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A Retailer’s Guide to the 2020 Holiday Season

A Retailer’s Guide to the 2020 Holiday Season

With the start of autumn, retailers are beginning to prepare for the most important sales period of the year – the holiday season.

Each year, the holidays usually present retailers with the same set of challenges – increased demand, in-store and online traffic surges, higher rates of retail crime, and supply chain pressures etc. 

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 holiday season is going to be different. The signs of a second wave means that merchants face new obstacles after arguably the toughest retail season in recent history. From physical distancing restrictions to changing consumer behaviour and a deepening recession, the next few months are full of uncertainty.

How COVID-19 Will Impact the Holiday Season

2020 Holiday Season

According to Google, more than a third of U.S.shoppers who normally shop in store for Black Friday say they won’t this year. And half of U.S. shoppers say that the pandemic will affect how they’ll shop for the holidays this year. Clearly, a lot is going to change this holiday season. 

Here are some of the biggest changes we can expect: 

Shoppers are now looking for safer, digitized ways to shop in-store which means that retailers need to rely on digital strategies in order to stay relevant to their customers. Below, we discuss key trends and how retailers can respond and plan for a successful holiday season. 

How Retailers can Prepare for the 2020 Holiday Season

Increasingly, the holidays are a heavy online-shopping season. As a result of the pandemic, this year shoppers are expected to discover and buy online even more. According to Google, availability and local convenience have become priorities for shoppers. Due to the pandemic, 66% of shoppers will shop more at local small businesses and 67% of shoppers said they plan to confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it

Whether you’re just starting out or have been selling online for a while now, you need to invest in your “Digital Storefront”. But what is a digital storefront? Your digital storefront is how your business is represented online. Sometimes it is referred to as “online presence” or “web presence”. It’s very similar to the concept of a real storefront in the physical world – the way people walking by your store would see your signage out front, or where you are located in the neighbourhood. A digital storefront is the electronic representation of your business on the internet. While some might combine digital storefronts with e-commerce, we deliberately keep it separate because there are multiple stages to “being online”.

Many businesses are worried about digitizing as they are worried about the amount of time it will take to start going online. But it’s important to remember that “digitization” can actually be broken down into 5 steps and it’s possible for merchants to move online one-step at a time.

Invest in your Digital Storefront

With the potential of pandemic-related restrictions, it is crucial for retailers to be discoverable online this holiday season. Given the likelihood that the growing customer preference for shopping locally will continue into the holidays, retailers should take advantage of digital marketing strategies that target nearby shoppers.

  1. Google My Business: The first step of going online isn’t about selling online immediately. It’s about making sure that your business can be found online by local shoppers. Make sure that you take full advantage of all available foot traffic by keeping up-to-date store hours and contact details online. You can keep this updated yourself manually or manage it directly in an integrated point-of-sale solution.
  1. Google Retail Listings: Even if you’re not selling online yet, you can show potential shoppers what you carry in-store. Consider using an integrated all-in-one retail management platform such as TAKU to show what’s on your shelves with automated product feeds that show exactly what’s in stock without any extra work. And if you’re in an area that already offers it, integrated merchants can unlock valuable free advertising with free Google Retail Listings that show up based on what nearby shoppers search for online.

Invest in your Online Store

Online store

Being found by local shoppers is half the battle. But the pandemic has more people shopping online for the first time for products that they would normally buy in-store. Of course, depending on the type of store you have, starting an online store may not be that easy. Common issues faced by physical stores looking to sell online include:

  1. Missing product descriptions and images
  2. Incorrectly structured products (e.g. variables, matrix, etc.)
  3. Lack of funds, resources or skills to manage an e-commerce store
  4. Heavy, fragile or regulated products that are unsuitable for shipping
  5. Uncompetitive pricing and offers compared to large retailers such as Amazon
  6. Inaccurate inventory quantities
  7. Lack of store POS integration options

Yet according to Google, 1 in 4 shoppers went online during the lockdown to purchase something they would normally buy in-store. As a result, some retailers experienced holiday-like traffic and sales via online channels during the first quarter of 2020.

This indicates that during the pandemic – and likely once it’s over – if your store doesn’t offer online checkout, you will lose access to an increasing number of online shoppers.

Industry experts are predicting that this trend will continue into the holiday season, with retailers expecting higher levels of digital traffic and orders compared to last year. Around 75% of U.S. shoppers said they will shop online more for the holidays than they did in previous years, and a similar number said they would browse for gift ideas online and not in-store.

At TAKU, the founders have all worked in retail and support retailers every day. We understand the struggles of trying to operate while understaffed. But just as there are ways to more easily manage your digital storefront, there are things that every retailer can do to start selling online step-by-step including:

  1. Expect to launch with fewer products and add new items over time to build your full online product line. Many traditional merchants think that selling online is the same as loading the shelves of a physical store. And so, many of them will hold back from launching their online stores until all of their products are properly loaded with great images. If you’re running an established business, you know how long it took to build your existing product listing. So naturally, it can take a much longer time than expected to prepare product information for an online store. But in comparison to a physical store, it’s perfectly reasonable to launch with several hundred products and add new ones every day. In fact, telling customers that “NEW items are being added daily!” can be a great way to remind them to keep coming back.
  2. Selling online doesn’t equal delivery. E-commerce is often associated with online orders for shipment but e-commerce can just be used as a way to take orders online. Delivery to local customers can be expensive (the cost of packing orders, shipping costs and the risk of damages) and a poor experience for the customer (packages frequently delayed in transit during the pandemic). Shipping online orders can also be a hassle for busy stores when you don’t have store space and materials to pack orders. This is why we often recommend that merchants start with curbside or in-store pick-up in the beginning if they don’t have the resources to handle packing, shipping issues or even local delivery.
  3. Use e-commerce to drive store traffic. Many of our customers are established stores that have a great local customer base. Don’t encourage customers to ship products at the expense of your physical store. Encourage them to visit the store or pickup so that you can offer customer service and showcase impulse items to increase your margins.

Retailers looking to prepare for the surge in online traffic this holiday season should focus on their omnichannel strategy. This means:

  • having a flexible and scalable solution that will help provide shoppers with a seamless shopping experience across all channels – from online and social media to in-store. 
  • increasing ecommerce site performance – 91% of shoppers leave an ecommerce site if the pages are too slow to load. 
  • moving legacy systems to the cloud to accommodate higher traffic and generate higher sales. Cloud retail POS software gives retailers the flexibility to scale their operations up or down with demand peaks. And they can do so without costly upfront investments or software updates that often come with traditional legacy systems. 
  • Optimizing website performance by focusing on the customer experience.

Improve Inventory Visibility Across all Channels

Retail inventory

The customer journey has become increasingly omni-channel due to the pandemic. Shoppers are now using more devices to browse and are expecting contactless ways to purchase and receive their products. Specifically, the COVID-19 outbreak has given rise to new fulfillment methods such as curbside pickup, in-store appointments, contactless local delivery, and “click-and-reserve”. 

According to retail experts, these new behaviours are here to stay. In fact, 47% of shoppers said they’ll use options to buy online, pickup in-store this holiday season. Additionally, 53% of shoppers that plan to shop during the holidays said they’ll choose to shop at stores that offer contactless shopping.

With the rise in new fulfillment methods and omni-channel shopping, retailers need to improve their inventory visibility. Earlier this year, stock-outs of high demand products caused searches for “in-stock” products to grow globally by 70%. This means that customers are looking for real-time updates on store product availability. 

Modern cloud software can provide real-time updates on stock levels across all channels, improving inventory accuracy and helping retailers avoid the risk of stock-outs and excess merchandise. 

Prepare for Traditional Delivery Providers to Exceed Capacity 

Holiday delivery

Retail experts are predicting that the ability for products to arrive on time this holiday season will be constrained by factors related to COVID-19. These factors include a surge in online orders and the implementation of social distancing measures in distribution centers. 

As we saw earlier in the pandemic, surges in ecommerce impacted shipping capacity and delivery windows, creating big supply chain disruptions. Retailers need to prepare for this possibility as to not risk customer aggravation with gifts not arriving in time for the holidays. 

Store owners can prepare for delivery issues by doing the following: 

  • Providing real-time inventory visibility across all channels, as discussed earlier. 
  • Use stores as fulfillment centres. Train employees to be fulfillment gurus – this includes training them to both pack and deliver parcels locally.
  • Incentivize customers to use contactless fulfillment options rather than shipping. Make sure to communicate with customers about alternative fulfillment options early on and pass on cost savings. 

Conclusion

The unprecedented nature of this year is expected to produce a holiday season unlike the past. Retailers can prepare by adapting to new consumer channels and shopping habits, as outlined in this post.


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How to Drive Foot Traffic to your Retail Store Post-COVID-19

How to Drive Foot Traffic to your Retail Store Post-COVID-19

With most businesses back on their feet and not just relying on online sales to keep them afloat, retailers can start thinking of ways to drive foot traffic back to their stores. 

Having said that, traditional methods of driving foot traffic may not be as effective as before. With safety and cleanliness being the main concern of most shoppers, experience-based strategies such as in-store events and classes are no longer practical as they once were pre-pandemic. 

That’s why we’ve put together 5 strategies to help store owners drive foot traffic in a post-COVID-19 retail environment. Check them out below. 

1. Focus on Health & Safety 

retail store mask policy

Shoppers don’t want to feel at risk of contracting COVID-19 when they enter your store. So if you want more customers to shop at your physical store, you need to make them feel like it is safe to do so. 

You can build trust with shoppers by visibly cleaning and sanitizing your shop, providing staff (and if possible customers) with masks, and placing hand sanitizer throughout the store. It is also a good idea to limit the amount of shoppers allowed inside at a given time. Consider placing social distancing markers or decals on the floor. This will help ensure that customers are following social distancing guidelines once they enter your store. 

For more information on how to implement health & safety measures post-COVID-19, download our checklist here. Depending on the demographics (e.g. a lot of your customers are seniors) in your area and the space available in your store for people to socially-distance themselves while shopping, you may want to consider a mandatory mask policy. These can be controversial and must be implemented and managed carefully to minimize potential friction. Learn more about how to manage and implement mask policies in your store.

Don’t forget to take advantage of digital channels (social media, SMS, email) to communicate with shoppers. This way, customers will be aware of the health and safety measures you have in place and will be more comfortable coming to your store. 

Remember –  generating store foot traffic during the pandemic is not just about being the trendiest, cheapest, or most unique brand, it is about appearing safe. 

2. Double-down on Google

retail customer post-COVID-19

Hundreds of millions of shoppers use Google everyday to start their product searches, making it the ideal place to list your merchandise.

While the Google Shopping tab previously consisted of only paid listings, Google recently announced the launch of unpaid, organic Google Shopping listings

Merchants in the U.S. can now access this feature for free while an international rollout is expected by the end of the year. 

TAKU Retail POS has partnered with Google to make it easier for retailers to automatically sync and optimize their product listings. With TAKU, merchants can choose to send their existing POS product information with the built-in feature to unlock the free product listings. Because this is a built-in integration right in the POS, there’s no data entry required. To learn more, click here.

TAKU’s integration with Google also allows you to display your product catalogue online through Google’s “See what’s in store,” a free showcase directly below your Google store listing. SWIS lets you display your store’s stock and products online with real-time stock updates, attracting nearby shoppers to your store.

As the saying goes, showing up is half the battle. Shoppers need to know when your store is actually open. A shopper that shows up to a closed store because the opening hours listed for your business on Google Maps are outdated likely won’t be back. Make sure you have a verified Google My Business (GMB) store listing and keep your store hours up-to-date. If you’re not using GMB yet, do it right away as it’s the best free online marketing tool available to small businesses. For more information, check out our blog post about why retailers need Google My Business.

If you already have a verified GMB account, make sure you have taken advantage of all of the free marketing tools available within GMB by making your listing more searchable, attracting more local shoppers with visual posts that promote in-store offerings (e.g. limited-edition collaborations that are only available in-store) and encouraging customers to review your store to improve your ranking when people search online for your business.

3. Contactless Payments

contactless payments

Contactless payments are not only convenient, they also provide retailers with a safe and secure way to take payments in-store. Throughout the pandemic, contactless transactions have increased and even become a preferred payment method among consumers. Offering contactless payment will help customers feel safer when purchasing as they don’t have to touch high contact surfaces such as PIN pads or checkout counters. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for contactless payment and pickup methods has significantly increased and stores that offer them will be more attractive to customers when they’re choosing where to shop.

One thing to remember though, is that contactless payments may not be EMV and therefore you may be liable for chargebacks. Prior to the pandemic, merchants would generally set their contactless limits at $50 to $100 per card per day but since March, many retailers have opted to increase the limit to make it easier for customers to buy more when they are in-store. But higher tap limits will increase the chance that those merchants will be responsible for higher-value chargebacks. Make sure to check with your merchant processor regarding liability and what you can do to protect yourself if you ever need to appeal a chargeback (e.g. getting signatures, installing CCTV cameras, etc.) if you are considering adding contactless for the first time or increasing your contactless daily limits.

4. Buy Online, Pickup In-store

buy online pickup in-store

For customers that are not comfortable shopping in-store, you can create a contactless retail experience with buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) or pickup at curbside. Shoppers can use your website to browse items, pay online and simply drive to your location when their order is ready for pickup. Once it is safe to offer in-store pickup in a safe, efficient manner, this is always our recommended fulfillment option for retailers that have physical stores. In-store pickups are not only more cost-effective (e.g. no packing or shipping costs), they generally have lower return rates since people can check products prior to pickup and, most importantly, they can lead to higher-margin impulse buys when shoppers see other products they might want to purchase once they are in your store. This is why it is important for retailers to plan carefully where they will place their pickup location in-store. It should be a location that allows shoppers to feel safe (e.g. allows enough space for social distancing) while making it convenient for them to see and pick up additional items quickly.

To make it easier for their staff, retailers should consider enabling staggered pickup times at checkout. This way, long lines and crowds can be avoided as customers must make an appointment to pick up their purchases. All-in-one sales platforms such as TAKU have a built-in function in their online store builder to allow shoppers to choose a pickup date and time at checkout.

5. Exclusive In-store Promotions

Running in-store promotions is a tried and tested way to drive foot traffic. However, retailers need to be strategic about how they run promotions so that they can maximize profitability. Using promotions to generate foot traffic can be done by creating exclusive in-store offers which incentivize customers to come to your store rather than shop online. 

The following are some promotional strategies retailers can use:

Exclusivity with Private In-store Appointments – this strategy works particularly well if you are selling higher-value products that can benefit from having a sales associate involved to answer any questions

Exclusivity with In-Store Promotions – use your email marketing lists and social media posts to promote special offers to your best customers with limited time/quantity in-store only promotions specifically for them

In-Store Bundle Discounts – this strategy is particularly useful when you have excess stock you are looking to get rid of but want to ensure a minimum basket size in-store

Surprise In-Store Markdowns – random markdowns such as “score of the week” are effective in attracting both new and returning customers. These promotions are usually less risky as you know exactly how the discount will affect your margins. A smart POS system can analyze in-store promotions, allowing store owners to see trends and margins. 

Conditional In-Store Offers – examples include spend a certain amount and get a free item, buy a certain item and save a percentage off your entire order etc.


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