Retail Holiday Guide 2021: What the Experts Say
As the COVID-19 pandemic entered its second year, there was a great deal of hope. Not one but three vaccines were rolled out in the spring, allowing retail workers to be far less at-risk in the workplace and giving consumers the freedom to move about with less anxiety. However, at the same time the Delta variant started to make its way across the country, spreading from region to region with devastating speed.
As these two variables continue to fight for dominance, retailers and shoppers alike find themselves puzzling out the best way to work toward a new normal while considering the safety of unvaccinated youth and at-risk members of the community.
These experts from across industries offer their predictions of what the 2021 Holiday Retail season will look like, along with insight into what retailers can do to optimize sales during this time.
Will Santa Be Stuck at Sea?
Stock shortages due to shipping delays continue to be a problem, and shipping costs are increasing—if ships are even able to dock and unload. A shortage of emptied containers ready to be filled has already put a damper on the season. Business Insider recently reported that 500,000 shipping containers were waiting off the Southern California coast to dock and unload. Several large global retailers—such as Walmart, Target, and Costco—have already chartered container ships to be sure they can transport their products in a timely manner.
The good news is that customers are more prepared for delays and shortages. The bad news is that they still expect to be able to purchase what they want and get it fast. And if they can’t buy what they want at one outlet or channel, they’re likely to start forging new relationships with whomever has the goods.
Retailers should provide customers with realistic shipping windows and consider offering promotions for shoppers who are willing to wait a little longer to get their packages. Buyers continue to expect free and fast shipping, and retailers will have to juggle these expectations.
More Open, But Still Online
The pandemic ushered in a swell of online shopping. Retailers have already done the heavy lifting of pivoting to new platforms and modes of product delivery, and many customers like the options this has afforded them.
Tom Treanor, Chief Marketing Officer, Treasure Data, shares, “The 2021 holiday season will be complex. According to our 2021 consumer attitudes survey, two-thirds of consumers (66%) are buying more online than they did prior to the pandemic, while nearly half of consumers (47%) plan to do a combination of in-store and online shopping for the holidays. Over one-third (39%) of survey respondents are skipping brick-and-mortar stores altogether in favor of online shopping.”
The end-goal for retailers should not be going back to normal—it should be embracing a new normal, one that gives consumers more ways to become loyal customers.
Let Data Drive the Experience
Treanor continues, “As more customers embrace a hybrid shopping experience, it becomes increasingly important that retailers harmonize data from every touchpoint, no matter if it’s in-store, through an app, or online. Gaining access to those granular insights in real-time enables brands to truly personalize the entire customer journey.”
For retailers to truly capitalize on the hybrid shopping trend, consumers shouldn’t be able to notice any difference in their experience online versus in the brick-and-mortar store. Consumer data can be used to deliver this seamless shopping experience, no matter where the purchase takes place.
Consumer Comfort Is Key
Consumers are longing for an escape from the drudgery of the pandemic, and with the right precautions in place, retail spaces can provide that escape.
In order to entice shoppers back to the stores, Kara Neilson, Director of Food and Drink at WGSN, advises retailers to lean into safety. “To drive more traffic to the store itself, retailers should continue exploring safety measures, special shopping hours for at-risk consumers, and reassurances that products on sale will be available over multiple days since people can’t get to a store so often.”
Discomfort and anxiety are the last things retailers want their customers to feel while shopping for holiday gifts. A little up-front reassurance goes a long way to strengthening the customer experience and building trust that translates into loyalty.
Deliver on the Experience
There is a lot to be said about the in-person shopping experience during the holiday season. In pre-pandemic years, retailers invested heavily in amping up the atmosphere in their stores to put consumers in a festive mood.
This is the year to invest in that atmosphere once again. But that same investment in experience should follow the consumer across all platforms, including web shopping, mobile apps, and whatever other touchpoints guide customers through their buying experiences to repeat purchases.
“Physical stores will always remain an important part of retail,” observes Dave Cesaro, executive director, client strategy, Valassis. “However, the future belongs to the retailers that understand the omnichannel ethos and figure out how to integrate the convenience, speed and power of ecommerce with the sensory appeal and excitement of physical stores.”
Offer Expedited Service
While some consumers enjoy the opportunity to linger in a store during the holiday retail season, others prefer—and sometimes need—the convenience of speed. According to Anna Rosenman, VP Marketing, Commerce Cloud, and Experience Cloud, “Retailers with creative pickup options—curbside, in-store, drive-through—grew more than 60% higher than those that didn’t during the last five days before Christmas.”
Curbside pickup was already an option at many restaurants before the pandemic, but became nearly universal across retail industries to ensure consumers could still safely access goods during the height of the pandemic. For a lot of busy and at-risk customers, offering the option to order online and pick up curbside or in-store is the best way to win their business.
Make It Easy
The biggest thing this retail season is to make it easy for consumers to be your customers. An advantage of online shopping is the ease with which consumers can access additional product information and reviews, or even experience the product in operation through augmented reality (AR). Bringing that level of excitement and visualization to the in-store customer experience will certainly win over your customers.
“For customers who are happy to be back in-store, AR will help them find information about products as they browse,” offers Hana Butt, CACI retail consultant. “They might scan a QR code or barcode on the shelf to access rich content immediately that shows the product in action or answers consumer questions.”
Empowering consumers to make informed decisions in the moment is likely to increase their commitment to purchase, and leave them walking out of your retail space with a great customer experience they’ll share with friends.
A New Normal in the Works
With retailers embracing the lessons learned during the height of the pandemic, the 2021 holiday retail season is, in many ways, set to be more accessible and convenient than ever for consumers.
At the same time, the pandemic, while abated in some regions, is not over yet, and retailers should prepare to pivot as needed.
To implement and optimize many of the services that experts recommend, retailers need to have access to quality omnichannel data and analysis. Check out Treasure Data’s recent survey report and associated data for more on recent trends and predictions.
Treasure Data’s CDP harmonizes physical and digital shopper data from across touchpoints for rich insights, enables omnichannel personalization, and delivers guided machine learning models for actionable insights, even on the largest customer datasets.