For retailers big and small, the holiday shopping season is both the tipping point into profitability and the springboard to success for the coming year. Therefore, my team at Square Root studied and surveyed consumers this holiday season to gain a deeper understanding of what drives in-store shopping for the holidays. The overarching discovery from the survey was that if retailers can exceed customer expectations, they’ll be more likely to stick around in the New Year. However, a failure to deliver on consumers’ expectations could cost brands in a big way.
Now that 2017 is here, it’s imperative that retailers absorb and apply learnings from the 2016 holiday season in order to keep customers coming back. Here are a few of the major lessons learned, and ways brands can take action.
The Year of Omnichannel
Unsurprisingly, omnichannel heavily influences purchase decisions. Today’s shoppers expect a fully integrated shopping experience. According to the survey, 70 percent of consumers expect the ability to buy online and return in-store, with 52 percent saying that capability directly influences whether they choose to buy. The ability to buy online and pick up in-store is equally key (65 percent), with 50 percent confessing that the option influences whether they buy at all. In fact, during the holidays, more consumers expect omnichannel offerings from retailers than holiday promotions. This goes to show that an unmet expectation could result in an abandoned purchase in a matter of seconds.
While omnichannel has been a hot topic for some time now, the fact remains that many retailers are still missing the mark. To avoid abandoned purchases and to positively influence consumers’ behavior, brands should make air-tight omnichannel offerings a top priority for 2017. Simple additions, like adding online-to-in-store functionality to mobile apps or websites, offering the ability to view local store inventory directly from the website, and offering free in-store returns will go a long way in 2017.
In-Store is Still in Style
Despite the growing affinity for online shopping, consumers still turn to physical stores for their shopping needs, something that’s especially true during the holidays. In fact, shoppers said they like the ability to obtain products faster (61 percent) and avoid shipping costs (46 percent). Furthermore, 65 percent of consumers said they prefer to see, touch and try on merchandise in-store. Forty-two percent of respondents said they prefer to shop in-store because it’s a holiday tradition, and something they’ve done with friends and family for years. To top it off, 21 percent of consumers go for the seasonal music and surroundings while they shop as it puts them into the holiday spirit.
Since stores can’t keep Santa hats on the floor year-round, what’s the main takeaway for retailers? Cater to your customers’ desires for an experience they can’t derive from a website. It may seem trivial, but this can be anything from a well-trained, consistently courteous staff, to a window display and floor design that maximizes efficiency and product visibility.
Bad Experiences, Worse Results
Physical retailers depend heavily on the success of the holiday season, so much so that they hire hundreds of thousands of seasonal employees to help tackle the Christmas chaos. Problem is, those temporary helpers shoulder much of the burden for creating a positive experience for shoppers, despite having minimal training and a limited understanding of the brand. Unfortunately, 70 percent of shoppers reported having abandoned a purchase because of a bad in-store experience, and those bad experiences can negatively impact brands year-round, as 64 percent of consumers are likely to share a bad experience on social media.
So, what factors most contribute to a negative in-store experience? Ninety-eight percent of consumers cited poor customer service, 53 percent cited pushy associates, and 36 percent cited employees that weren’t knowledgeable about products. The bottom line? As new employees onboard throughout the year, it’s crucial to provide them with exemplary training processes and protocols. Clearly communicate brand expectations and equip management teams so that they can serve their on-the-floor workers to the best of their abilities. This preparedness not only streamlines the internal team, but closes the gap between consumer expectations and bad in-store experiences.
Needless to say, retailers should heed the lessons learned during this year’s holiday hullabaloo and absorb and apply key findings to their 2017 strategic plans so that throughout the year — and by the time next holiday season rolls around — consumer expectations are met, abandonment rates are down and positive social conversations are up.
Chris Taylor is founder and CEO of Square Root, a SaaS company that creates technology solutions that power data-driven decision making.