The Prepared Retailer: A Gift That Keeps on Giving
It seems the holidays come earlier every year — Lowe’s and Walmart have had their Christmas trees up since late September — but for many there's still time left to prepare for the onslaught of gift-givers. The time to do so is now.
While this author has been predicting holiday trends for several years, this year’s predictions shouldn’t come as a surprise to many. However, there will always be some unprepared consumers who have left shopping until the last minute, and this presents a great opportunity for the retailers that are prepared.
BOPIS Comes of Age
We’ve all been there: Dec. 14, two weeks left in the year, and the parking lot at the mall looks like where cars have decided to hibernate for the winter. Once you make it inside, dodge the herd of carolers and weave your way through the pictures with Santa line, you’re struck with the thought of, “I don’t want to do any of this.” And who would? For most, holiday shopping in mid-December is only slightly more palatable than a trip to the dentist for that much needed root canal. But it doesn’t need to be that way. More and more retailers are upping their game with buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) offerings, and what better time for that than when the malls are full, shelves aren't as full as they should be, and patience is low? BOPIS is the procrastinator’s savior, and likely will offer a boost to retailers that offer it after the typical deadline of the third week of December. Plus, once customers have a good experience when the stakes are high, they'll likely return to those retailers that saved their bacon at the 11th hour throughout the year for their stress-free offerings. BOPIS is a win-win for both retailers and consumers.
A Good Customer Experience is the Gift Everyone Wants
It has been said that the true measurement of a customer’s satisfaction is an average between their most intense feeling during the experience (be it good or bad), and how they feel when the experience is completed. We’ve all had a time at a restaurant when the food or the service wasn’t that good, but the final interaction with the staff made or broke the experience. How retailers deal with their customers during the most stressful period of the shopping year is no different. While there’s not a whole lot the retailer can do in terms of the parking lot or how loud the holiday music is in the mall, they can control what happens in their own four walls or in their online experience. Is there ample staff to help? Are the products neat, orderly and easy to find? Is it easy to ask questions or complete a transaction? All of these things seem so simple, but so frequently get thrown out during the holiday period when things get crazy. Therefore, retailers that seek to not only sell to their customers but also offer ways for them to solve their holiday problems — find gifts, get appropriate sizes and styles, arrange for gift wrapping or delivery — will be leaps and bounds ahead of those that don’t. A simple helpful gesture at the end of a transaction by an associate can make or break a relationship for the year, or years, to come.
Omnichannel is the Only Channel
Gone are the days where the only interaction consumers have with a brand is when they cross the threshold of a store. Now consumers likely have researched tens if not dozens of times before even heading into the retailer’s physical location, if they go at all. Consumers are significantly more educated about products and services than they were just five years ago, and many know more about the product they want than the store associate or website they interact with to make the purchase. Therefore, brands and retailers that offer true soup-to-nuts interactions with their brand will be ahead of those that don’t. It’s been said many times that if a customer can tell when they’ve moved between a P&L, then the customer experience has failed. That’s never been truer than it is today.
The truth is that consumers just don’t care whether they're interacting with a brand in-store or online; to them it’s just “the brand.” However, too often brands and retailers have very segmented experiences when it comes to offline vs. online sales, and that’s a poor customer experience by today’s standards. Offering true omnichannel experiences will set retailers apart from those that don’t because of the ease of use in dealing with them. No longer will “is this cheaper in-store or online” or “but I want to know if it’s available in-store before I go to the mall” be acceptable. Consumers, trained by Amazon.com and other top-tier digital retailers like Walmart and Target, expect the same experience everywhere they go, no matter the brand. Brands that don’t adapt will lose out.
The holidays are the opportunity for many retailers to realize all the hard work they’ve done all year and move into profitability, hence “Black Friday,” but the stakes have never been higher. The truth is that the steps to create outstanding customer experiences for today’s digital consumer aren't that difficult, but many retailers and brands are still struggling to meet the bar. At the end of the day, or end of the holiday season, the ones that embrace these changes and meet customers where they want to be, when and how they want the brand to be there, will win. Those that don’t will lose.
Jon Reily is vice president and global commerce strategy lead for Publicis Sapient, a digital business transformation partner.
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