This year’s holiday shopping season will be unlike any that’s come before. Fewer in-person activities due to health and safety concerns, a major election commanding consumers’ attention, and an unsettled economy are all important factors changing consumer behavior in 2020. It also means dusting off last year’s holiday playbook won’t work this year.
Now’s the time to review and adjust your processes and tools to deliver the experience your customers will expect this fall and winter based on circumstances that changed consumer behavior practically overnight. This checklist can help you make sure your business is ready for the holiday season.
Timing: Are you ready for holiday shopping to begin earlier?
Many consumers plan to start their holiday shopping earlier than usual, in part because back to school, Halloween and Thanksgiving will be scaled back this year. In early July, a consumer survey found that 39% plan to start shopping for the holidays in October.
This means you need to think about moving up your holiday messaging timetable, and we’ll look at changes in messaging later in this checklist. It also means that if your logistics and website infrastructure need shoring up, now is the time.
Logistics: Are your stock levels accurate?
B2C shipments rose 65% in Q2, according to UPS, as consumers switched from brick-and-mortar to online shopping. The result is that many retailers and brands are already struggling with fulfillment.
Organizations that don’t have a unified view of their inventory run the risk of frustrating customers by selling them items that have sold out but still show up as in-stock online. This is a risk especially for retailers with multiple warehouses and with stores that are being repurposed as warehouses for e-commerce and curbside pickup orders.
Ideally, your warehouse management software would tie into all of these locations, updating stock levels in real time and sharing those real-time updates on your website. You may also need to change your rules on product decrementation—the way your inventory levels are reduced and displayed as products are purchased. If your system displays products as out of stock only when they’re decremented to zero, you could decrement to four or five instead. That would give you have a cushion in case incoming orders deplete stock faster than your system can update stock levels.
Website: Is it ready to handle holiday traffic?
Average e-commerce site traffic grew 30% during the first six months of the year, and we’ve seen clients whose traffic has increased by as much as 500%. If your site is already dealing with increased traffic, how will it perform during the holidays when even more people are shopping online?
To avoid crashes, work with your system integrators, hosting provider and IT team to make sure you’ll have enough bandwidth for holiday traffic surges so that the site can remain stable and accessible.
Customers: Do you know who they are and what they want?
Many stores have gained new customers since the start of the year. Have you looked at who's buying from you now? It’s a good idea to review your site traffic to understand how customers are finding you and what they’re looking for now.
The reason it’s critical to know your current customer base before the holidays is that you can’t fall back on offering items that sold well in holiday seasons past, especially products related to holiday travel and gatherings. This year, because consumers will likely spend the holidays at home, it’s better to stick with what’s been selling well so far.
Customer service: Are your service strategies top-notch?
More than 70% of customers say they expect companies to communicate with them in real time. Can your customer service program meet that expectation during the holidays? If not, now’s the time to hire and train new staff or add new tools like customer service chatbots that can help customers search for products and see what’s in stock.
Another element of good customer service this holiday season will be a relaxed return policy. If your store is normally strict about returns, consider easing up. You might also want to work with a returns management service like Happy Returns or other solutions to take reverse logistics off your plate. Remember, you’re competing for e-commerce traffic with merchants like Amazon that make returns simple and often free.
Will you offer special services? For example, gift wrapping is a small thing, but it has good margins and may be in more demand this year because so many people won’t be able to wrap and deliver gifts to their loved ones in person.
Messaging: Have you appropriately adjusted for the 2020 holidays?
The big question for all of us, retailers and consumers, is how do we make this holiday season feel special and positively memorable? Because it’s been a difficult year, businesses need messaging that’s empathetic. Focusing on sales and promotions is not going to resonate well.
Instead, create messaging that’s focused on topics like self-care, long-distance gifting and living well at home. Shoppers may put more time and money into decorating their homes this holiday season. They may treat themselves to gift baskets and specialty foods, as well as sending them as gifts to loved ones. Your messaging doesn’t even need to be about the holidays as much as it is about self-care and caring for friends and family.
If your brand is local or supports a cause, messaging that highlights your efforts can appeal to customers who want their holiday spending to boost their community or an issue that they care about.
A new retail customer experience plan for the holidays
Once you’ve evaluated your timing, logistics, website, customer profile, service and messaging strategy, step back and look at the big picture. Consider how each item on the checklist contributes to your overall customer experience, across every touchpoint, from the time consumers start searching for a gift to when the recipient tells them how much they love it. Companies that invest time now in rethinking their end-to-end holiday customer experience will have an advantage going into October and beyond, rewarded with loyalty and repeat customers.