Fiona Swerdlow is vice president, research director at Forrester. She can be reached at fswerdlow@ forrester.com.
On retail calendars, holiday 2018 is around the corner. With time on their side (for now), we recommend retailers begin testing and implementing processes, tools and training to make it their best season yet. Holiday 2017 in the US raked in a cool $692 billion overall (a 5.5% year over year increase), and of that, consumers spent $138 billion in online and “other non-store sales,” according to the National Retail Federation.
Retailers should get a head start by focusing on these four areas immediately:
1. Obsess about empowered customers. Retailers that do this know that their customers are info savvy, connected to multiple devices, and increasingly willing to experiment with new technology and innovations. And it’s up to each brand to ensure that their customers’ experiences across the many research and purchase touchpoints work in concert. By digging into the data now, retailers will develop a clear picture of their customers and what they expect. For example, the most technologically-empowered consumers — or progressive pioneers, as Forrester calls them — have an average age of 34, command the greatest spending power, and embrace (and abandon!) emerging products most quickly.
2. Catapult the mobile experience to the top of your list. Forrester’s 2017 “Forrester Retail Wave: US Mobile Web” found that many retailers have significant work to do on both functionality and user experience for mobile web. Despite these shortcomings, mobile impacted more than $1 trillion of total US retail sales last year. Retailers that underinvest in their mobile offerings risk very real sales — and long-term customer relationships. The low-hanging fruit to optimize mobile experiences? Checkout. Pare form fields to just what’s needed to complete the transaction (Are “title” and “suffix” really needed? Can “city” and “state” be auto-populated from the zip code?), slash bloated pages (trim the number of marketing tags, set an overall page weight limit, and optimize images), streamline payments with options like digital wallets (albeit only those that customers use), and measure both vigorously and mobile-specifically.
3. Tap digital marketing to benefit stores. Retailers should start by simply ensuring that accurate store listings surface for all those “near me” searches on mobile devices. Table stakes? It should be — but in 2016, Forrester found that 45% of marketers hadn’t syndicated their location data and information to online directories and search engines. Location management platforms can help significantly in this endeavor. Next, check to see how local inventory ads (LIAs) are being used, which show customers items that are in stock in a store near them — that is, information that customers really want. And for those retailers that sell on Amazon, it’s time to hand off Amazon SEO from the retail team to SEO experts, and paid advertising responsibilities to paid search experts.
4. Tackle top cybersecurity issues now. In 2015, return fraud siphoned $9.2 billion from retailers, per NRF. Retailers must prepare their front-line staff to thwart inevitable fraud attempts by updating operational processes and training store associates to verify that online orders returned in-store are legitimate and the right customer is picking up an online order. Conduct fraudster journey mapping to apply “friction” — i.e. verification steps — for orders where the customer notes different delivery and billing addresses, changes the delivery address later, or selects in-store pick up in a state that’s different from the billing address. And be prepared to respond to a cyberattack: Breach responses should be as customer-obsessed as the rest of the business, providing customers transparency into how the breach specifically impacts them — and what the retailer will do about it.
As retailers prepare for arguably the busiest time of the year, planning ahead will be invaluable to their success. Wishing you a very successful Holiday 2018!