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11/27/2020

Redefining the Last-Minute Shopper During an Unprecedented Season

Holiday shopping is in full swing, and following a long stretch of social distancing and limited activities this year, consumers are eager to shop and make this holiday season special. According to a recent study Oracle conducted around holiday shopping, nearly 60% of consumers plan to spend the same or more on gifts this year.

However, as the environment continues to shift, retailers have to ask themselves: What is this holiday shopping season going to look like, especially during those crucial days before Christmas? In years past, the guidance said that consumers need to make their online purchases no later than Dec. 18 to ensure arrival by Christmas safely; however, this year, industry experts have cautioned that people buying gifts online should order as early as Dec. 1. And, with a large portion of people not thinking about Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving, we have an entirely new definition of a last-minute shopper

With all this in flux, now is the ideal time for retailers to ensure their stores and sites are ready for those shoppers dashing through the stores, in-store or online, last minute. Most importantly, this holiday season, retailers need to understand how to cater to these last-minute shoppers to ensure a jolly customer experience.

It's All About Managing Expectations

According to the global research study, 66% of consumers prefer to shop online with home delivery this holiday season. However, this could present a delivery disaster as shipping times will naturally get extended due to the volume of orders worldwide.

Unfortunately, disgruntled parents, anxious children, and family members won't care about these challenges. When a delivery date is later than expected, 38% of consumers hold the retailer accountable, regardless of the delay's root cause. They will be hoping for their gifts on their intended date, and this expectation won't change in the next month.

To prevent this potential nightmare, retailers need to leverage their customer data to understand consumer expectations fully. To do this, retailers must integrate their planning solutions with their customer engagement software to anticipate the who, what, when, and where components during this holiday season.  And after analyzing their data to understand consumer expectations thoroughly, retailers need to make informed decisions based on the data, provide alternatives, and, most importantly, set expectations for their employees, delivery services and consumers.

Communication Will Be Vital

All consumers want is good communication — along with fully stocked inventory, one-day shipping and excellent customer service — but mostly, good communication goes a long way. Consumers want retailers to communicate throughout the brand experience, show inventory availability, delivery and pick-up options, and delivery updates.

Seven out of 10 consumers said real-time updates on item location throughout the delivery process is essential. And with nearly 70% of shoppers using home delivery this holiday season, retailers must communicate order deadlines.

If they don't, people will pay to expedite their Dec. 22 orders to be delivered by Dec. 25, and even during a "normal" holiday season, that delivery date is ambitious. If stores communicate clear deadlines and establish checkpoints for purchases, consumers may be more inclined to make purchases earlier than in previous years.

In addition to home delivery, smart retailers are experimenting with alternative retrieval options. This year, 18% of shoppers will buy online and pick up in-store, and 16% will buy online and pick up curbside. Retailers need consider the operational impact of these alternative options, consistently communicate to customers and be prepared for last-minute in-store shoppers.

A mid-December shopper may not know that they are now deemed a last-minute shopper; however, good communication and transparency from retailers will enable them to maintain, retain and cultivate these customers now and after the holidays. Ultimately, retailers need to have strategies and systems to communicate with consumers every step of the way, from ordering through delivery and beyond. These strategies need to appeal to both online and in-store shoppers.

“Stores may also entice shoppers in-store with special, restricted shopping hours, ensuring a safe shopping experience with few other shoppers present.”

Agility and Flexibility Will Win the Holiday Race

More than ever before, brands need to be agile and flexible to meet customers' needs thoroughly.

This isn't only about doing things quickly but also identifying failure and recognizing opportunities rapidly and making them work for the retailer and the consumer. Being quick to pivot to new strategies and solutions will be imperative.

Retailers may also need to get creative with their alternative retrieval options; in addition to in-store pick-up, retailers might offer a pick-up locker option to adhere to safety concerns and increase convenience. Some retailers have even partnered with local delivery services, instead of multi-national services, for a timelier delivery. Providing innovative solutions can attract customers and may be the deciding factor between two retailers. The right offer could sway a customer’s loyalty while a bad experience could lose them forever

For example, for other retailers, those selling high-ticket items that shoppers want to see before they purchase, stores may also entice shoppers in-store with special, restricted shopping hours, ensuring a safe shopping experience with few other shoppers present. Stores could also combine this with in-store pricing specials to further entice buyers.

As safety concerns for store associates and shoppers continue to be paramount and local regulations on stores being open continue to fluctuate, some stores may also choose to be dark stores and only support online shopping. For some retailers, focusing on staff and resources to just meeting online orders may be the most profitable — and safest — way through the holiday shopping season.

Being flexible and agile to fit today's shoppers' needs will be integral to winning the holiday race for retailers. Ultimately, providing customers with what they want through alternative avenues and channels will help retailers meet the need for last-minute shoppers as well.

For the Holiday Road Ahead

There have been significant shifts in the holiday shopping framework, and retailers have to pivot to fit all consumers' needs, including the newly defined and traditional last-minute shoppers.

Retailers must prioritize effective and efficient communications strategies, manage internal and external expectations, and focus on different retrieval, pick-up, and delivery options to adhere to last-minute shoppers and, subsequently, all shoppers. Especially with anxious consumers, increasing volume, and delivery windows extending longer than average, retailers need an effective strategy to help shoppers secure last-minute gifts just in time for the holidays.

Michael Colpitts is solutions market director, stores and commerce at Oracle Retail.

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