The 2021 holiday season feels long overdue. Shoppers and retailers alike are gearing up for extra special holiday activity this year since the pandemic put the brakes on last year’s festivities. But holiday shopping won’t be the same as it was pre-pandemic. Months of restrictive measures have left their mark on consumer behaviour and expectations, and retailers are shifting their holiday marketing strategies to accommodate the new trends. Top retailers and brands have been working on their seasonal sales plans for months, but it’s never too late to get prepared. Here’s a roundup of the top holiday shopping trends for 2021.
An Earlier Start to Holiday Shopping
In 2020, in an effort to reduce crowding in stores and support social distancing, retailers launched their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals earlier, and stretched sales out over the entire week. The longer sales period was a resounding success and the trend is expected to continue this year. With more sales kicking off earlier this year, consumers are expected to get a jump start on their holiday gift shopping as well.
Curbside and In-Store Pickup
When measures to limit contact between customers and store personnel were imposed during the pandemic, retailers had to get creative to keep sales flowing. Many improved their websites to enable better browsing and purchasing, followed by in-store and curbside pickup options. The new service improved the customer experience by 70% and observers expect stores will make both drive-up and in-store pickup options permanent. Keep an eye out for the new acronyms that describe the new trend: BOPIS means “Buy Online, Pickup In Store” and BOPAC is “Buy Online, Pickup at Curbside.”
Free Shipping and Hassle-Free Returns
Studies show that customers overwhelmingly abandon their online shopping carts when that final total is presented that includes shipping fees large or small. Shoppers have grown accustomed to fast and, especially, free delivery offered by mega eCommerce retailers like Amazon. To succeed this holiday season and gain conversions, retailers of all sizes need to do what they can to minimize shipping costs and delivery times.
Retailers need to think about post-purchase experience, too. The flipside of holiday gift giving is, of course, holiday gift returns. Just as customers expect a seamless purchase and delivery process, they want to know that they, and their gift recipients, can return purchases easily to their favourite stores. The gift return process says a lot about the retailer and can be formative in the brand-customer relationship. A return and exchange experience that is easy and convenient will win customer loyalty in the long run.
Store Cleanliness is a Top Priority
Over the course of the pandemic, shoppers have grown accustomed to wearing masks and taking that extra squirt of hand sanitizer when they enter malls and retail stores. As a result, they’ve come to expect a higher level of cleanliness throughout their shopping experience. Shops that focus on keeping their facilities sparkling and hygienic will gain and maintain customer loyalty, as people return to holiday shopping with different expectations.
Customer Demand for Mobile Commerce and Contactless Payments
More than anything, retailers need to focus attention on their mobile commerce strategy this holiday season. While eCommerce rises in importance every holiday season (forecasts estimate it will account for nearly 20% of sales this year), a growing portion of transactions are done through mobile apps and websites. In fact, research shows that 1 out of every 3 digital dollars spent in 2019 was transacted by mobile. The growth in mobile commerce, or “mCommerce,” spending, is growing faster than digital spending using other methods, including desktop and laptop computers. Further research shows that mobile apps are converting customers 157% more often than mobile website counterparts, with a far lower shopping cart abandonment rate (only 20%) than with other methods.
As mobile phones become central to our lives, brands need to explore ways to integrate them in meaningful ways into the shopper’s journey, both outside and inside the store. Retailers are creating apps that provide product information and reviews, special vouchers and discounts and customer support. There’s also rising customer demand for contactless payment methods using mobile phones. A multi-year survey showed that the use of digital wallets as a payment method in Canada more than doubled since 2016. To keep customers happy through the holiday season and beyond, retailers need to expand their payment options to accommodate customers’ evolving payment preferences.
Preparation for the holiday season with an eye on current trends and forecasts is key. The November-December shopping extravaganza is nearly underway, but it’s not too late to implement changes to drive sales in the coming weeks – and to track customer preferences, needs, and behaviours now for a jump-start on next year’s strategy.
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