National Retail Federation (NRF) research finds that consumers are set to spend an average of $1,007.24 this holiday season – a 4.1 percent jump on last year’s average, meaning retailers could be looking at a record $720.89 billion in sales between now and the new year.
As for where they’ll be spending their money, online retailers will see a bigger share of revenue; however, while NRF data suggests 55 percent will do some share of their shopping online, the majority of dollars spent will be at physical locations, and in particular, at those retailers that can get the customer experience (CX) right.
Over recent months, the brick-and-mortar stores that have forever lost their customers to the digital world are those that couldn’t stand out against online competitors and play to physical retail’s greatest strengths. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), 84 percent of consumers will visit a mall or shopping center between now and Christmas. But these visits are as much about soaking up the festive atmosphere and sharing time with family as they are about shopping. In other words consumers are in search of the immersive experience and personal attention associated with brick-and-mortar stores. And as such, this holiday season will be crucial to physical outlets looking to remind shoppers of the joys of real-world retail.
Deloitte’s report into the upcoming festivities highlights the growing necessity for an omnichannel approach to be sure of delighting customers during this crucial retail event. Over 70 percent of customers it surveyed are reaching for their smartphone, either to research or to make an actual purchase. Two in three consumers plan to research online and buy in store and 54 percent plan to research in store before ordering online.
“Omnichannel is about more than having a presence on social media or a website with a chat plugin,” explains Mike Small, Chief Client Officer for Sitel Group Americas. “It’s about being where your customers are when they need to engage with you; and then ensuring that as they move from your website to your store via live chat or even a call to customer service, that the experience is consistent and seamless.”
The fact that more retailers are finding ways to offer the right blend of digital convenience and physical experience is reflected in the growing use of click and collect. According to Deloitte, 45 percent of consumers intend to buy online and pick up in store this year.
“We’ve seen retailers continue to advance their approaches to shipping, delivery, in-store experiences and tech-enabled commerce,” said Rod Sides, Vice Chairman, Deloitte LLP. “The leading retailers this holiday season could be the ones who are able to strike the right balance between innovation, experience and value that best engages the consumer.”
Low friction engagement is one of the reasons why consumer appetite for vocal assistants shows no signs of slowing down. The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) says that almost 25 percent of consumers will also try out voice as a channel for researching gifts and 16 percent will make a purchase via voice technology.
“Voice is proving to a very effective and friction-free interface for consumers and a huge opportunity for brands wanting to build new connections with their customers,” says Gordon White, General Manager for TSC, Sitel Group’s digital CX agency. “It’s an interface that a person of any age can use with the same efficiency and one that’s optimized for communal settings such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
The CTA also expects smart speakers to be on many people’s shopping lists this year. It is foresting sales of devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home Assistant in the region of 22 million units – 10 million more than last holiday season.
“Voice will come to define this holiday season with more smart speakers on wish lists, added voice compatibility in tech devices and more voice shopping,” said Lesley Rohrbaugh, Director of Market Research, CTA. “Technology is playing the biggest role in not only what we buy as gifts, but how.”
However, regardless of channel, each major holiday survey says the same thing. Consumers are most likely to choose a retailer based on getting a good deal – 71 percent of NRF respondents and 74 percent of respondents to Deloitte’s study put it at the top of their list. Deloitte also found that while consumers are even more sensitive about data misuse this year, 61 percent of consumers are prepared to share personal information with a retailer in return for a promotion, discount or other special offer.
“The holiday season is a chance to reconnect with existing customers and to win over new ones. Therefore, promote your loyalty program and associated savings, particularly via your online channels,” points out Small. “Customers will share information in return for genuine savings and when they’re shopping or browsing online, they’re more likely to have the time to complete membership forms.”
Away from cost savings, consumers expect a physical retailer to have a good variety of products available presented in a clutter-free environment and that a digital retailer has a simple check out process, an easy to navigate website or app and ratings and reviews of products on sale.
“During the peak holiday season, more than at any other time of the year, your website needs to run like a well-oiled machine. No broken links, no slow servers and no out of date information,” warns White. “Also, don’t forget that web search is now officially mobile – Google gets more queries from smartphones than from desktops so your site must be optimized for mobile. That means a fast load time and geotagging. People searching on mobile are often in the immediate vicinity and are looking for a store to visit.”
To ensure people that find a store discover a positive shopping experience, retailers are expected to hire on an extra 650,000 seasonal workers – up from the 582,500 positions created in 2017.
“This is a hectic time of the year. It’s an eight-week period that represents 25 percent of all annual retail revenues. But it’s also a time to invest in customer experience,” explains Small. “Sales advisors are crucial in adding value and differentiation to your business and they must be trained up quickly and efficiently to be able to cope with the holiday season rush.”
As well as in store, companies are beefing up their customer service departments.
“If a retailer works with a leading CX delivery partner, the extra contact center personnel will have been recruited and trained already,” continues Small. “For example, at Sitel Group, to ensure a seamless ramp up without a dip in quality, we build teams around common contact drivers to reduce training time but increase efficiency. Then customers calling up with a specific problem are transferred to a member of a dedicated team to handle the situation.”
Whether through staff-training programs, removing friction points from the customer journey, helping brands implement and optimize omnichannel strategies or harnessing data to give a clearer view of customers and their expectations, Sitel Group helps retailers build their brands and stand out from their competitors – throughout the entire year as well as during the holiday season.