Halloween’s not even here yet so why are we already talking about holiday shopping? Well, despite many people’s best efforts—and all of our hopes—the COVID-19 pandemic remains a daily reality and, by all accounts, will continue to affect people’s shopping habits (and retail business models) for the foreseeable future. Which is why understanding the lessons the 2020 holiday shopping season taught us can help forecast and ensure a successful holiday retail season in 2021.
Lesson 1: Start earlier
According to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, 40% of 2020 holiday shoppers started early. Shopping early enabled people to avoid the crush of crowds so commonly associated with the holidays. So what can you do this year to prepare for the early birds? As always, lean into your own data and your best sources for industry-specific trend trackers to develop a strategy around what to stock. Then, get a jump on holiday wish lists by stocking items now. If you typically hire seasonal workers, start sourcing applicants now and slowly ramp up your workforce so you can address early demand. Communicate to your customers in your marketing channels that you’re ready for them with a steady drumbeat of messaging and, perhaps, some enticing deals.
Lesson 2: Put customer safety first
Safety will continue to be one of our customers’ biggest concerns so keep these holiday shopping safety tips in mind for the 2021 season:
- Let guests know your goal is to provide the safest in-store experience possible. Your customers’ peace of mind is the key to encouraging store visits. As part of your marketing communications, uplevel your safety messaging.
- In-store, put up visible signage showcasing what you’re doing to keep both employees and customers safe.
- Continue to limit how long and how many people can be in-store at any given time and follow all local health guidelines. You can check the CDC Workplace and Business guidelines here.
- Be aware of what makes people feel unsafe and get ahead of it. A study from last March by First Insight, inc. found that “78% of women would not feel safe testing beauty products, 65% would not feel safe trying on clothes in a dressing room and 66% would not feel safe working with a sales associate.” Providing hand sanitizer, requiring masks, and limiting store occupancy numbers can all help people feel safe.
- Finally, depending on the size of your space, consider offering special one-on-one shopping appointments with sales staff to deliver a safe and highly personalized shopping experience. It’s like a retail spa treatment that will make your customers feel like VIPs.
Lesson 3: Give your shoppers options
Putting customers first during the 2021 holiday season is going to be more important than ever. Why? Because some will be reluctant to shop in-store and may just rely on digital shopping with conglomerates like Amazon to meet all their needs. You need a strategy that proves you can meet your customers’ needs more accurately than the one-stop-shop-and-shippers.
Customer loyalty programs: According to Salesforce, “78% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand with a loyalty program – and 91% say good customer service spurs repeat buying behaviors.” You want to build a clientele of reliable, repeat customers so incentivize your patrons to come back again and again.
In-store incentives: While online shopping delivers convenience, it lacks the sense of connection, community, and delight that in-store shopping at its best has. So lean in to the little things that make leaving your house a treat. And remember, the incentives don’t have to be earth-shaking to be effective. Services like free gift wrapping and give-aways like treats for doggos or lollipops for the kiddos can go a long way in making your store feel warm and inviting. Try a gift raffle or frequent shopper cards. Little things that make your shoppers feel appreciated for giving you their business is all it takes.
Safe shopping options: No matter how great you make your in-store shopping experience, you will have customers who don’t like the risk/reward of in-store shopping. That doesn’t mean you have to lose their business. Consider adding some digital shopping options to your brick-and-mortar locations. Curbside pickup is perhaps the easiest program to implement, but if you’re feeling a little more digitally savvy, consider video shopping appointments where an employee walks a shopper through your store on a device and helps them pick out what they want. In fact, using digital tools to enhance the in-store experience (like Waitwhile...ahem) is becoming more common and is a great way to communicate with and understand your customer better.
Lesson 4: Focus on your employees
Frontline workers have been asked to do more than ever during the pandemic and many are approaching burnout. Acknowledge them by showing appreciation for their hard work.
Start with the basics: Say thank you! Celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries. Buy your team lunch once a month. Increase in-store discounts. Include employee appreciation in your marketing communications, especially in social media. Create a peer-to-peer appreciation program so that your team can share the love. Be compassionate of worker needs, especially if they have young kids or older parents at home. Home life in the pandemic is stressful so be cognizant that their life outside of work might affect them at work.
Planning, training & digital tools: The responsibility of filling web orders now often falls on your in-store employees. Be mindful that inventory management and logistics is an additional job duty on top of their retail duties. Giving employees the time, training, and tools to be effective at these additional jobs is critical to reduce overwork. Assigning employees new duties requires a give and take so be mindful of their workload, skill sets, and responsibilities. Take advantage of digital tools that can provide data around when stores are busiest, the average amount of time a shoppers spend shopping, as well as information like customer birthdays and favorite purchases. These tools empower employees and customers alike and help your staff provide a more personalized service.
There’s no magic bullet for managing the ups and downs of this pandemic as a business owner. Perhaps the best antidote to our collective bewilderment, is to double down on nimbleness. And the best way to do that is to start early, keep safety top of mind, and take advantage of newly available digital capabilities. Use easy-to-implement tools like Waitwhile to capture actionable data, streamline operations, personalize service, and prepare for multiple contingencies. For many retailers, the holiday season can make or break a profitable year. That’s why leaning into customer needs, communicating clearly how you’re addressing those needs, and making sure your employees are prepped to provide the best service possible are important strategies to ensure your success.