Guest Column | November 23, 2020

Ring In The Holiday Season With Effective Hybrid Shopping Experiences

By John Federman, JRNI

Holiday Retail

Although many stores are officially now open, the threat of local lockdowns and second peaks loom. While nobody has a crystal ball, what might the holiday shopping season look like in 2020?

By now we’ve usually got the regular raft of predictions from retail analysts; but COVID-19 has thrown out the rule book. At the time of writing this, the interactive map from the New York Times shows that although stores (mostly) remain open in states, face masks are fast becoming mandatory. And, as coronavirus cases continue to grow, many states are evaluating limits on businesses and everyday life.

Although malls are officially “open,” the threat of state-wide lockdowns loom. However, customers are still shopping, and unsurprisingly online transactions are accelerating.

Consumers want an experience that is better, faster, and safer. We are starting to see a blending of online and physical channels – an omni-channel shopping experience – become more popular as consumers look to safely engage with brands.

COVID-19 is also driving long-lasting behavioral shifts. As a result, many consumers no longer feel comfortable about undertaking “normal” activities such as traveling on public transportation or using a changing room when shopping in-person.

So, where are we?

Shoppers Are Cautious But Still Spending

Our recent survey of 2,000 U.S. and U.K. consumers has uncovered how the recent surge to online shopping is more nuanced than previously thought. Consumers are using a host of tools to “channel hop” their way to the experiences they want.

Since the pandemic began, 58% of respondents said they have shopped online for items that would previously have been purchased in-store. However, over a third (36%) said they had explored the very latest channels available, including shopping by appointment, audio, and video personal shopping consultations, and click and collect/curbside pickup.

The numbers in the survey also indicate that shoppers are being cautious with planned spending heading into retail peak. 43% of shoppers said they planned to spend less this holiday season

Retailers Need To Rebuild Trust Using A Toolbox Of Resources

To bolster confidence over the holidays and beyond, retailers need to take proactive steps to mitigate consumer concerns and make the in-store experience as seamless, convenient, and safe as possible.

That could include offering more in-store digital payment options that eliminate the need for shoppers to wait in lines or use cash, as well as managing the physical environment to make it easier for shoppers to observe social distancing when browsing or entering and leaving the store.

Utilizing technologies that enable enhanced footfall management also will support retailers in creating environments shoppers feel comfortable visiting.

Monitoring capacity levels also will be critical. Solutions such as people counters, occupancy managers, and pre-booked appointments will allow retailers to control foot traffic, and build-in and manage cleaning times.

Finally, those stores most able to satisfy returning customer shopping needs will be the most successful at getting them to make purchases. While occupancy restrictions may be in place, retailers should plan to overstaff to ensure that appropriate manpower is available to enforce new protocols and be on hand to deal with customer questions. Returning loyal customers will not tolerate waiting unnecessarily in-store to satisfy their pent-up desire to spend.

New Experiences Are Here To Stay

The survey results also indicated that a desire for new shopping experiences is here to stay. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of U.S. consumers said that, given the choice of queuing to enter a location or pre-scheduling an appointment, they would opt to secure an appointment.

31% said they wanted omni-channel options like click and collect and curbside pickup to continue post-COVID-19, and 27% are eager to continue to engage with virtual shopping opportunities and consultations via social media and video beyond the current crisis.

So, looking to the long-term, stores need to provide alternative shopping options that can improve the customer experience. Allowing customers to schedule their visit or shop by appointment will give them the added reassurance that they are unlikely to encounter a crowded store. Providing a full, up-to-date, and detailed description and overview of the shopping option available to customers on the store’s website will enable shoppers to assess the measures a retailer has put in place and select the option that’s most appropriate to their immediate needs. The “norm” needs rethinking now.

Holiday season 2020 will no doubt be different; however, early indications are that many consumers are eager to experience a hybrid experience of human interaction and personalized online shopping. This next highly personalized evolution of the shopping experience gives customers the opportunity for product discovery, curation, and “live” customer service interactions they crave – and looks set to become an established part of the way we continue to shop going forward.

About The Author

John Federman is CEO of JRNI.