2021 Holiday Survival Guide

Independent Retailer

What follows is an excerpt of an article originally published on independentretailer.com.

The holidays are just around the corner, and it is back to business as usual! 2020 may have thrown us all for a loop, but consumers are excited to get out there and do their gift shopping in person. Independent Retailer has put together a survival guide to help indie retailers navigate the 2021 holiday season — Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, and everything in between.

While most aspects of the upcoming holiday season will go back to normal, shopping behavior and sentiments have rapidly evolved. In Astound Commerce’s latest study, Preparing for an Ever-Evolving Holiday Season,’ they conducted a survey of 1,000 global shoppers spanning the regions of North America, Europe, and the Middle East with the goal of exploring shopping behaviors in light of the pandemic and beyond, and what that means for brands ahead of the 2021 holiday season. Some key takeaways from the study include:

  • Loyalty is the number one factor for U.S. shoppers when it comes to which brands consumers will shop with during the 2021 holiday season, followed by price point and quality/selection.
  • Nearly a quarter of consumers across the globe predict they will spend more on gifts in 2021, in contrast to their holiday spending in 2020. When asked about the rationale behind this projected increase in spending, the top two reasons were to make up for missed holidays in 2020 (52%), followed by an improved financial situation (34%).
  • In a comparison of pre- and post-pandemic consumer behaviors, global shoppers expect to continue using curbside pickup once the pandemic subsides, indicating an increase in usage of more than 32 percent.
  • Nearly three out of four global shoppers indicate they missed the ability to shop in store during the stay-at-home restrictions. In the U.S., in-store shopping has been steadily rising since the beginning of 2021, with 65 percent of Americans saying they have made a purchase in a physical store in the last six months.

Survival Tip #1: Hiring Seasonal Employees

The shortage of qualified workers is a growing concern for retailers as we approach the holidays. Right now, Walmart and Target are offering free college tuition to attract and retain workers. While this is something that may be out of reach for smaller retailers, employee motivation is critical in order to hire the help your business needs.

“You need to show employees that you care about them. Incentives like free college tuition and wage increases will make or break the holiday season,” Ben Kuntz, head of sales at Jobcase, said. “If you cannot afford to do that, another important area to focus on is creating pathways for employee growth. Invest in concrete plans to allow employees to learn and move up, because they are the company’s biggest asset. Investing in their success will help ensure you have the best environment to help hire people.”

Survival Tip #2: Expect an Earlier & Longer Shopping Season

According to a survey by Sitecore, 34 percent of consumers intend to start their holiday shopping by Labor Day. As for marketers, 53 percent said they plan to start their holiday campaigns earlier this year than last, and nearly all businesses (91%) are optimistic about a revenue boost this season.

“Retail sales were challenging all last year, especially during the critical holiday season,” Paige O’Neill, Sitecore CMO, said. “With attitudes around big events like Black Friday changing, the industry now needs to move quickly to connect with their most loyal customers as they plan to begin holiday shopping much earlier this year. The right technology should showcase those promotions that will incentivize early holiday spending and get customers excited to engage with the brand and their products. The pull through to the in-store experience will be equally critical so consumers feel connected to the brand no matter where they choose to shop.”

Survival Tip #3: Keep Track of Customer Data

The competition this year is fierce, and shoppers are going to be buying from retailers across a wide variety of channels. While some will be shopping in stores, others will flock to ecommerce, and according to Danny Ellis, retail sales manager for Reltio, consumers are going to be expecting to be treated the same both online and in person. While a sales associate can remember a specific customer and recommend similar items from what they bought last time, data management can help give this same experience to consumers online.

“When a consumer gives us information as a retailer, no matter the channel, we have to keep track of that,” Ellis said. “When interacting with shoppers, use that information with analytics to understand customer habits and patterns, and you will in turn be able to make better offers to your customers. But if they give you their data, they expect you to use it and keep it safe. Those are the three areas to focus on: collecting, using, and securing all of that customer information, even if it is through a third party site.”

Survival Tip #4: Optimize Technology

There are some new technologies that have emerged from the pandemic that retailers should continue to use in the future, such as ecommerce and mobile shopping, and self-checkout options. This does not mean that you need to replace everything you have, simply leverage your existing infrastructure or leverage more off-the-shelf infrastructure for base functionality. This goes back to keeping track of customer data — they want personalized experiences, and technology can help you give that to them.

“There are three things we see that are the highest ranking in terms of conversation: the ability to buy on a mobile device, changing in-store payments to contactless and mobile, and self checkout options,” David Wilkinson, president/GM of NCR Retail, said. “The biggest piece is around self checkout, not in new technology or new objects being used, but whether it is driven by desire for customers to not have as much interactions with people in stores due to COVID, the inability to get labor into stores, or if customers are just used to using it and they want that choice. In Q1, we saw self checkout demand increase by one percent outside of traditional big box and grocery stores.”

Andre Hordagoda, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Go Instore, said that after more than 8,000 store closures in 2020, and likely more to come, it is clear that retailers must look to technology and other innovative strategies to forge ahead and engage with their consumers, especially during the holiday season. While in-store shopping will most likely not go out of style, customer behaviors have changed, and retailers must adapt to provide the full spectrum of options. Technologies such as chatbots and live video have migrated from an added benefit to a necessity. Customers will continue to look to online channels and interact with technologically enhanced shopping experiences, and retailers must follow their lead.

Survival Tip #5: Build Up Trust & Credibility

With supply chain issues still prevalent across the U.S. and prices rising across the board, consumer’s deciding factor on where to shop is becoming increasingly dependent on convenience, consistency, and established trust with brands. Avionos’ new B2C Quick Poll Study found that 77 percent of shoppers say they have come to trust certain brands more due to their actions during the pandemic, and of those, 99 percent said they will continue shopping with those brands post-COVID. Furthermore, 47 percent of customers also said signing up for a loyalty program and recommending the brand to friends and family were the top actions they would take when they trust a brand.

Some ways retailers can gain consumer trust and boost sales are by telling your story, being honest and transparent, knowing your target audience, sharing real product reviews, creating and sharing video testimonials, putting a face to the brand name, and offering great customer service. These survival tips can help your brand go a long way this upcoming holiday season, so head our advice and weed out the competition. 

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