The holiday season promises as much peril as profit for retailers looking to build their consumer base, not simply cater to a slew of one-and-done customers. The 2018 Pitney Bowes Global Ecommerce Study found that 56% of US consumers felt disappointed by their online shopping experience last year; that’s a 20% increase from 2017.
Retailers are experimenting with several new strategies to both capture holiday dollars and deliver Santa-style delight this year. Take a look at three ways retailers are using the season of mirth and merchandising to test Relationship Commerce strategies.
The Personal Touch
In a retail landscape cluttered with seemingly endless purchase options, consumers are increasingly dependent upon personalized recommendations to help them find what they’re looking for.
Nordstrom is taking the personal approach, quite literally. This November, the retailer introduced their new Gift Scout program, offering customers one-on-one sessions with a shopping sherpa who will work with them to find the perfect gifts. The program is free, and customers can make an appointment online or on the phone.
These efforts are really centered around the ideas of personalization, speed and convenience.
“The retail landscape is evolving faster than ever before,'' Shea Jensen, Nordstrom's SVP of customer experience, told USA Today. "In order to meet the needs of our customers, we need to adapt and find new ways to offer them the experiences and service they’re looking for. These efforts are really centered around the ideas of personalization, speed and convenience.''
The Blitzkrieg BOPIS
Shipping costs are steadily rising, which means merchants with brick-and-mortar retail space are pushing alternatives to free shipping wherever possible, specifically BOPIS and BOSS. (That’s “Buy Online, Pick-Up In Store”, and “Buy Online, Ship to Store”, respectively.)
But the cost of shipping isn’t the only reason retailers are embracing these acronyms du jour — the programs have also been shown to result in a significant uptick in total in-store sales. A 2017 Click & Collect Consumer Preferences study found that 49% of consumers said they were likely to purchase an additional item in store when picking up their online order.
Arts-and-crafts retail chain Michaels anticipates that BOSS and BOPS programs will account for nearly half of its online sales for this year’s holiday season...
Arts-and-crafts retail chain Michaels anticipates that “BOSS and BOPS programs will account for nearly half of its online sales for this year’s holiday season, adding that the increase of e-commerce activity in recent years has made deliveries to customers “costly and complex,” according to a study from CBRE.
Among those retailers embracing BOPIS and BOSS (we’re going to stop writing that as soon as it ceases to be funny): Old Navy, Bloomingdale’s (their BOPS program launched last year, and this year they’re promising faster turnaround time), and Nordstrom, which is also offering a 24/7 curbside pickup service at 23 select stores.
Fake It to Make It
Retailers are expected to hire almost 590,000 seasonal employees for the holiday season. But even this wave of warm bodies won’t be able to completely match customer demand. Enter Artificial Intelligence.
AI-powered chatbots, as well as voice-powered assistants like Alexa, are picking up the slack for many retailers, helping customers get their questions answered quickly, significantly reducing the friction that comes with navigating an online FAQ or voice call center menu.
“1-800-Flowers and H&M are two big-name retailers pioneering the use of chatbots to act as gift concierges (don’t have a clue as to what 13 year olds are into now? Chatbot to the rescue)...” the Salesforce blog reported in January 2017.
People and businesses exchange 8 billion messages on Messenger every month
In the intervening two years, chatbots have become nearly ubiquitous. Facebook IQ reports that people and businesses exchange 8 billion messages on Messenger every month — 4x growth year-over-year.
The holiday season is the most wonderful time of year for someone out there, presumably. For retailers, however, it’s crunch time. But a commitment to innovation and tech-enabled solutions can often mean that those holiday customers stick around through 2019.