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ITK BLOG​: "Empowering Your Success!"

A Very COVID Christmas

There is little in our lives that COVID has not touched. While COVID can’t cancel Christmas, it will certainly lead to some changes this holiday season. With that in mind, what will Christmas look like this year and what trends will continue into 2021 and beyond?

Whether a small retailer or a big box store, driving sales volume will have to take a back seat to safety, and foot traffic will be down significantly. However, this does not mean that there must be a commensurate drop in sales volume.

CNBC recently cited data from Adobe Analytics, predicting that this year’s surge in online holiday shopping will pack two years of growth into one season. There will be an estimated 18 days where digital spending tops $3 billion in a 24-hour window. In 2019, outside the window of Thanksgiving weekend, there were only three such days. 


COVID-19: Effects on 2020 holiday shopping

While the window has already closed for the deployment of any substantive technology initiative for this year, the focus to make this holiday season the best it can be must be directed to front line operations and customer convenience. 

The retail industry has slowly been moving towards the obsolescence of Black Friday, and COVID-19 is likely to accelerate this shift. Black Friday 2020 calls for retailers to face the social pressure of providing a safe shopping environment for both customers and employees, which will lead many retailers to extend buying online for the entire holiday shopping season. 

With Cyber Monday becoming “Cyber Season,” retailers need to bring the excitement of the Black Friday “hunt” for deals and the novelty of doorbusters to the online experience. Virtual pop up sales can help to capture the feeling of doorbusters while maintaining social distance. In terms of inventory, during the holidays and beyond, retailers should recognize the consumers will undoubtedly be buying the same items online that they have historically bought in-store.  

While this is another hurdle for brick and mortar retailers, they do have the advantage of offering free same-day pickup through a Buy Online Pickup in Store (BOPIS) or curbside pickup program. BOPIS/curbside processes must be flawless from both a technical and operational aspects in order to support the increased demand and ensure customer satisfaction. While foot traffic will be down, retailers should resist reducing sales associate hours, as those hours will be required to execute new convenience programs. 

Look for these and other disruptions to traditional holiday shopping patterns as much of the country braces for a third wave of rising infection rates.

Looking Ahead in Our “New Normal”

COVID-19 has accelerated the changes in consumer shopping habits. There will not be a return to the past as we knew it, and there is no reason to assume that the same level of foot traffic as we have known it will return. Retailers will need to recognize and react to this “new normal” to avoid becoming extinct.

The move from the physical to the virtual world has created the imperative to rethink our understanding of data and reinforces the importance of robust data management. Beyond the holiday shopping season, retailers should seek to use customer data to increase customization and convenience such as: 

  • Using reverse engineering of purchase history to create store-generated shopping lists
  • Personalizing communications for increased sense of connection with customers
  • Adding flexibility to subscription services and allowing cadence to be set based on consumption patterns

This is also the time for retailers to add flexibility to subscription services, allowing consumers to set the cadence of delivery rather than accept the rigidity of an existing retailer calendar. Subscriptions can also be personalized based on consumption patterns.  

Retailers will need to develop creative ways to engage consumers virtually, such as one-on-one virtual shopping events and offering a “personal shopper” service online, and to make the most efficient use of their brick and mortar space. 

We may see the emergence of mall-based fulfillment services enabling branch stores to shop direct to consumers without a heavy in-store operations footprint. Traditional malls may also offer non-shopping experiences such as reading spaces, product demonstrations, education offerings, rethinking customer experience in the order of safety, convenience, entertainment, and then service. 

Looking to the Future

To succeed in this changing landscape, store-native retailers will need to abandon their legacy hubris and start acting like their digital-native competitors. For a comprehensive view of the current state of retail and tips on succeeding in this new environment, please download our latest whitepaper, “Retail Transformation Essentials: 5 Critical Priorities for Every Modern Retailer.”

About the author:

Theo Rose, ITK Special Consultant and Principal, Applied Retail Transformation (ART) 

Theo is a digital transformation leader helping retailers and brands stay relevant in a digital world. Theo was the SVP Digital Transformation for Century 21 Dept stores, and was also a driving force behind transformation at Lowes, Marks & Spencer, Dollar General, Miroglio, PVH and LeSportsac. He is a thought-leader with decades of experience in Retail and is a well- known expert, speaking on various retail topics at top industry events. Theo will help provide a view of what it takes to survive and thrive in Retail today and help us look around the bend of current retail tech trends to anticipate what’s next.

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