November and December are traditionally seen as the Christmas shopping season and the time when more revenue passes through the retail industry than at any other. This year, the patterns of the past are almost meaningless as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts shopping behaviours and forces forward buying trends that had previously not matured. In truth, it’s anyone’s guess how high street stores will fare, and much depends on government advice and the regulations placed upon retail and transport.
So what might retailers expect to see and do over the next nine weeks? Rakuten Advertising has conducted research that says this year will be the ‘cheapest Christmas ever’ for shoppers. Retailers will need to slash prices in order to entice consumers who are concerned about their income and the wider economy. It suggests discounts will be the most influential factor in driving purchases, with 47% of shoppers citing them as their main motivator. It also means some of the lower-priced shops may perform better in this time, Matalan, B&M and TK Maxx might all be expected to do well.
It will be to the benefit of retailers if they are able to inspire an early surge in Christmas shopping. With areas fluctuating between lockdown tiers and the future path of the virus unknown, pressing for consumers to begin their shopping earlier than usual may serve them as well as the brands they’re buying from. If an early surge does occur, retailers will need to be ready with the capacity to manage demand. If operations and logistics were to fail them at this stage it could have disastrous consequences for brand loyalty and success through the pandemic.
Retailers should invest time in innovative marketing strategies, including prominent digital signage to ensure that consumers can trust in having a positive experience while on-site. Even small details such as guest buttons for speedy assistance will enhance the customer journey and help operations run smoothly.
Furthermore, effort must be put into managing the physical environment. Retailers should be concerned with how customers can browse without breaking social distancing guidelines and must be considered in the payment options on offer. A range of digital ordering and payment methods will limit the use of (potentially contaminated) cash in-store and help move queues through the checkout process faster.
It’s without question that on-site footfall will be reduced in 2020, while online traffic will increase. A Walnut and Retail Week survey confirmed that 65% of consumers plan to do the bulk of their Christmas shopping online this year – up 15% year on year. This makes it imperative that brands get their digital presence in order. Websites are windows into brands; more than ever customers will expect them to provide an up-to-date explanation and overview of the shopping options available and the safety precautions in place. Everything companies can do to streamline online ordering – for collection or delivery – will benefit their brand and help them stand out in a crowded online shopping environment.
Consumers want a shopping experience that is better, faster and safer. We are starting to see a blending of online and physical channels – a hybrid shopping experience – becoming more popular as consumers look to safely engage with brands.
In terms of what people will spend their money on, home categories are expected to do well. With consumers spending more time at home than they ever have before, they’re looking out for products that make their home lives more convenient and comfortable. Businesses might consider how they can capitalise on this market while demand is high.
Christmas is a critical period for high street brands. Surviving the season – and maximising spending through the coming weeks – may help them bridge difficult times as the virus continues to be brought under control in 2021. Brands cannot rely on the spending rush that they normally might in December and early January; they must take this time to push forward, using technologies and tactics to bring in revenue while they can.
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