As 2020 draws to a close, this year’s holiday season looks quite different for brands and retailers. The hottest period in the retail calendar is suddenly swarmed by new and unseen complexity as brands and retailers alike navigate distancing measures, surging demand, fulfilment challenges and more.

To win, brands and retailers need to stay agile, anticipate change and adapt their usual approach. Here are five moves from our 2020 Holiday Retail Strategy & Planning Guide to help retailers keep growing throughout the disruption.

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1. Lean in to the ecommerce boom

As lockdown measures swept over the world during the first half of 2020, eccommerce sales and online traffic soared. And as the UK come through a second national lockdown, this trend towards eccommerce will continue:

  • In the second quarter of the year, eccommerce revenues grew by 71% over the same period in 2019. And despite the reopening of brick and mortar outfits, online spending increased.

  • Nearly half of consumers are likely to shop online for Christmas this year compared to last year.

  • 30% of holiday spend will be made through digital this winter.

So what does this mean for your business? Well, after a year of uncertainty, consumers are gravitating towards shopping experiences that over-communicate confidence and reliability.

So strive to provide an ecommerce experience that reduces stress for your customers this year. Perform load-testing across your site to handle peak traffic. Prepare your operations, fulfillment and customer service teams to absorb the overflow of in-store demand online. Strive for transparency across the whole journey. And, most importantly, deliver when you say you will.

2. Prepare for consumers to make their return

Consumers aren’t taking any chances this year: demand is going to start climbing earlier than usual as customers anticipate the rush on stock and delivery slots. And that’s a great opportunity to capitalise on the early momentum of Black Friday and Cyber week to stress test your coping strategies for the Christmas rush – particularly for in-store experiences.

If lockdown restrictions ease as planned at the start of December, consumers could return in full force during Cyber week. And that’s the perfect time to perfect your safety measures for keeping employees and shoppers comfortable, happy and protected during the holiday season.

To start with, focus on the basics: make sure every store is stocked up on safety essentials like PPE, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer (65% of customers now expect stores to provide this).

After that, think about further measures like appointment bookings to help vulnerable shoppers maintain a safe distance, or an entirely contactless checkout and returns process. Above all, communicate measures to shoppers clearly and frequently – do everything you can to help everyone play their part in maintaining a safe experience.

3. Shore up the last-mile

Last-mile delivery is maybe the most expensive, time consuming and disruption-prone piece of the entire retail supply chain. And this year, pressures have intensified.

Every delivery over the holiday period will carry additional emotional weight, as customers send gifts to friends and family they haven’t seen in months. Meanwhile, the e-commerce surge, distribution centre distancing and overstretched last-mile channels make delays much more likely.

It’s a perfect storm for disappointing experiences that could do long-term harm to brands that aren’t prepared. So what can retailers do to maintain on-time deliveries?

First off, get razor sharp on inventory levels before the season starts. You might need to overprovision compared to previous years given the unpredictable nature of the weeks ahead – make sure it’s not too late to purchase additional capacity with your suppliers.

Second, consider non-traditional last mile delivery channels to keep up with demand. Throughout the year, transportation services like Uber and Lyft pivoted to delivering food and essential goods to make up for the shortfall in booked journeys.

Finally, consider retraining your in-store retail assistants to help with the increased demand in your distribution centres (particularly if lockdown measures don’t lift). Incentives can go a long way here. Clear rewards don’t just keep morale high – you’ll see better uptake of new processes.

4. Increase your customer’s purchasing power with in-store fulfilment

Just as the risks of disappointment carry extra weight this year, so do the rewards of consistency and quality. The 2020 holiday season is packed with opportunities to provide order fulfilment experiences that drive lifelong brand loyalty.

Work with your logistics providers to create additional capacity in your distribution network to support more flexibility around shipping, delivery time and availability.

We’re forecasting that brands who offer things like in-store pickup, curbside, inside and drive-through will see a 90% increase in digital sales compared to last year.

Likewise, you could repurpose brick-and-mortar locations as contactless fulfilment centres to support alternative collection options like purchase online, pick up in-store. This will both prolong the shopping window for customers and alleviate pressure on your last-mile delivery network.

And as mentioned earlier, communication is everything. Remind customers to buy early and notify them of shipping cut off dates to reduce strain and last-minute purchases during peak season.

5. Double-down on marketing effectiveness

It’s a sensitive time for holiday shoppers this year. Many consumers will be holding on to the festivity of the season as some relief from the difficulties of the year. By the same token, many more will be looking to make their spending stretch further than usual.

Your marketing can play a pivotal role to recreate some of the excitement and anticipation usually accompanied by in-person shopping. Create – and regularly update – dedicated holiday pages with personalised and localised recommendations informed by both typical seasonal trends and the changes in appetite created by a year spent largely indoors.

Similarly, build new audience segments around recent behavioural and purchase history to tailor value-oriented promotions for audiences that could benefit from them the most.

This holiday is also the perfect time to review your digital ad performance over the year as a vector gauging changing consumer appetites throughout the pandemic. What were buyers engaging with at the start of the year? How has that changed?

Your guide for Holliday Retail Straetgy & Planning

This holiday season is going to feel a little unusual for everyone: retailers, brands and consumers. But different doesn’t have to mean worse. Quite the opposite, the brands and retailers getting strategic about holiday shopping experiences could help customers recapture some of the holiday magic they might otherwise have lost.

And they’ll build significant loyalty and goodwill while doing so. To find out more, read our guide on Holiday Retail Strategy & Planning.

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