Bringing Online Shoppers In-Store: 6 Ideas From Macy’s, Target, Others

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Interior department store Christmas shopping
Image credit: Canva

If a Christmas tree is erected in a department store and no one is around to see it, does it make a sale?

Retailers will likely find out this month. Despite the pandemic, 43% of all shoppers still don’t plan to start their holiday shopping until November – same as years past, according to research by the National Retail Federation’s annual consumer holiday survey. And most of those shoppers, 59%, said they will shift more of their shopping online, compared with in 2019.

That shoppers are putting off their buying until November, combined with plans to do so online, presents a conundrum for retailers trying to figure out how to stock, decorate, staff and, most important, generate sales from their expensive stores. But it also presents a hidden opportunity – if shoppers wait long enough to shop, online delivery systems may get overwhelmed and desired items may run out of stock, making in-store shopping potentially more reliable.

Directing shoppers into those stores involves a level of responsibility, however. The environments must be safe, yet stress-free. They must imbue the good cheer of the holidays while balancing the need to keep customers within required safety guidelines.

Sparkle, RSVPs And Service: 6 Ways To Attract Shoppers

The best methods for bringing shoppers into the store depends on the store type and location. With that in mind, here are six options retailers can try, and some are, to entice in-store shopping with an eye toward safety and merriment.

  1. Attract shoppers with festiry’s sparkle. If Halloween was any indicator, Christmas may be more festive as consumers seek to celebrate the holidays. Retailers can use their lights, garlands and other decorations to “up” the experience factor. In-store winter wonderlands can serve as examples of how to decorate various areas of the home. Sales associates, experienced at creating in-store displays and window treatments, can offer consultations. Home Depot’s website features inspiring decorating ideas for every room of the house, with magazine-quality photos to feed holiday fantasies. It falls short on linking these ideas to an in-store opportunity, however, by not proactively inviting shoppers to contact a store associate.
  2. Take a lesson from boutiques. Two-thirds of customers plan to shop more often at local, small retailers this holiday, a Google survey reports. Big chains can learn from what these independents offer, including selections that reflect the preferences of their immediate markets, the ability to host private shopping events and one-to-one attention with sales associates. In Tennessee, the owner of the Brooks Collection gift shop holds FaceTime sessions to “walk” customers around so they can shop in-store, virtually. (Similarly, Chico’sStyleConnect” service enables shoppers to connect digitally with stylists.) Large retailers can duplicate the boutique-y feel by leveraging the data they collect in their reward programs and inviting their most frequent shoppers to exclusive holiday events.
  3. RSVP the trip. Several chains began requiring appointment-only shopping early in the pandemic out of precaution, and have since lifted the requirement. With the holidays coming, however, some retailers are reintroducing the concept as a way to ease seasonal pressure. Target manages appointments through a link, com/line, that also enables shoppers to check out the line lengths at their stores ahead of time. This option combines practicality with indulgence: Shoppers feel safe knowing they won’t be in crowds, and they feel special having part of the store to themselves.
  4. Offer shoppers helpful elves. Buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) is now less of a competitive advantage than a must-have; it is projected to generate 50% of all holiday orders among retailers that offer it. To stand apart, merchants can customize and add festivity to the BOPIS experience. They can, for example, appoint sales associates who gather orders and special-deliver them in the store. When the shopper arrives, the retail “elf” can personally deliver the packages from a designated pickup area (maybe from under a holiday tree display) and check off each item on the list to ensure everything is there. “Elves” are optional, of course, but the focus on adding some holiday zest to the BOPIS experience is not.
  5. Offer services that take the edge off. People are stressed and looking for happy places during the holidays. Stores that offer free gift wrap (especially on BOPIS orders), customized wreaths and decorated cookies instantly add more reasons for shoppers to come into the store. In Chicago, the Macy’s State Street store is opening its historic Walnut Room restaurant, closed since March, for advance reservations. Those who secure tables can dine on three-course, fixed-price meals and have a photo taken with Macy’s 113th annual Great Tree, which will be accessible only to diners.
  6. Open a pop-up holiday bazaar. To ease health and safety concerns during the pandemic, and to help retailers make sales, the city of New York has kicked off an “open-storefront” program that allows shop owners to display their goods in designated areas outside their doors. In other areas, retailers are setting up tents in their parking lots. Location will determine the opportunity, but shopping centers are likely to accommodate schedules so their tenant merchants can take different outdoor slots, or host weekend bazaars. Such scheduling can be posted on social media to notify shoppers and help them plan ahead. Mobile apps can accommodate quick checkouts. 

Stores Should Step Up Their Roles In Holiday Customs

Stores are as much a part of holiday tradition as sitting on Santa’s lap or watching the Nutcracker ballet, which unfortunately also are not as available this year.

But retailers can use their considerable resources to bring these experiences into the stores. The Nutcracker can walk the aisles and reach hard-to-get items (ideally in collaboration with a local ballet); a live-stream Santa can talk to children via Zoom or other service; and holiday movies can be projected on exterior store walls.

The goal of selling holiday goods is the same, the methods just have to change. Retailers have risen to the occasion of the pandemic impressively so far. This holiday will set the tone long after the trees come down.

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This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.

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