November 17, 2021 By Kevin Reese 4 min read

Vaccinations have been rolled out, lockdowns have been lifted, and workers are returning to offices, but 2021 is starting to feel like 2020 all over again, bah humbug!

There is reason to be concerned when consumers are seeing fewer options in the grocery aisles, local shops are closing earlier due to labor shortages, and a spike in energy prices looms as winter begins. Add in continued COVID concerns, and people are staying home, choosing to dine local and doing (a lot) more online shopping. Global research shows holiday shopping budgets have increased 30% year-over-year with 43% of consumers planning to shop online. The National Retail Federation predicts 2021 will be the highest holiday sales on record, making the holidays look promising.

Now is the time for innovation

Large crowds rushing to stores on Black Friday is something of the past. This year, prepping for the five days of cyber week means getting your eCommerce ready to handle the high volume of transactions. Get ready to make customers feel safe inside stores and offer options for contactless purchasing. With consumers constantly reminded that the supply chain is struggling and concerned about holiday gifts, the product is flying off shelves at full price and showing no signs of slowing down.

Deliver the perfect order with a complete omnichannel order fulfillment platform

The new post-pandemic shopper is in charge, knows what they want, and will go to great lengths to find it on any platform. Intelligent technology is smart for sales — 65% of shoppers expect to see product inventory at-a-glance. After placing an order, customers want to have updates on their order, especially order tracking information. Omnichannel technology continues to support sourcing fulfillment and delivery, providing the seamless experience customers now expect.

Availability is the first thing people care about and yet getting it faster will directly affect purchasing decisions.

  • Buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS) is the new standard delivery option, 85% of customers plan to use BOPIS. This service provides a bonus opportunity for additional sales when customers arrive at the store for pickup.
  • Accurate order fulfillment is a differentiator with up-to-the-minute inventory views. Accurate inventory visibility empowers companies to deliver products faster, see how Abercrombie & Fitch and Ulta Beauty are the first of their kind to offer same-day delivery this holiday.

A few tips from industry insiders

Industry insiders Jennifer Clark and Cathy Hotka recently shared the following ideas during the Smarter Supply Chain Leadership Summit:

Safety measures and fun experiences

  • Only 1 in 3 people say they plan to attend holiday parties this year, leaving most people craving something lively, so make it fun by hiring a local musician or offering something festive like tea or hot cider.
  • Communicate the safety measures your company is embracing to keep everyone healthy — 6 in 10 consumers say they would prefer contactless shopping options in-store. Mobile wallets and tap-to-pay chip cards are low-touch payment options.

Get ready to sell it all

  • Place your most attractive and fun products in front and ensure any clearance is in the back of the store
  • Avoid empty shelves! Fill them with last year products or remove shelving units to add a chair and create an inviting sitting space
  • Educate the seasonal sales team on how to properly record returned inventory for accuracy and increase sales
  • Take the time to get an accurate accounting of all products in storage, closets, and back of the store — be prepared to sell it all

Enhance the customer relationship

  • Product jammed up in the supply chain? Consider offering a “purchase now and ship later” choice for fulfillment
  • Train the new and/or seasonal employees to be helpful to shoppers by having real-time knowledge of what product is available and offering alternative gift options to cross-sell items
  • Invite your most loyal customers for VIP early access or special privileges

Cathy Hotka, a well-known industry influencer, anticipates gift giving will be more about experiences than products this year. The data agrees as global consumers plan to spend 30% more of their budgets on local outings than they did last year and 22% more on dining out. If some holiday gifts remain stuck in the supply chain backlog, enhance customer relationships by offering experiences or promoting store gift cards to spend after the holidays.

Digital innovation is the future of retail

Customers want shopping to be seamless from personal devices to the in-store environment, making integration core to their shopping experience. Integrating eCommerce strategies will give businesses a holistic view of their customers’ buying history and habits for better insights. The beginning of the pandemic influenced a rapid shift in online shopping and continues to reshape the importance of technology in the retail industry.

Despite the latest COVID concerns, online shopping is increasing exponentially and the best time for expanding eCommerce is now. Consider the customer’s needs both online and in-store to create positive experiences cyber week. Inventory visibility, order tracking, BOPIS, and same-day delivery are bringing customers a boost of joy, just in time for the holidays.

In the Charles Dickens classic story, Scrooge finally realized it’s never too late to make changes.

Learn more about the ways that IBM is helping businesses embrace technology and create growth by visiting the IBM Sterling web pages.

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