Editor's note: The following is a guest post from Emily Hamilton, senior brand experience marketing manager at FRCH Design Worldwide.
It's time for a new holiday playbook.
Last season, U.S. retail e-commerce sales jumped 17.8%, while falling foot traffic continued to plague traditional retailers, eMarketer found. And according to RetailNext, foot traffic was down 12.3% in November and December of last year.
Here's what should brick-and-mortar retailers be doing to help them win before, during and after this upcoming holiday season.
What to do before
Create a Destination. Design an in-store space dedicated for online pick-ups.
According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, nearly one-third of shoppers used click-and-collect during last year’s holiday season and the number is only expected to rise in 2017, affirming the need for retailers to prioritize this in-store experience.
But retailers beware – when executed poorly, click-and-collect can negatively impact customer loyalty, so make sure the right experience is in place and ready to roll out, and never underestimate the power of great customer service (a personal touch is hard to replicate online, especially during the stressful holiday season).
Retailers should also think about elevating the experience – taking a page from restaurants by offering pickup specific parking spaces or a designated entrance. Once you have customers in-store, get creative and think about setting up convenient offerings for pickups like fulfillment lockers or even automated vending machines. RFID technology can also be utilized to alert employees to when an online pick-up customer walks through the door.
Recently, Nordstrom expanded their reserve online, try-on in-store program. The program allows the brand to initiate an online dialogue with shoppers that ultimately brings them in-store. What makes the program successful is not only the efficiency, but the destination created – each shopper is directed to a reserved dressing room inside the store (all within two hours of the initial reservation). This seamless online, offline interaction lead to 80% of shoppers who tried the service, to use it again.
With the onslaught of new technology, shopper’s expectations are to connect their identity across all touchpoints to ensure every interaction with a brand picks up where the last one left off, even as the shopper crosses devices or channels along their path to purchase. Any steps to make the process more efficient and stress-free can increase the likelihood of (happy) repeat customers.
What to do during
Provide a Point of View. Curate your merchandise for easy browsing and gift inspiration.
Research from TotalRetail reveals a major spike in first-time visitors starting at Thanksgiving and running through the holiday season. Retailers should prepare for out-of-profile shoppers, who purchase only around the holidays and are looking for inspiration. Stores should go beyond their traditional service-model and instead of simply reacting to problems, offer advice and guidance to help gifting shoppers through an often stressful and time-crunched experience.
Last year, Estee Lauder launched a holiday gifting store, dedicated to offering exclusive gift sets in a laid-back, intimate "living room" environment. Shoppers could also participate in helpful workshops like wreath-making, calligraphy and gift design. Williams-Sonoma is another great example where the brand focused on gifting as a core component of its digital offering to consumers. The company offered suggestions for different gifting personas, from "coffee lover" to "hostess." This same thing could be easily recreated in-store.
Retailers can also leverage this technique with in-demand products. Take a page from Amazon Books and help shift demand to other products by offering in-store recommendations or cross merchandising. Think about displaying holiday cookbooks next to some of your best-selling kitchen equipment, next to gift cards to Whole Foods. If retailers put in the effort of pulling together reasonable alternatives and putting those options in front of desperate shoppers, they will be rewarded.
Offer an Amenity. Brands can elevate the experience for holiday shoppers by leveraging a hospitality mindset.
It’s important for each retailer to understand their brand’s role to shoppers – are they a convenience brand, like Amazon? Are they a value brand, like an Old Navy? Or are they an experiential brand?
If they are resonating with consumers as an experiential brand, think about offering a unique and exclusive service to you customers that may make their holiday shopping more memorable. Lululemon’s new "Mindfulosophy" space located in their Midtown flagship offers customers a quiet space to meditate, either on their own or with one of 12 self-guided mediations. Services like this, which not only speak to the brand story but offer customers a way to recharge, becoming meaningful and relevant experiences.
Even shopping centers that consider themselves more luxury or experiential – like Westfield’s Century City, are starting to understand the importance of adopting a hospitality mindset. Most recently the mall partnered with Uber to create dedicated lounges, complete with complimentary beverages, entertainment and charging stations.
Experiential retailers (and developers) should get creative during the holiday season to offer their customers memorable services that shoppers will remember all year round.
What to do after
Remove The Hurdles. Just like online pick-ups before the holidays, shoppers are looking for a dedicated area to make returns – one that is separate from POS.
American consumers return more than $260 billion in goods each year, according to data from logistics company Oporto. Nearly a quarter of those returns occur over the holidays, for a total of $69 billion in merchandise. With so many shoppers looking to return items after the holidays, this is a prime opportunity to get customers through the door – and it’s up to the retailer to make the most of it!
Think about how you can simplify the process even more by offering a click and drop service where shoppers can scan their receipt, drop the item and go – or simply have staff dedicated to returns. Make sure to create the destination close to the entrance and clearly marked – don’t make shoppers work too hard when they are likely already frustrated they have to make a return. For retailers that don’t have the square footage and man power available, there are also startups like Happy Returns, a logistics company building "return bars" at malls across the country, offering shoppers’ refunds and returns on the spot.
Also keep in mind that after the holidays, the shopper often switches back to self-gifting or personal spending mode, so serve up different offers, more relevant to the individual – less about the curated gift displays or shared inspiration offered during the holidays. Find ways to re-engage those shoppers for a strong start to 2018!