‘Tis the Season of Uncertainty

By Team Session AI on March 6, 2020

How Retailers Can Prepare for the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

The holiday season is the most critical time of the year for retailers. In fact, over 20% of annual sales across major retail sectors in 2018 stemmed from holiday sales. Historically, elevated holiday sales have been driven by creating exceptional in-person customer experiences, ranging from big savings on Black Friday to value-added in-store offerings like gift wrapping, and on-site seasonal activities like pictures with Santa. 

This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is revolutionizing the holiday season, challenging retailers to re-envision their approach to tried-and-true holiday sales tactics. Here are a few areas businesses should prioritize when preparing for the 2020 holiday shopping season.

Create Digitally Curated Experiences

With COVID-19 impacting customers’ ability to shop in-person, online shopping has increased substantially. In particular, customer segments that historically were more resistant to digital channels are increasingly shopping online. By some estimates, the world has vaulted 10 years ahead in consumer and business digital penetration in less than three months. 

With customers across the board more comfortable and willing to shop online, retailers must consider how to bring the holiday magic of an in-person shopping experience to digital channels in a way that both effectively drives engagement and feels safe and comfortable for the consumer. Some retailers, such as Best Buy, have done so by embracing online appointment scheduling for its customers. This allows stores to more effectively manage in-person traffic while allowing customers to still receive 1:1 personalized attention. Other stores are utilizing magic mirrors or virtual try-on features for beauty products, as well as tools to help customers gauge fit, delivering personalized experiences directly to customers’ homes.

Enable Omni-Channel Engagement

Sixty-seven percent of shoppers expect to make their holiday purchases online to avoid crowds and exposure. Omni-channel customer engagement empowers retailers to tailor the shopping experience and guide the customer journey by reaching customers wherever they are with offers relevant to their immediate needs.

In particular, mobile will play an integral role in holiday shopping. Since the economic shutdown, mobile app orders have seen a 56% increase. With additional customers downloading apps and interacting with retailers on their mobile devices, personalization platforms can utilize a wealth of customer data—such as in-the-moment context, location and weather-based insight, and historical purchasing behavior—to predict in-session intent and intervene with a targeted offer.

Optimize the Online Experience for Gifting

Even in normal holiday conditions, shoppers find gifting stressful: 81% of customers worry if the recipient will like a gift, 33% are concerned gifts will not arrive on time, and 38% are concerned gifts will be returned by the recipient. In addition to these factors, this year consumers have the added concern that holiday gatherings and gift-giving will take place virtually.

To engage customers, retailers should be considering how they can elevate the online gift-giving experience to empower customers to add personal touches and increase the convenience of remote celebration. This may include offering a gift-wrapping service for presents to be delivered to their final destination pre-wrapped and adding digital elements to packaging that can be scanned to access a personalized video or message from the sender. In addition, retailers can utilize an intelligent platform to understand current inventory and potential fulfillment challenges, serving up offers and promotions only for products that can be quickly fulfilled. 

Create Efficient & Flexible Experiences

Where once entertainment was central for driving customer engagement during the holiday season, efficiency and flexibility are more important criteria in today’s new normal. Many stores are reducing holiday hours, including remaining closed on Thanksgiving and discontinuing service-based offerings like gift wrapping in an effort to maintain the safety of in-person shopping experiences.

This requires retailers to adapt to more socially distant shopping experiences. One key example has been the adoption of buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) or curbside pickup options. Customer pick-up options are a win-win for shoppers and retailers alike as they allow customers to get items immediately without waiting for shipping and decrease the onus of burden on retailers’ overtaxed fulfillment centers to deliver packages to the customer’s home. In fact, 30% of consumers say they prefer using BOPIS or curbside pickup over delivery.

Personalizing the Digital Holiday Shopping Experience

As retailers prepare for a holiday season in the new normal, it is important to recognize that shifting day-to-day conditions will challenge retailers to continuously react and re-adjust their strategies. To do so effectively without compromising the customer experience requires retailers to utilize a personalization platform that can intelligently adjust based on real-time conditions. 

Speak to ZineOne today to learn more about how retailers are adapting to the new normal in their holiday sales strategies and to discover how our AI-powered Intelligent Customer Engagement (ICE) platform can offer frictionless, 1:1 personalized experiences to your customers.

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