot rely solely on last year’s data to plan this season; therefore, demand sensing is critical to identify real-time demand fluctuations and automatically adjust the plan as appropriate.
In addition, tracking SKUs in the warehouse with radio frequency identification (RFID) solutions keeps distribution centers organized and efficient. Retailers can also integrate advanced fleet services solutions to monitor driver performance during transportations to minimize delivery times. To further optimize outcomes, implementing artificial intelligence (AI) systems can provide the right people with prescriptive actions directing how to respond to any supply chain disruptions. This prescriptive workflow enables fast responses to keep products moving toward their final destinations. It further helps retailers ensure their supply chains are ready for seasonal shopping trends, reducing any risk of major disruptions as well.
Delivering a Rich Online Experience
In 2020, 81 percent of Americans accomplished more than half their holiday shopping online. Retailers should expect a similar trend this year. While many stores are fully open, online shopping certainly isn’t going anywhere.
To keep pace with changing demand, retailers must prepare their e-commerce sites to handle the influx in traffic while providing a rich and easy customer journey. With so many shoppers choosing to stay home and complete their holiday purchases online, retailers should invest in curated content to recreate optimal in-person shopping experiences virtually. From chatbots and interactive online quizzes to digital gift guides and virtual dressing rooms, brands can deliver highly personalized online journeys to guarantee customer satisfaction and minimize any buyer’s remorse.
By leveraging advanced retail data analytics solutions like prescriptive analytics, retailers can tailor their email and social media marketing to their customer base to provide shopping inspiration that directly drives sales. For instance, a consumer who purchases a pair of earrings as a gift for their partner might receive a follow-up email with a discount code to purchase a matching necklace. In that scenario, prescriptive analytics would have identified the initial purchase and alerted an e-commerce manager to send out an email with the necklace discount. Just as a satisfied customer will return to a brick-and-mortar store to make a repeat purchase, online customers can be encouraged to revisit e-commerce sites — IF their experience is similarly enjoyable.
Putting Health and Safety First in Stores
While e-commerce is undoubtedly a powerful channel, the ability to resume in-store shopping is a huge benefit for both retailers and consumers. Retailers can gain additional revenue through impulse purchases, while consumers enjoy the “thrill of the hunt” and convenience of making returns or exchanges in person. Therefore, retailers should expect consumers to return to brick-and-mortar stores in the months ahead, especially as they complete their holiday shopping.
However, retailers must continue to make investments in the health and safety of their stores to instill confidence in consumers and protect both customers and employees. They can expand touchless strategies like buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, and self-checkout to provide consumers with safe shopping options that allow them to visit their favorite stores while minimizing human-to-human contact.
The use of cobots in grocery stores and big-box retail outlets can also enhance health and safety measures. With cobots handling inventory management tasks on the sales floor, human employees can focus on back-of-house tasks to minimize the number of individuals on the floor, and only send associates out as necessary (e.g., to refill a product that a cobot identified as out of stock). In turn, the chances of a COVID-19 outbreak are reduced. Additional improvements like employee contact tracing and automated temperature screening solutions give shoppers and associates the peace of mind that their health always comes first.
The latter half of the year is always critical for retailers, but with many brands and organizations working toward financial recovery in the wake of the pandemic, 2021’s holiday shopping season could potentially make or break their progress. By optimizing every level of operations with advanced, data-driven solutions and intuitive processes, retailers can capitalize this holiday season to position themselves for sustained success in 2022.
Guy Yehiav is vice president and general manager of Zebra Analytics at Zebra Technologies, a comprehensive ecosystem of enterprise solutions.
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Guy Yehiav is the president of SmartSense by Digi. He is a recognized thought leader in retail, CPG, supply chain, and complex manufacturing with a proven track record of success in M&A, B2B enterprise software solutions, SaaS metrics, and AI and IoT solutions. Guy most recently served as the GM and VP of Zebra Analytics. He supported the overall AI, machine learning, and analytics strategy by driving M&A, and the development of B2B enterprise solutions.