A locked down Christmas shopper buying gifts online and writing cards at their desk - Holiday Shopping
PHOTO: Adobe

Like many other aspects of our lives, holiday shopping during a pandemic will be one for the history books. Rather than lining up outside stores for the most sought-after Black Friday finds, this year’s shoppers will be clicking on the best deals from the comfort of their own couches. Instead of traveling across the country to give their loved ones a hug and just the right gift, delivery will be at the top of most consumers’ lists this year.

According to Think with Google, almost 75 percent of consumers say they’ll shop more online this holiday season than last year, while a similar number say they’ll browse for gifts online rather than in stores. While retailers have already had a taste of these shifting behaviors since the start of the pandemic, the holiday season is sure to bring more of the same — but on a much larger scale.

To help you get ready for this year’s holiday shoppers, here are 10 tips you should start implementing today.

1. Understand the Chhanging Customer Journey

If you look at how customers purchase your products today compared to earlier this year, you’re likely to see a drastic difference. As lockdowns and health concerns keep people home, consumers are opting for contactless commerce, including digital payments, delivery, buy online pick up in store, and curbside pickup rather than stepping foot in retail stores.

“Fundamental changes are happening in a short space of time,” said Nuno Pedro, SAP Head of Commerce. “Flexibility is critical because we need different journeys to accommodate consumers’ quick-changing needs—especially when there’s no clear view into how long the pandemic will last.”

2. Retool Your Supply Chain

Since the start of the pandemic, there’s been a surge in demand for at-home delivery. According to Bloomberg, ground deliveries for FedEx and UPS increased about 20 percent in the second quarter of 2020, and package volume for the US Postal Service increased 50 percent through its quarter ending in June. In response to these changes, all three delivery providers announced holiday surcharges to cover increasing operational costs. This means higher costs for retailers.

To help manage these expenses and ensure that shoppers get their packages on time, many retailers are sourcing and shipping locally, essentially turning their brick-and-mortar locations into fulfillment centers for online orders, and shifting inventory where the demand is highest. In addition, they’re encouraging consumers to shop early to account for any anticipated delays—something it seems shoppers are willing to do. According to a study by PowerReviews, 75 percent of consumers will start their holiday shopping earlier this year.

3. Reassess Your Model

Many retailers will turn to continuity programs like subscription services to keep their customers loyal. This is especially important and relevant now, as there is more uncertainty around product availability and supply chain reliability.

“By creating a subscription-based model, consumers can have peace of mind knowing certain items they regularly need — like toilet paper or pet food — will be delivered on a certain schedule, while companies can have a steady stream of revenue,” said Nuno Pedro, SAP Head of Commerce.

4. Focus on Creating Value

The pandemic has created two different crises: a health and safety crisis, and a financial crisis brought on by the first. This has resulted in lost wages, unemployment and underemployment. According to PwC, 40 percent of consumers saw a drop in income due to the pandemic. In addition, the percentage of people who said they would spend less in the next few months almost doubled since before the start of the pandemic.

Anticipate that consumers may not be spending as much during the holidays this year and refine your strategy to ensure you’re reaching customers with the right products at the most appropriate price. To encourage buying, look for ways to add more value and ease financial concerns by offering special payment plans or product bundles for holiday shoppers. But don’t delay. McKinsey has found that value and availability are two of the biggest reasons consumers switch brands, while value and convenience impact where consumers choose to buy.

5. Make Buying Online Easier

With so many choices to buy online, consumers can quickly become overwhelmed. Ease the challenges that come with holiday shopping by addressing the basic needs of busy shoppers. Provide up-to-date product information, high-quality photos, videos that are easy to follow, and clear, detailed product descriptions.

Help shoppers find what they’re looking for quickly with the help of dynamic searches personalized to each visitor. Delight shoppers with free gift wrapping, and keep them updated with SMS notifications for package delivery. All of these things can keep customers focused on buying and add up to a smoother customer experience.

6. Listen To Your Customers

Use the right reporting and analytics tools to understand customer needs. Gain insights into historical and behavioral data, like what customers are searching for on your site, and what they’ve purchased. Then, combine this with your key business metrics to find out which products to promote to whom, and feature them on your site based on customer segment.

By using contextual personalization in this way, customers can enjoy a tailored online buying experience that will keep them on your site longer, increase engagement and push up basket size.

7. Amp up the Experience

Whether they shop online or in store, consumers still want memorable experiences. If your locations are open, emphasize safer, cleaner in-store experiences with 1:1 in-store appointments, contactless checkout and delivery, click-and-collect services and augmented reality (AR) fitting rooms.

For online shoppers, create memorable experiences by offering virtual styling appointments, virtual showroom tours or a way to try before you buy using AR, such as using an app to see how that new couch would look in your living room.

8. Pay Special Attention to Seniors

As one of the most vulnerable populations for COVID infection, many elderly consumers are making the move to online shopping. According to a PAYMNTS survey, 47 percent of baby boomers and seniors chose a retailer based on their digital offerings as a way to protect their health.

In many countries, senior shoppers make up a sizable customer segment, so retailers will have to think about new and convenient ways to digitally serve them. In addition to featuring products on your site that are relevant to older shoppers, you should also keep product information clear and complete, offer multiple payment options, emphasize contactless delivery, and spell out how you’ll keep their personal information safe.

9. Tap Into the Marketing Opportunity

Consumers are more open to new products, channels and experiences than ever before. Because store closures and stay-at-home orders disrupted consumer behavior, shoppers are finding it easier to change their buying habits. According to McKinsey, 40 percent of consumers said they tried or made purchases with a new retailer.

“Brands and retailers no longer have to compete with default buying behaviors and preferences for certain brands,” said Nuno Pedro, SAP Head of Commerce. “They just need to compete for the customers. So, investing in marketing now may yield a higher return than pre-pandemic efforts.”

10. Evaluate Your eCommerce Technology

Cloud-based eCommerce solutions have been a life-saver for many organizations during the pandemic, helping businesses better handle everything from office closures and remote work to digital shopping and contactless experiences. Make sure your tools can react quickly to changing environments to support your business strategy.

Learn what to look for in a best-in-class eCommerce platform. Read the 2020 Gartner Magic Quadrant Digital Commerce Report.