All I Want for Christmas Are These Retail Experiences

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The lights are strung up, the carols are ringing – the 2020 holiday shopping season is in full swing. Capping a year of industry innovation and next-gen experiential retail, it’s primed to be one of the most successful in history. In fact, the National Retail Foundation (NRF) found that a record 189.6 million U.S. consumers shopped during the Black Friday-Cyber Monday retail person, up 14 percent from 2018. Furthermore, SAP Commerce Cloud’s internal research found that the total number of online orders jumped 21.26 percent compared to 2018. The holiday season continues to reign among its shopping season peers.

But even though Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed, the opportunity to retailers to build exceptional experiences for customers remains. The NRF expects that by the time the season wraps entirely, sales will have reached $730.7B. Capitalizing on the uptick in shopper activity doesn’t just help retailers reach yearly goals – meeting and exceeding consumer expectations during this critical period helps create vital connections that last a life time. When emotions and holiday spirit run high, making a positive impression goes all the further.

Here are the top ways to support exceptional retail experiences during the holiday season:

Double down on service

It isn’t just a holiday tradition to share brand stories via social media – consumers have never been more empowered to use their platforms as a megaphone to either promote or detract from a brand. That fine line is one every retailer must walk, with every interaction and experience placed under a microscope. This trend is magnified during the holidays, as parents race to get their children the perfect gift in time or loved ones scramble to ensure same day delivery for their significant other. If things don’t work out perfectly, the internet is highly likely to think about it.

With so much on the line for these consumers, having a robust customer service infrastructure is vital. From the website contact options from the amount of trained contact center agents available – retailers need to go above and beyond to be the partners shoppers need in this time of stress. Scaling up in preparation for traffic surges and increased customer inquiries can prevent anyone falling through the cracks and helps turns shoppers into brand advocates.

Mobile must support in-store

Especially among larger retailers, mobile is increasingly dominating the wider online shopping landscape. The convenient, seamless interfaces allow shoppers to quickly search for and secure the items they need. During the holidays, however, shoppers are more likely to venture in the store for the displays and other demonstrations of holiday décor. As a result, more consumers are matching their online shopping habits with the in-store experience: buying online and picking up in store. Recent research has shown that 27 percent of U.S. consumers are planning on buying online and pick-up in-store this season, with an additional 63 percent stating that they’re likely to take advantage of the option.

As a result, retailers need to be able to seamlessly blend the mobile online and in-store experience, or even find ways to use one to support the other. For example, encouraging mobile shoppers to redeem special discounts when they pick up their product, or participate in a survey for year-round rewards. It’s an opportunity to turn a growing shopping trend into a source of new value to customers.

Play the long game

The Winter Holidays are the most sustained retail season of the calendar year – and it’s growing longer. What kicked off at Black Friday and ended at New Year’s now stretches well into October and January, as shoppers get an earlier jump on sales and go through the processes of returns and new purchases. The holidays are no longer a sprint, they’re a marathon.

As such, retailers need to priorities flexibility above all else, and leverage data to cater to customer preference in real-time. For example, looking at search history in order to adjust browser interfaces with personalized recommendations or proactively flagging that an item has an extended return date. Leaning on technology to build these experiences can take the strain off of your on-the-floor representatives, and power a sustainable holiday strategy that puts the customer front and center.

Embrace the lessons learned

The holiday season is the culmination of a year’s worth of retail trends, but it also serves as an important indicator of future behaviors. From increased mobile spending to deeply integrated online and in-store experiences, understanding the nuances of consumer behavior can help inform the trends that will dominate the coming year. Staying ahead of those changes can ensure retail success through the holidays and beyond.

Charles Nicholls
Charles Nicholls is a social commerce expert and board advisor to several e-commerce startups. He founded SeeWhy, a real-time personalization and machine learning platform, which was sold to SAP. Serving as SVP of product, he built SAP Upscale Commerce, an e-commerce platform for direct-to-consumer brands and the mid-market. Today, Charles serves as chief strategy officer for SimplicityDX, a commerce experience company. He has worked on strategy and projects for leading ecommerce companies worldwide, including Amazon, eBay, Google and many others.

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