A Retailer’s Guide to Creating Holistic Customer Experiences This Holiday Season

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Holiday shopping is going to be different this year—for consumers and retailers. With economic experts predicting marginal increases in holiday retail sales compared to last year, brands must work to maximize revenue, online and off, and build customer relationships with staying power across the various channels.

Although the growth rate might be small, we are still talking a potential $1 trillion-plus in U.S. retail sales, according to eMarketer, which would make 2020 the second holiday season ever to surpass the $1 trillion mark. Not bad for a financial recession. Now retailers must be sure they can secure their piece of the holiday shopping pie.

While eMarketer predicts a 35.8% increase in online sales year-over-year, brick-and-mortar still accounts for 81.2% of U.S. holiday retail sales. So, creating enjoyable in-person experiences that make customers feel safe and valued will be key. Brands must also consider how in-person touchpoints connect with digital ones and take a customer-centric approach to marketing, communication, and experiences, thereby building long-term customer relationships that can withstand the test of COVID, and the test of time.

Understanding trends in consumer behavior this holiday season

Don’t expect massive Black Friday events this holiday shopping season. Consumers will start shopping earlier to avoid crowds and potential shipping delays. Amazon and big-box retailers have already kicked off their holiday campaigns, and other retailers should follow suit, so they don’t miss out on consumer spend.

This year, retailers should think of the holiday season as an extension of the best practices they have already adopted in light of the pandemic. Brands that have invested in consistent, personal communication can naturally segue into a holiday push. Those that have created strong brand loyalty or VIP programs should maximize those relationships and host exclusive events to draw their most valued customers in-store.

Retailers might also invest in pop-up stores—low commitment-type experiences that could be held outside for added safety benefits. While the in-store visitations might be lower than years past, it is likely the average basket size will go up as loyal shoppers make good on pent-up retail demand.

Creating holistic retail experiences

Consumers miss in-person, tactile experiences. They are craving enjoyable shopping outings and connecting with people and the brands they love. Retailers should consider shoppers’ needs as they provide a holistic in-store experience for their customers.

Although brick-and-mortar comprises the lion’s share of holiday shopping dollars, retailers should not overlook consumer digital behavior and the ever-increasing role mobile and desktop play in the path to purchase.
In response to the pandemic, as well as changing user behavior, forward-thinking retailers have rolled out safe and thoughtful innovations like drive-thru or curbside pick-up options and concierge desks. These experiences require retailers to connect the dots between channels, something not all brands have mastered yet. It also requires them to use signage and messaging to make the experience outside the store safe, satisfying and on-brand.

These trying times have forced us to reevaluate our priorities and count our blessings. In this climate, brands are better off avoiding polarizing statements and risky marketing and, instead, leaning into their values and charitable efforts. For many retailers, social activism is playing a bigger role in their branding because giving back is the right thing to do; younger demographics, in particular, consider a brand’s social conscience when shopping; and charitable initiatives create another way to connect with shoppers by showing them you care about the same things.

This year, the holiday shopping season isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon. Many 2020 holiday shopping trends—including the importance of brand loyalists, eCommerce and digital communication, social causes, and a holistic approach to messaging and customer experience—were underway before the pandemic. The retailers faring best are the ones that have adopted these practices. The ones that haven’t must change course quickly; what may prove the most important retail quarter in history is already well underway.

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