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Getting Ready for the Holidays – Part One

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This year more than ever, retailers are taking stock of last year’s pitfalls, doing their homework and gearing up for the holiday season. Despite last year’s shortened shopping period, government shutdown, data breaches, and bad weather, which kept shoppers away from stores, retailers can still be optimistic about this year’s holidays.

Last year, there was a 2.7% increase in overall sales during the 2013 holiday season, according to ShopperTrak. This was due in large part to consumers’ increased use of mobile technology. With fewer shopping days last year, retailers also felt pressured to offer more discounts earlier and steeper discounts a couple of weeks before Christmas.

It’s projected that Thanksgiving will continue to take a back seat to the lure of holiday sales. Jerry Sheldon, Vice President of Technology for IHL Services, notes, “Black Friday will continue to lose its meaning as retailers will seek to reel in shoppers’ dollars earlier and earlier.”

Sheldon expects holiday spending to be up at least 3.5%, even though he admits, a lot can happen with oil/gas prices, and the conflict in the Middle East.

Consistent customer experience across all channels is the new mantra for retailers going into year-end.

Since shopping has become part of our social fabric, it’s fitting that 92% of consumers now seek peer reviews and recommendations over standard advertising, according to Nielsen.

Retailers have to engage consumers and earn their trust and favor. Doing this will result in a broad base of brand advocates who then recommend products and services to their friends on social media.

This can be tracked with a variety of analytics solutions available to retailers, so they can create campaigns designed specifically around fans of particular brands.

In this way, retailers can encourage different kinds of engagement where people relate their stories and product experiences, sharing offers or responding to questions.

Making sure social media campaigns are interactive creates interest and a following, and keeps fans engaged.

Inventory accuracy is still a challenge that could negatively affect sales. Using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) for inventory management could be instrumental in providing the visibility required to succeed. With this technology, retailers can track inventory from replenishment to the shelves, resulting in minimal out-of-stock items, greater sales and increased customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Ann Grackin of ChainLink Research, says, “Those retailers looking now at RFID, or streamlining current approaches, will be in the best position to prevail over their omnichannel competitors. They will also be able to respond more rapidly to demand fluctuations.”

Mobile apps will be on the rise to respond to long waits at checkout. Also, two-thirds of smartphone users state they are most likely to shop at a store that offers an app with a searchable product catalog, promoted sales and a store locator.

Aside from encouraging digital interaction in the store, retailers are looking to provide compelling content—from educating consumers about products, to showing videos and high-definition images, which can help bring products to life.

The idea of the “endless aisle” where shoppers engage with virtual shelves adds spark and nips showrooming in the bud. These “endless aisle” technologies enable retailers to incorporate elements of e-commerce into the in-store shopping experience. By introducing touch screens with sophisticated content, customers can browse through an “endless” amount of inventory, which simulates shopping online.

This kind of technology also is a sales aid for store staff. Associates can walk customers through the stages of search, purchase, and ultimately increase conversions. They can also help train staff on new products and holiday promotions.

Data security is more important than ever, and point-to-point encryption, which encrypts card data from entry point of a POS device to a point of secure decryption outside the store, is growing in popularity. It allows stores to reduce fraud, and increases payment data security. Increasing these security measures can show customers you’re serious about maintaining their personal information and earn their trust and loyalty.

TAGS: retail, retail trends, holiday spending, holiday sales, retailers,
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