What Retailers Need to Know About Prepping for A Holiday Like No Other
If the Grinch taught us anything, it’s that nothing can stop the holidays from coming—not even in 2020. Perhaps even the Whos would have second thoughts if they were dealing with COVID-19. They sure wouldn’t be holding hands, and maybe the joyful singing wouldn’t be loud enough to reach the Grinch’s mountain if they were all singing through masks.
But still, the celebration would come to Whoville in some form, and it’s coming in the real world, too. The 2020 holidays are just around the corner, and I think we all know they’re going to be a little different this year. Smaller gatherings and masked carollers are just the beginning.
The New Black Friday
Traditionally, the holiday shopping season in the United States kicks off with a bang the day after Thanksgiving.
But for retailers, the holiday season begins a lot earlier than November. Preparation for the biggest sales season of the year starts in spring, and every step of the process, from supply chain pipelines to delivery and logistics, has been disrupted in 2020. This means last-minute shoppers are in for a nasty surprise: while the demand isn’t expected to change much, the infrastructure is not in place this year to handle the quantities of online and in-person shopping usually seen in the final weeks of the year.
Many retailers are encouraging their customers to shop earlier than ever, bringing the holiday season into October—when many of us are still getting ready for a Halloween that may not happen. But that’s another story.
Retailers including Home Depot, Kohls, Best Buy, Macys, Target, and Walmart have all made announcements to this effect. Many will be closed on Thanksgiving for the first time in years, and while most retailers are keeping the details of their biggest sales of the year under wraps, they are announcing that the deals will be available “earlier than ever” in 2020.
“The aim is to pull holiday shopping into October from closer to Christmas,” says Bloomberg, “so retailers can cope with limits on both shipping capacity and available merchandise. Unprecedented demand during the pandemic has constrained shipping, while product selection is low because the outbreak and subsequent lockdown disrupted holiday planning this spring.”
For years, every brand has shared a common goal on Black Friday: to get as many shoppers into their physical stores as possible. But with a pandemic still raging, stores have to limit the number of shoppers inside the building at any time. So where does that leave the beloved Doorbuster sale? There will be no literal door-busting this year. But the sales are still coming; they’re just a little different. You may even be able to get your hands on that new TV without being trampled.
Shoppers are facing a holiday season unlike anything they’ve seen before, and not just because it’s starting early. Store closures, stay-at-home orders, and financial struggle are all factors that will affect the holiday shopping season, and savvy retailers will have a plan in place to work around these challenges. The winners will be those retailers who are ready to tackle the new landscape and can bring their customers along for the ride with minimal disruption to the buying experience.
Cyber Monday is Every Day
Online shopping, of course, is expected to see the largest growth this year. People who have traditionally shopped in person are now turning to the internet, and that’s on top of all the people who already shop online. Shipping delays and higher shipping costs will make other delivery mechanisms popular: think curbside pickup, BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store), package lockers, and local same-day deliveries (gig economy services like DoorDash and Instacart picking up gift orders at local stores).
An increase in online shopping brings with it an increase in customer service calls, support requests, delivery tracking, and more. Our research has shown consumers have definite preferences in how they initiate or receive communications with retailers. In general, voice calls are preferred when shopping for expensive or specialized items. SMS or messaging apps are preferred for order updates and delivery tracking, and voice calls and non-SMS messaging are the most preferred channels for asking questions.
Do you have the infrastructure to support all this additional communication? If not, it’s easier than you think.
Effective communication with the modern shopper requires context, real-time updates, and transparency. Fortunately, communication APIs are easily accessible and bring with them robust omnichannel capabilities that allow brands to build the kinds of uniquely satisfying customer experiences that bring shoppers back again and again.
Cutting edge technology like AI chat bots customized to your brand can take some of the pressure off your contact center agents, triaging voice calls and handling routine requests and inquiries without ever involving a human. These AI assistants are smarter than ever, and communicate using natural language processing (NLP); oftentimes, customers don’t even realize they’re not speaking with a real person. And of course, if the interaction becomes too complex for the AI to handle, it’s smart enough to pass the call on to the most qualified human agent available--and to provide that agent with all the context and customer information they need to step in seamlessly and help the customer.
The more systems you can automate, the smoother your operations will run during the busy holiday season. APIs can help you build automated workflows with relevant and useful communication at key touchpoints throughout the customer journey. An abandoned cart email reminder, for example, or a Whatsapp message offering the assistance of a shopper or a limited-time discount code, can help convert sales that would otherwise be lost.
New and innovative communication tactics will also make an appearance this season. Higher end stores may offer personal shoppers who can use real-time video communication to take the customer shopping from home. “See what I see” video can be enormously helpful in helping people pull the trigger on larger purchases they’d normally make in person.
Omnichannel Will Win
Omnichannel retailers will step ahead of the pack this holiday season. If shoppers can access your products on all their devices, carry their shopping carts from phone to tablet to computer, in addition to whatever in-person brick and mortar shopping you still offer, they’re more likely to make those purchases from your store. And with 39% of American shoppers saying they’ll spend less on holiday shopping this year than years past, it’s more critical than ever to beat the competition and attract those shoppers to your brand. It’s not good enough anymore to have a shoppable website. You should have a mobile-first shopping experience at your customers’ fingertips, wherever they go, and you should communicate with them on their channel of choice, as well. Communications APIs make it possible to converse with customers from within your app (in-app messaging, in-app voice, and in-app video) or through email, text, and popular social messaging channels. Many retailers have found success using Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, for example, to send updates, reminders, sales, and shipping notifications to customers.
“Customers who actively engage with a brand have a tendency to be more loyal and will likely choose to spend their money supporting those brands,” says Fahmid Kabir, Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Vonage.
If you aren’t communicating with your customers, are they really your customers? There’s a difference between somebody who bought something from you once and a loyal customer who comes back again and again. Loyalty comes with trust, and trust comes with effective and transparent communication. Add the kind of personalized communication channels and alerts that breed true customer loyalty to your e-commerce platform with Vonage Communications APIs.
The Grinch made an important discovery in the end: Christmas doesn’t actually come from a store. So be more than a store this year; be part of your customers’ holiday journey. Now. Who’s carving the roast beast?