Retail has been a mixed bag during the Coronavirus pandemic, not just because shops were closed for much of the year, but also because many brands struggled to meet the needs of an entirely digital shopper-base.
There have been bright spots, of course. Adobe Digital Economy data from July found that 58% of Brits had bought clothing online in the previous month, 42% had bought health and beauty products, and nearly one-third had bought electronics. Moreover, shoppers were patient with retailers in the early days of the pandemic, allowing for occasional glitches on their websites and willing to endure long wait times for their deliveries.
But Christmas is an entirely different story. We are now more than six months into this pandemic and customers expect brands to have adapted to a new reality, just as many of them have adjusted to working remotely or attending virtual classes from home.
The festive season has always been a make-or-break period for retailers, but this year the stakes are higher than ever. Their success will come down to four key factors.
1) Optimise webpages for seamless shopping
Customers buy from brands they trust, and when a retailer’s digital experience is their only touch point with the company, the quality of that experience is crucial. People will have no patience for clunky ecommerce sites or glitches in their mobile app when buying gifts for a loved one – there are simply too many other brands vying for their attention, not to mention the constant lure of ecommerce platforms that offer simple, convenient shopping with minimal fuss.
2) Ensure your online shop can grow to meet demand
Exchanging gifts brings us joy, but buying them is a mission. From parents scrambling to secure the year’s must-have video game to fashionistas camping outside their favourite brands to score the season’s limited releases, Christmas queues outside shops are as common as Christmas songs inside them.
The challenge of selling 100% online is that few retailers designed their ecommerce experience to support sustained swells in traffic. Some grocers experimented earlier this year by making shoppers wait in a virtual queue before making online orders earlier this year, but their infrastructure simply couldn’t cope with the volume. One option is to follow in the footsteps of American retailers, many of whom will start their holiday sales earlier this year to ease the burden on their ecommerce and merchandising.
3) Be reliable AND reassuring
When Adobe conducted its UK Online Shopping Trends research in July, we found that consumers were four times more likely to buy from an online platform than directly from a retailer. The difference at Christmas is that among all the urgent supplies like toilet paper and nappies; shoppers will be buying thoughtful gifts for people who matter to them. That calls for more than convenience, it calls for reassurance and personalisation. After all, nobody wants to spend weeks researching the perfect gift only to have it arrive mixed in with the grocery order and inadvertently opened.
Few retailers can beat ecommerce platforms on scale or logistics, but they can deliver a more personal touch and bring a sense of ceremony to people’s purchases. That might mean guaranteeing the delivery date and time, offering more flexible return policies that extend into January, or using sustainable packaging for environmentally conscious shoppers. Whatever tactics they choose, customer experience will be the real battleground of this Christmas season.
4) Prioritise mobile shopping
Mobile retail has exploded in recent years, but by 2019 many customers were still using their phone as an exploratory channel before eventually making a purchase on their computer. This year is different. With families living, working, and spending every waking second together, mobile purchases offer people a more discreet way to buy gifts and keep them a surprise until Christmas morning.
The Coronavirus pandemic may be daunting, but it has turned everyone into an online shopper and every device into a potential purchasing channel. My colleague, Brian Green, recently shared the story of his 81 year old father who used to say he “doesn’t do” the Internet. Then the pandemic hit and he became an online purchasing machine in the space of just a few months.
This Christmas marks a new era of holiday shopping experience, and while change on this scale is never easy, it also offers brands a unique opportunity to rethink and reset their approach. People like Brian’s father are discovering new ways to buy from their favourite retailers, and they are not alone. The key for brands will be make sure they understand each customers’ needs and deliver a joined up experience fit for the new normal.
To learn more about how Adobe has helped brands create business growth through commerce, go the Commerce Cloud customer success stories on Adobe.com.