What steps does a retailer need to take to win at the game of thrones every year? With holiday sales for retail exceeding $707B in 20181 and the 2019 US holiday season from Thanksgiving till end of the year expecting a 3.8%-4.4% growth in retail sales2, savvy retailers are actively procuring commerce platforms that incorporate artificial intelligence, personalization, machine learning, and predictive analytics to deliver an unforgettable customer experience this holiday.
We know shoppers’ due diligence online before buying in store. A Deloitte holiday survey tell us that over 66% of shoppers would research a product online first then go into a store to make a purchase.3 The commerce experience is the first impression for consumers and needs to be cultivated for a solid holiday experience.
Prepare for the Online Experience
The best retailers ensure they are ready to execute during the frenzied holiday season by having the right people, process, and technology solutions in place. Some key factors to think about when preparing online commerce include:
- Enable Last Minute Shopping: In the US, 61% of customers are buying their gifts in the last week leading up to Christmas.4 This means shipping deadlines have passed and online experiences are limited to rush orders and higher shipping costs. Many customers are willing to put in the extra bucks to make sure their shipment arrives on time though. Make the process easier and provide more options through online buying for alternative shipping, omnichannel buy online pick up in store, and later dates and times for fulfillment.
- Expect Volume: With volume exceeding any other time period in the year, there is a high likelihood that online systems will be stressed. This includes hosting, servers, software, web services, and more. Make sure to load test and stress test prior to the season, lock down or limit product catalogs, establish discounting rules up front, enable code freezes to avoid downtime into your IT, build in appropriate security measures and take advantage of SaaS services to manage the maintenance and capabilities of your online commerce engine during the season. High volume is a good problem to have unless you are not prepared for it.
- Personalize Gifting: Personalization tools should have a new angle during holidays – focused on purchasing for someone else. Product recommendations and other personalization tools may need to be for a separate gender, age level, or demographic, where less data has been collected about the end product user. In many cases the customer might not be purchasing a new set of DPS Backcountry skis when buying for Aunt Agnes or their spouse or child. Although many still buy for themselves, the nature of the season is about giving. The products consumers have been purchasing all year long matters less. Gifting also requires the appropriate online capabilities to include messaging, gift wrapping, packaging, and multiple address options that efficiently route products to the right place.
- Optimize Site Speed and Flow: One second in site page load delay results in a 7% reduction in conversions.5 This metric hasn’t changed much. The holiday season is rife with competitors ready to take your business at a click. Ensure commerce engagement is optimized, can be seen, and enables an easy-to-follow flow. If you haven’t already, make sure website hero images are screen appropriate, limited size, and assets enable fast load times. Optimize the cart and checkout process – and make sure discounts or holiday-specifics online don’t translate into a slowdown in speed or encumbrance in flow.
- Focus on Search: Search is the key to “Re-Search” for consumers. They’re looking for the right products, and once they find them, consider how best to purchase and have the products delivered to their loved ones with the right messaging. Your systems need to use modern search capabilities to keep ahead of the competition, and this holds especially true when search engines and order management solutions becomes more taxed. Find ways to eliminate stock-outs online with appropriate messaging and alternate product options. Deliver a search experience that makes it easy to find what they want across new seasonal items as well as your ongoing product catalog.
- Smooth Out Discounting and Markdowns: Luxury brands saw huge discounts in 2018, marked down 40-50%. During the holidays, almost half of all US online apparel was sold at discounts averaging 45%.6 This means your ecommerce platform needs to be able to handle a variety of discounting arrangements – from stacking rules to item, order, and shipping level discounting. The ability to seamlessly engage customers who are hunting for the right deals is critical for online retail and the right tools to enable promotion management as well as easy updating of customer deals becomes a differentiator in driving online engagement.
- Focus on Customer Convenience: You can’t lose sight of the customer. Sites that are difficult to navigate will be abandoned, while the easy to engage sites will translate into a real advantage in the marketplace. The right tools will be easy to update, easy to maintain, and will fit nicely within your business structure – including omnichannel experiences. Collect feedback early on, use A/B testing capabilities, and deliver a holiday experience that is just what customers want.
Holiday preparedness for commerce is tied to reliability and delivery of solid online experiences. A strong experience lasts across the whole season and the best retailers prepare for this by extending their preparedness beyond just commerce.
Engage and Execute
Customers are buying product months in advance of the actual event date. We can see when customers start shopping in the figure below from National Retail Federation data. Clearly, customers are not constrained to a particular day - nor even a particular month such as ‘Black November’. Enabling your POS or commerce solution with mobile and save the sale capabilities will extend your ability to address customer needs during the season without being overwhelmed.
NRF Holiday Consumer Trends7
Preparation for the holidays takes dollars, time, effort and planning – which the best retailers always do. It’s more than just preparing for expected scenarios, but also building up the capabilities they will need to engage customers during the holidays. Some examples can be seen below across Technology, Marketing, Stores, and Operations/Logistics initiatives.
Examples of Retailer Actions to Prepare for the Holidays
Retail preparation is typically unique to each retailer, however, those organizations that can both maintain stability during the holidays in their operations, customer engagements, and technology driven capabilities (e.g. ecommerce platforms) have a leg up over the competition. The best retail solutions will help you achieve the stability you need and the agility you want to successfully win the retail throne.
Do you know what makes a great online shopping experience in the eyes of the consumer? Watch the video to find out what consumers prefer when shopping online and what keeps them returning to the same retailers.
2018 holiday sales grew 2.9 percent amid turmoil over trade policy and delay in data collection
Deloitte 2018 Holiday Survey
National Retail Federation – Winter Holidays report
How Loading Time Affects Your Bottom Line
Black Friday & Cyber Monday: The verdict is in
 Holiday 2018 Consumer Trends, NRF’s Annual October Holiday Consumer Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics