Though physical retail stores re-opened in July, the impact of lockdown has undoubtedly accelerated the shift towards digital in retail. In fact, online sales boosted total retail sales by 3.9% in August.
As we edge towards the Golden Quarter, there is huge opportunity for retail brands to take advantage of this peak period and expected sales surge, but they must consider the impact of new shopping behaviours. Retail appears to have undergone a permanent shift, with online shopping continuing to rise and high street footfall in decline.
Brands and retailers must fully leverage digital this year and use omnichannel strategies to drive growth during this retail peak.
Preparing for the retail peak
The end of the annual year is the most important season for retail, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday marked as key shopping days in every retailer’s calendar. And this year will be no different, with pent-up consumers looking to bag a bargain ahead of the Christmas period. According to recent research, last year’s holiday season saw retail site page views increase by 31.4% and order count rise by 65.9% compared to normal months.
The coming period represents a key opportunity for retailers to drive sales. New findings reveal 85% of retailers believe online sales will increase this holiday season compared to last. As a result, over half of brands and retailers are investing more in ecommerce website upgrades this holiday season in order to meet consumer demand and expectations.
An online presence is particularly crucial for retailers this holiday season, as brands will be competing with online marketplaces with a large and diverse supply chain. While Amazon’s Prime Day is reported to be delayed until at least October this year, it remains a key opportunity for retail brands to kick-start the retail peak, as consumers begin to prepare for holiday shopping and browse for discounts on other sites. By offering early access to sales or discounts through a targeted marketing campaign, retailers can stand out from competitors and meet consumer demand as they prepare for the retail peak.
Omnichannel marketing strategy
A high street presence can distinguish brands and retailers from their online marketplace counterparts, but with high street footfall having declined by 34.8% last month, it is now more imperative than ever for physical stores to be part of an omnichannel strategy. Whether consumers are browsing products in-store, via a brand’s website or on its social media feed, consumers demand a seamless shopping experience. They want to be able to shop conveniently on the channel of their choice.
To offer the best omnichannel experience, retailers need to understand who their customers are and what they expect from a brand. Recent research into consumer behaviour post-lockdown reveals that before the end of October, 80% of UK consumers are likely to purchase online, with three quarters (74%) feeling comfortable shopping online. Yet, when it comes to shopping in-store, over half (59%) don’t yet feel comfortable in doing so.
It’s therefore crucial for retailers with bricks-and-mortar stores to be aware of consumer concerns and consider how they can use online platforms to provide reassurance and confidence to encourage people to visit stores. The majority of retailers have already adjusted their strategy to reflect current guidelines, but it is important for brands to communicate this both in-store and online. By sharing clear information on their website and social channels about their store’s health, safety and hygiene protocols, or by providing contactless mobile payment and click-and-collect options; retailers can harness the opportunity of multiple channels to respond to customers’ needs and provide the best customer service.
Even before the pandemic, the high street had become increasingly contactless. Yet the impact of lockdown has led mobile to become a hugely important touchpoint – everything from contactless payments, self-checkout, personalised offers and in-store research can be done via mobile. To implement a truly omnichannel marketing strategy this holiday season, retailers need to ensure they first have an ecommerce strategy in place.
By ensuring a seamless delivery of the customer experience across all channels, retailers can build trust, and subsequently boost loyalty. Retailers that embrace omnichannel are positioned to not only succeed, but also offer their shoppers the best brand experience.
Boosting customer engagement
During the retail peak, brands must engage with consumers by providing consistent communications across all channels. These engagements will not only help encourage and inform purchases, but will play an important role in forming brand trust.
The holiday season tends to see a notable increase in question submissions and customer reviews as shoppers intensify their gift shopping; with user-generated content (UGC) having risen by 4.5% in October 2019, compared to the typical month. This coming Golden Quarter, we predict an even higher upward trajectory of UGC, as savvy shoppers look for discounts. It’s therefore crucial for retailers and brands to consider their UGC strategy for the holidays, as shoppers rely on this content when making purchase decisions.
With almost all (95%) shoppers using ratings and reviews to gather information about products, and over three quarters of shoppers (78%) saying they trust reviews; brands can inform shoppers by empowering their existing customer community to share authentic opinions of products and brands. Reviews have always played a major role in building trust between retailers and customers, and brands must ensure they are visible to their customers online by engaging with them. By directly responding to online reviews to establish authentic and personalised communication, brands can build relations with existing consumers, and also demonstrate their value to other potential customers looking to make a holiday purchase.
The retailers and brands that focus on responding to customer reviews and questions will reap the benefits during the upcoming peak shopping period. By building reputation and maintaining excellent customer relations through an omnichannel approach, retailers cannot just survive, but thrive in the Golden Quarter.
Suzin Wold, SVP Marketing, Bazaarvoice