The holiday season is here and it’s not just the bells that are going to be ringing. The tills are also going to be in full flow as retail enters its most wonderful time of the year.
It looks as though 2019 is going to be particularly strong with the National Retail Federation predicting a 3.8-4.2% increase in sales compared to 2018.
If you want to get your fair share of the sales, you need to ensure that your retail business is tapping into these 10 top trends. Many of them are not especially new, but they are the basic pillars for modern commerce. Yet, many retailers still aren’t getting them right and are missing out as a result.
With so much opportunity for improvement, here are the 10 holiday retail trends that you cannot ignore.
Convenience is one of the most important considerations when we decide which channel to shop through. During the holiday season, it becomes extra importance as fixed celebrations mean we have an additional time pressure to consider.
1. Click & Collect
This is an oldie but goldie when it comes to retail trends, but one that every retailer should be exploring. The reason why Click & Collect has become a desired service for many customers is that it straddles e-commerce and physical retail to offer the best of both.
Customers can order online with ease and then collect their goods at a time that is convenient for them. That may be within a matter of minutes or hours (which even the best digital commerce services struggle to achieve) or at a later date.
Click & Collect offers security when shopping. You’re never going to miss the parcel delivery by being out of the house, which is a crucial factor when you’re shopping for gifts. You’re also not going to have a wasted trip to the store to find what you want is out of stock, which is another major frustration when buying gifts.
2. Accurate Digital Inventory
If there’s one thing that many people are short on during the holidays, it’s time. With so many places to be, things to do and people to see, we don’t have spare hours to waste for visiting a store to find what we want to buy is out of stock.
Retailers can assist customers in their journey by giving them access to accurate inventory information in every step. Before they even leave their house, customers should be able to check stock levels of items in the store.
Customers should also be able to access this information from their smartphone while in the store. For example, if they see a t-shirt, they like but it’s not in the right size, they should be able to call up the inventory information to see if the store has what they want. If it doesn’t, then the retailer can go the extra mile and order it for them from another store or online.
3. In-store and online gift services
A lot of holiday shopping is driven by gift purchasing. Retailers can boost their sales by offering value-adding services that makes buying gifts more convenient. For example, offering gift wrapping as an optional service (both in-store and online) that frees up customer time by giving them one less thing to think about.
If gift wrapping is the end of the customer journey, you can also offer services that help customers find what they are looking for. This might be via in-store displays that highlight suggested gifts for different recipients or well-trained staff who can give recommendations based on individual interests.
You can extend this service online by adding a proactive chatbot to your website, to help customers by answering their questions and give them product recommendations.
It’s easy to get the impression that modern retail experience must involve big productions and events. But while fun in-store experiences can help customers get into the festive spirit, it’s important to remember that experience covers every interaction a customer has with your brand.
4. E-commerce and e-commerce performance
If you want to provide customers with a great online shopping experience, you need to get the basics right. A slow website won’t do it. If a page takes too long to load, customers won’t stick around.
Your website is a crucial part of nearly all customer journeys, online or offline, so it needs to be able to deliver. ICSC’s Holiday Shopping Intentions Survey reports that 87% of respondents plan to research online before visiting a store and 82% will use their mobile device while in the store.
It’s therefore worth taking the time to go through your site and make sure that it is operating at the highest possible level – especially if you can expect additional traffic over the holiday period.
With more and more of us shopping through our smartphones, it goes without saying that your website also needs to be properly optimized for mobile. If the customer is looking for more information, such as reviews, or want to make a purchase, your website should be designed to deliver the same responsive experience, no matter what device the customer is using.
5. Content enhancing the experience
During the holiday shopping season, certain elements of the e-commerce experience become even more crucial. These are the types of content that enhance the customer journey and make it easier for them to buy.
Accurate and informative product descriptions, including high-quality photography, should be given for anything being sold online. They’re especially important when customers are trying to make a decision about what to buy as a gift. As they won’t be keeping the product themselves, they don’t have the opportunity to test it out to make sure it lives up to expectations.
Providing product reviews from other customers is a great way to help reassure customers in their choices. You can also provide additional content that can enhance the experience, such as video footage of the product in action. The more you inform your customers about what they’re buying, you reduce the likeliness of them returning the item because it is unsuitable.
6. Useful technology
If you’re going to incorporate tech into your holiday shopping experiences, it needs to be useful. When customers are short on time and under pressure to find the perfect gift, their tolerance for unnecessary friction is low.
The right technology can enhance the in-store experience massively. Digital queue management technologies can let customers save their space virtually and get back to browsing until it’s time to pay.
Self-checkout technology means customers can speed up their journey by skipping the queue altogether. Some self-checkout technologies, like the one we’ve developed at Avensia, work without the need to download a specific app, to reduce barriers for customer adoption.
Other services let customers drop off their shopping in different retail spaces to be combined and delivered to them, which saves them carrying heavy bags around with them. The right tech can do a lot of heavy lifting to remove traditional pain points from the customer’s experience.
We live in a world where we can now shop wherever we are from retailers anywhere in the world. As retail becomes more uniform, personalization becomes more important. We all want to give the perfect gift and by definition that means something uniquely personal to the individual recipient.
7. Personalized offers
Shoppers love a good deal at any time, but during the holiday season they may be even more offer driven given that they’re likely to be spending larger sums of money. While it can seem counterintuitive to provide promotions, evidence suggests that they can help boost sales overall.
The Holiday Shopping Intentions Survey from ICSC reports that promotions drive in-store sales with more than 60% of respondents saying deals encourage them to go to stores. Retailers can amplify this effect even more by targeting customers with personalized offers.
For example, frequent customers could get an exclusive offer or discount, while new shoppers could be offered a free service like gift wrapping to encourage them to visit.
You could even use customer’s previous purchase history to recommend complementary products and serve up associated offers. Afterall, among all their shopping for others, they might want to treat themselves.
8. Personalized products
Buying and giving a gift is a personal act. Product customisation is a great way to enhance that by making it feel like it truly belongs to the recipient. Quick and easy personalization wins might include engraving or embroidering a name or design on the product or packaging.
Retailers can make purchases even more personal through in-store events that invite customers to make their own version of a product, or to do the personalizing themselves. These experiences create a story around the product which can then be shared with the recipient, and they can be fun to do.
Being able to tell someone that ‘I made this for you’ is a very powerful thing that can elevate a gift to the next level.
9. Tailored bundles
Finding the perfect gift isn’t the end of the transaction. You can maximise the purchase with bundles, addons and other complementary products that can make the gift complete. These could be anything from a bag to a protective case to plain old batteries.
Asking questions about the gift and the person it’s intended for is a great way to naturally create these added value opportunities. For example, if they’re buying a games console for someone who likes to play with friends you could suggest a second controller. Or if they’re buying a perfume for someone who travels a lot then a miniature bottle might be a useful addition.
The more tailored the package seems the more likely the shopper is to see the value in it. If it fits in with the use case of the product, or with the way the recipient likes to do things, then it’s often a nobrainer to buy.
The umbrella trend
We’re all familiar with omnichannel as a concept, but it is the umbrella trend that connects all the other trends, so it’s worth exploring. The number one thing that every retailer should be doing by default is offering a joined-up experience however the customer interacts with them.
Our shopping journeys now involve a huge array of touchpoints from researching a product, to trying it, to buying it. We may start this journey in one place, such as the website, and pick it up again elsewhere, such as in the store. We might bounce between channels frequently.
If you want to offer truly convenient, personalized experiences to customers, then you need to have an omnichannel system that can handle this. Each channel should play to its own strengths but feed into and enhance the others. A great omnichannel strategy is an ecosystem that learns and grows from itself to keep getting stronger. A great holiday retail strategy uses this combined strength to help customers complete their gift buying missions in the way that best suits them.