Channel-agnostic retail is shaping the 2017 holiday season, requiring merchants to readjust many aspects of their holiday planning, including marketing, experiential retail, fulfillment and workforce optimization. With a little more than a month to go, retailers anticipate seasonal sales growth of anywhere from 3.6% to 4%, which remains in line with 2016 figures.
Four retail experts shared insights into the steps merchants should take this holiday season to optimize for the anticipated growth. The experts covered topics such as pricing and markdowns, the de-emphasis of in-store shopping on Black Friday, the growth of mobile shopping and the anticipated role of voice and AI platforms. Here are some key takeaways:
Rod Sides, Vice Chairman, U.S. Retail and Distribution Leader at Deloitte
“We’re finding that unique product — great product — is what’s driving people back into the stores. At the end of the day, we’re ‘going back to the future.’ If you create really compelling product, and have a reason for the shopper to come in and look for something that’s new, fresh and exciting, they’ll come in. You might lose a little money on the basics, but you’ll certainly make it up when we get into larger basket sizes.”
Steve Barr, U.S. Retail and Consumer Sector Leader at PwC
“Over the last few holidays, people have written or talked about Millennial Moms or Millennials in general. But looking at Millennial Dads, we see that they use their smartphone to pay in store almost 3X as much as all other shoppers (49% to 17%). They’ll use wearable devices at a level of almost 4X, and they’re also 3X more likely to shop using smart technology such as Alexa or Google Home. This data tells us that Millennial Dads are a demographic that retailers probably need to pay a little bit more attention to in a more curated way.”
Katherine Black, Principal, Retail and Consumer Strategy at KPMG
“Consumers will go to one store for a great deal and then will move on somewhere else for another product. They’ll continue to have doorbusters for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and throughout the season, but they must be conscious of the fact that it’s harder to get the associated sale with the deal. Frankly, a lot of the big blockbuster deals have gotten stale. I’d like to think that we’ll see more targeted discounting.”
Jill Standish, Senior Managing Director for Accenture’s Global Retail Consulting Practice
“For the holiday season, one of the messages we’re putting out to the market is ‘try to find your purpose as a retailer.’ If your purpose is to actually give advice to consumers and make them feel wonderful about clothes rather than just pushing product, then you might need to leverage technology that helps you scale that capability. You could build a recommendation chatbot that tells shoppers how to wear certain garments.”
Price Remains Chief Concern Of Holiday Shoppers
Consumers still see price as the most important factor related to shopping during the holiday season, according to Trustpilot. As many as 62% of shoppers cite pricing as their chief concern, well ahead of:
Customer service (47.5%);
Product availability (36.2%); and
Returns policy (20.8%).
As it did in 2016, shoppers’ desire for holiday bargains once again will rear its head. Retailers are going to have to continue engaging in deep discounts, simply because that’s what consumers are conditioned to expect. But merchants must ensure their discounts are more personalized to encourage the customer to spend more, or else they may cut into potential profit margins.
“I would advise clients right now to look at the customers that are wish listing with them,” Black said. “How are consumers browsing and researching online? Watch that so that [retailers are] really using the discount or the coupon as a way to close a sale that’s not already set to happen, instead of the traditional means of a big ad meant to drive lots of traffic.”
Black Friday Gives Way To ‘Black November’
As each holiday season comes and goes, consumers continue to shift their shopping habits in both where and how they buy gifts. Net sales within brick-and-mortar stores slid 10.4% on Black Friday 2016, and retailers should expect that decline to continue in 2017. Only 35% of consumers who plan to shop during Thanksgiving week picked Black Friday as their first response, down from 51% last year and 59% in 2015, according to PwC.
Therefore, retailers must start holiday promotions earlier to focus more on “Black November,” according to Barr. This capitalizes on consumers’ tendencies to both do research and shop earlier in the month.
“Retailers are in a race to maintain market share,” Barr said. “Not only were their competitors going promotional earlier, they were dealing with the headwinds shifting to e-Commerce. I don’t want the message to be that Black Friday is dead. Black Friday is still going to have a meaningful place on the retail calendar. It’s just not as significant as it used to be as a stand-alone date. Black Friday used to be the launching point for the promotional calendar for holidays. Now holiday shopping, in some respects, starts with Amazon Prime Day in July and the related offering of retailers other than Amazon around the day.”
Of course, Black Friday still will remain relevant, but e-Commerce will take a larger portion of its sales. Only 40% of shoppers say they would shop in-store on Black Friday, with 30% saying they would do so on Thanksgiving Day, according to Market Track.
Expect Another Massive Mobile Sales Boost
Holiday 2016 saw the rise of mobile as a retail traffic and sales driver, with revenue skyrocketing 44% over 2015, according to comScore. During Thanksgiving Weekend alone, mobile device sales increased 33% to $1.2 billion, according to the Adobe Digital Index.
Salesforce has high hopes for the future of mobile, anticipating that mobile traffic to retail sites will grow to 60% of the total across the globe this holiday (compared to 34% for desktop and 5% for tablets). The report also expects mobile orders to approach 40% of e-Commerce on major shopping days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
To prepare for this continued growth, retailers must simplify the navigation and checkout processes within their mobile app or mobile site.
“It’s a matter of making sure the mobile app itself serves its purpose,” Sides said. “For the first number of years mobile gained popularity, it was all about navigation and helping you find the store. Now it’s more about commerce. Make sure that your payment information is seamless. We’ve talked about frictionless commerce for the last 10 years, but what does that mean? It essentially means that if I have a store credit card on a mobile app for my favorite retailer, being able to have a one-click purchase is really important. It’s all about keeping the customer in the funnel.”
Will Voice And AI Platforms Break Out?
Beyond mobile, 2017 has given way to the growth of many new retail technologies, particularly voice-activated shopping assistants, AI/machine learning solutions, AR/VR and chatbots.
The Accenture 2017 U.S. Holiday Shopping Survey noted that 89% of shoppers are familiar with Amazon Alexa, while 77% are familiar with Google Home, indicating that the devices already are well known from a consumer standpoint.
Consumers want to use these products — even in some cases when they aren’t that familiar with them: 84% are actually most excited about the idea of scanning an item to see it in different colors not available in the store, even though only 46% are familiar with AR technology, according to Accenture. And 65% are already using or would like to use chatbots to get quicker customer service, even though only 42% are aware of them.
But despite the growth in these technologies throughout the year, holiday 2017 will more than likely be a testing ground for voice, AR/VR and chatbots.
“It really didn’t take long for Alexa and Google Home to be on the minds of the consumer,” Standish said. “We’re seeing the maturity curve pick up really fast, and it’s interesting to see that despite being top-of-mind for retailers, these aren’t that common yet. It’ll be some time before consumers are basing their decisions on a company that actually has a virtual reality app or not.”
During the holiday season, retailers must understand exactly how their current technology strengths intersect with what their customers are seeking. But they should also continue taking chances on new technologies — in small doses. In the coming weeks, retailers must finalize their promotional schedule so they are in place by the beginning of November, create discounts in a more targeted fashion and continue to emphasize mobile as a primary shopping vehicle. And don’t forget those high-spending Millennial dads.