After a season of explosive growth during 2020’s unusual pandemic holiday season, many retail experts are expecting more of the same this year. It’s not hard to understand why. Vaccines have become widely available, making live shopping much more palatable to safety-conscious yet pandemic-weary consumers. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the retail sector is poised to grow between 8.5% and 10.5% this holiday season. In fact, the NRF sees potential for a record breaking 2021, giving retailers plenty of confidence for this holiday season.
However, no matter how much good news these statistics may be for retailers, it means nothing if they can’t capitalize on the opportunities or rise to the challenges that 2021’s all-important holiday season presents. The industry continues to face headwinds, so the path to success is by no means straight-forward or even certain. That makes it more important than ever for retailers to be properly prepared for the next few months.
Keep Shelves Stocked
Few customers should be giving you problems about understocked items or empty shelves this year. Not only did the great TP-crisis at the start of the pandemic make many consumers more accepting of stores lacking inventory, but headlines have been blaring about COVID-induced logistics bottlenecks and distribution problems for weeks now. Consumers generally understand the need to allow retailers more time for order fulfillment and deliveries (although it’s important to note that patience is still limited, and convenience remains crucial to the customer experience).
Consumers aren’t going to give you their money for nothing though, no matter how forgiving of distribution disruptions they may become. Without actual inventory to move, well-managed customer relations are virtually meaningless to your bottom line. Supply chain problems are a headache for customers, but they can spell out a death sentence for retailers who may have no product to sell during the “Golden Quarter”. In many ways, the best thing retailers can do to prep for 2021’s holidays is to try and avoid shortages by stocking their shelves and storerooms to the brim.
Keep Stores Staffed
Plenty of ink has been shed about the ongoing labor shortages plaguing much of the service and retail industries these days. Regardless of views about the causes and politics surrounding this particular issue, the fact of the matter is that the challenge of keeping stores staffed is going to be even more pronounced for retailers this holiday season.
In terms of sheer numbers, the NRF projects that the retail industry will need up to 665,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, and that’s on top of the 1.3 million worker shortfall reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (as of the end of August).
The implication is all too clear; it is very likely that the labor retailers need to support a potentially-record breaking holiday season significantly outstrips the labor that’s available. To counter this, most companies have already begun their seasonal hiring pushes but may also be looking for new ways to entice and retain staff (particularly those that can handle the pressures of retail’s busiest season).
Moreover, the entire retail labor landscape appears to be shifting as the “gig” economy continues to grow. Employees are seeking more freedom and the ability to work on their own terms, potentially signaling larger changes and challenges just over the horizon. Revisiting your approaches to hiring seasonal staff and ramping up recruitment efforts are more essential this year than ever before.
Maintain Digital Momentum
One of the most notable impacts the pandemic has had on retail is the acceleration of online and virtual shopping by consumers. E-Commerce was already an important part of the retail sector, but early lockdowns and shortages sent consumers flocking to online store fronts to browse and purchase safely. Retailers that adapted quickly by adopting new technologies were able to respond to this sudden and dramatic shift.
Since then, the line between online and in-person shopping has continued to blur, so much so that it’s more accurate to think of the two just as different modes of omnichannel shopping rather than separate experiences. As the new hybrid shopping reality sets in, virtual reality and 3D stores are becoming more common, and many are easily customizable, allowing you to quickly apply a festive holiday atmosphere. Easy to use virtual appointment and eventing apps like Salesfloor enable exceptional promotions and customer service while online as well. Improving your digital infrastructure in time for the holidays is something retailers should consider every year.
Remember too that despite the NRF’s rosy projections for 2021, the future is never guaranteed. Staffing shortages and supply-chain problems are likely to persist well into 2022. Furthermore, while the pandemic appears to be settling, there is always the possibility of new variants causing even more disruption. Forward thinking retailers that continually upgrade and invest in new technologies will be much better positioned for slower growth or even sector contraction in the future.
Sell Through Social
It should be common knowledge by now that retailers need to have a presence on social media platforms. According to Adweek research, users are flocking to social apps in order to get inspiration for gifts and discover new products. In fact, the newly rebranded Meta’s apps such as Facebook and Instagram are used by eight in ten consumers to discover and research gift options. Retailers that use their social presence smartly are more likely to be found by their target audience, have additional channels to address customer complaints before they become damaging, and present themselves as thought leaders for their sector. Apps like Salesfloor and Salesfloor Connect feature APIs that can connect to social channels as well as online stores, making social selling easier than ever.
The 2021 holidays are shaping up to be another great season for retail provided the players can rise to its substantial challenges. By doing so they not only position themselves to capture pent-up consumer demand, but also prepare themselves for future headwinds the industry may face, regardless of whether they’re next year’s holiday season bottom line, staff and inventory crises, or additional shifts in consumer preference trends towards omnichannel shopping.
How Prepared Are You?
Even as digital communication and commerce become the status quo, consumers and retailers alike are desirous of the in-store experience. Leveraging omnichannel communication to drive traffic in-store enhances the customer experience and helps drive sales for retailers.
Learn more about how customers are using omnichannel shopping methods to connect their online and in store shopping experiences.