Holiday Shopping: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

In 1963, Andy Williams recorded the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” as an ode to the joyous Christmas holiday season. For retailers, though, the holiday shopping season can be wonderful or woeful depending on how well sales goWhile solid planning starts during the summer, there are steps that stores can still take to make sure the holiday shopping season goes as smoothly and successfully as possible. 

The average retail business can expect to do close to 30% of its business during the holiday shopping season, which traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving. And this year, the National Retail Federation is forecasting sales to rise between 3.8% and 4.2% over last year. In 2018, holiday shopping reached $701 billion, according to the NRF. The hardware and home improvement sector experienced one of the healthiest surges with a boost of 9% over the previous holiday shopping season. 

Here are some retail trends that are expected to continue this holiday shopping season. Businesses that are prepared for them could have a wonderful time. 

Shoppers are Going Mobile 

Whether a store does most of its business online or in-store, it needs to focus on being mobilefriendly. Adobe’s CMO.com reports that in 2018 smartphones accounted for half of all online visits to store websites during the peak holiday shopping season and 31% of revenue during the weekend of Black Friday to Cyber Monday. That means web stores must be mobilefriendly and ready to handle high traffic to capitalize on the visits they’ll be getting. 

Being mobilefriendly means much more than making sure products can be viewed and purchased online. It means linking online and in-store sales to your in-stock inventory. Sophisticated retail platforms offer features or integrations that link online and in-store sales assuring that items purchased from either site are confirmed and in stock. Nothing turns a valued shopper into a former customer quicker than buying something that isn’t available to be picked up. 

Stores can leverage applications such as Ez-Ad that enhance in-store shopping with dynamic digital signs and a mobile app to improve customer service and close sales. Arming sales associates with technology allows them to compare prices with competitors and offer product information and demonstration videos to customers right in the aisles. These applications also provide real-time information through a store’s retail platform and allow managers and owners to easily create promotional materials such as signs and banners. 

Pointy is aapplication that evens the online playing field for independent storesIt lets small businesses push their products into Google product searches alongside e-commerce and big-box retailers whose products normally dominate search engine results. 

“Shopper-First Retailing,” a report from Salesforce, says 71% of shoppers are now using their smartphones to bridge the online to offline gap allowing them to research products while they’re inside brick-and-mortar retail stores. No matter what systems and applications are used, stores need to make sure their websites can handle the additional traffic holiday shopping brings.   

Consider Offering Click-and-Collect 

Independent retail businesses have a built-in advantage over Amazon and other online retailers when it comes to last-minute shoppingIt’s location, location, location. Shoppers know it’s just easier to make sure you have gifts in hand if you can pick them up at the store. 

The five daybefore Christmas is a slow time for many e-tailers because consumers aren’t willing to risk late delivery of gift purchases. Online shopping traffic drops approximately 9% and sales dip 18% during this time.

A survey from RetailMeNot shows that 60% of retailers plan to offer click-and-collect, or BOPIS, this holiday shopping season compared to just 52% last year. 

Brick-and-mortar stores can capitalize on their proximity and availability by selling online and offering in-store pickup, also known as click-and-collect or buy online, pick up instore (BOPIS). In 2018, 81.4% of online shoppers reported ordering products for in-store pickup and businesses offering this service saw an average increase of 52% of online traffic and sales conversions. 

A survey from RetailMeNot shows that 60% of retailers plan to offer BOPIS this holiday shopping season compared to just 52% last year. 

Home Depot and Lowe’s are the hardware leaders in click-and-collect. Ace Hardware has developed and refined its Order Online, Pickup In-Store process for the past few years and this year added Buy Online, Deliver from Store as part of its e-commerce site. Independent stores can implement similar programs through sophisticated retail platforms with features or integrations that link online and in-store sales. 

Gathering, Not Hunting is Most Important 

Stores considering click-and-collect services should study Bell and Howell’s latest report – “BOPIS State of the Industry.” Studying some of the top retail companies including Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target, Walmart and Best Buy between October and December 2018, the report rates the best services and looks at what makes them successful. While Best Buy and Home Depot ranked the highest in customer satisfaction, the study broke down the click-and-collect process into three categories – online purchase, notification time and pick up. 

Online Purchase Process

  • Online Purchase Process 
  • Ease of finding items 
  • Checkout and payment process
  • BOPIS items clearly identified 
  • In-stock identification 
  • Clear online pickup instruction  

According to the shoppers participating in the study, the in-store pickup experience played the biggest role in their satisfaction. The convenience of a store’s pickup location, the availability of designated pickup parking, adequate signage and staff, along with the readiness of items, and pickup technology all factored highly into a positive clickandcollect process. Retailers considering joining the click-and-collect trend need to consider all phases of the transactions, but obvious in-store signage, a well-staffed pickup counter, and a smooth checkout process are keys to attracting and retaining customers. 

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Notification Process

  • Prompt online notification of pickup time 

Automation helped speed up and improve the pickup process for many of the companies examined in the report. Total pickup time dropped from 5.9 minutes with store associates to 4.2 minutes when automation was added to the process. Walmart’s pickup time improved by 60% – from 10.6 minutes to 4.2 minutes when it automated its processes.

Pickup Process

  • Convenient pickup location 
  • Designated, preferred pickup parking 
  • In-store pickup location signage 
  • Responsive pickup staff 

Total pickup time dropped from 5.9 minutes with store associates to 4.2 minutes when automation was added to the process. Walmart’s pickup time improved by 60% – from 10.6 minutes to 4.2 minutes when it automated its processes. Click-and-collect can increase sales in other ways, too. The report The Rise of the Click and Collect Superconsumer shows that 85% of shoppers who buy online and pick up their items in a store make additional purchases during pick up and spend an average of $40 more on those items. 

Christmas tree for holiday marketing campaignsHit the Ground Running 

It’s no secret that the first “weekend” of the holiday shopping season – Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday – is the most wonderful time of the year for retailers. Adobe’s CMO.com says those five days accounted for nearly 20% of total retail in 2018. That means $1 out of every $5 of holiday shopping dollars spent happened during the opening weekend. 

My Total Retail suggests local, independent retailers focus on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday while leaving the online behemoths to battle for Cyber Monday sales. Despite the attraction of online shopping, the National Retail Federation says 90% of all shopping is still done in brick-and-mortar stores. And, according to a study from Blackhawk Network, a gift card payment provider, 28% of consumers are shopping in stores more often than they did last year. 

So small and independent businesses should probably focus on the consumers who still line up outside of their stores in the wee hours of Black Friday to get those “Door Buster” deals. 

Information from ShopperTrack shows that eight out of the top 10 holiday shopping days are in December. To build momentum for Black Friday and the day’s beyond, retailers can consider preview sales or prominent weekend events all the way to Super Saturday, the final Saturday before Christmas, to generate foot traffic. 

There will be more urgency for many shoppers and retailers during the 2019 holiday shopping season because there is one week less this year compared to 2019. 

Even though the holiday shopping season is nearly here, it’s never too late to take steps to ensure it will be the most wonderful time of the year. Research from RetailMeNot shows 34% of consumers will begin shopping earlier and 55% of businesses will offer deeper than normal discounts. Also, 54% will begin running deals earlier and 44% will call out the shortened season in their advertising.  

Be Ready 

Not all preparations for holiday shopping include stocking up on the latest merchandiseretail technical upgrades, and strategic planning. The Balance says an important part of being ready is as easy as cleaning up, staffing up and resting up. 

Stocking up means making sure there is enough gift wrapping, cash register tape, and bags and cards to make those sales final. Cleaning up and arranging the sales floor to be customerfriendly encourages more purchases. Having enough sales associates on duty improves customer service and speeds checkout. It also means your staff isn’t overworked during those long, harried holiday shopping days. 

Brian Bullock

Author