Is Your Retail Business Well-Prepared for the 2021 Holiday Shopping Season?

Is Your Retail Business Well-Prepared for the 2021 Holiday Shopping Season?

Holiday shopping predictions for 2021

A tumultuous 2021 is zigzagging its way through constant upheavals toward a dramatic finish, ready to pass the baton to a fresh one that the entire world is looking forward to with a lot of hope. But, it’s not over yet and much like everyone else doing their best to be ready for the unknown, the retail industry too has been up in arms for what could be one of its most challenging times yet, all in an effort to appease shopping-hungry humans with some much-needed retail therapy.

With marathon shopping events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and New Year, it has never been more important for retailers to be better prepared for them over the last two months of the year.

And the best way they can do this? Making sure the operations, logistics and inventory teams work closely in order to create an lively environment where necessary adjustments can be made on a weekly basis, sometimes even by the hour, using data from different sources like weather reports or social media trends as quick indicators about how things might change over time, ahead of scheduled deadlines set forth by ad networks.

The post-pandemic (too early?) world has been a grim reality for what seems like ages now, hitting everyone, including both brick-and-mortar and eCommerce retailers who are now faced with a two-pronged uphill task - coping with the aftereffects of the pandemic and meeting the expectations of cooped-in buyers.

The first of the two challenges is of the kind that has never been experienced before in terms of consumer behavior, largely due to how consumers are going through unparalleled situations themselves - so much so they may not even want or need your product anymore.

In order to ensure brand sustainability during such times when revenues are down across industries in all sectors (including yours), it’s absolutely critical that you keep up with what's going through your buyers' psyche by reading up on the latest trends in the market.

Of course, there’s more than just sustainability that eCommerce retailers need to focus their attention on. And we thought we’d take this opportunity to share five vital holiday shopping predictions and trends that you need to look at, so you can be sure if your eCommerce/brick-and-mortar store is prepped for the holiday season.

1. Shoppers will look for early deals

The 2020 holiday shopping season came with a few surprises, but clearly it was the early start that had the analysts talking. Black Friday deals had already hit the internet over a month before the actual event, while Cyber Monday got spread out over a whole week instead of the customary one-day event that it was supposed to be.

Weighing in on this unprecedented shopping phenomenon, Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) maintained that COVID-19 (????  but, of course) was the primary influencing factor behind the spending behavior of online shoppers in 2020. And after the whole shopping marathon was over, it was revealed that eCommerce sales from holiday season 2020 reached a number that equaled two years’ worth, up by 32% (YoY) from 2019 or a staggering USD188.2 billion.

Needless to say, buyers would be in the mood to continue this shopping fervor and seek out early deals and offers, which is what retailers should be ready to capitalize on. Here’s a list of some popular Black Friday deals for 2021 in the USA that should inspire you to jig up your inventory and make some fabulous moolah.

2. Retailers will start deals earlier to avoid snags in logistics

The pandemic has consumers, retailers and businesses alike feeling all jittery. Why? Because shortages of products in almost every industry and logistical problems have a freehand at a game of merry-go-round that has all the three stakeholders caught in the middle, unable to get out.

We all know that this is a tough time for the economy, but did you also know just how much of your holiday buying and gifting is going to suffer? If you didn’t, here’s an eye-opener - the shipping and trucking industries are hit hard by a number of curveballs, including scarcity of workers, hiring challenges, higher shipping costs and an ever-increasing demand from consumers that just ups the stress factor for the retailers even further.

An unforeseeable situation brought a whole lot of stakeholders down to their knees. With the pandemic restricting travel and otherwise normal movement of Americans, their buying pattern saw a steep rise pushing up the demand for consumer goods by 22% compared to pre-pandemic times.

Noteworthy among these goods are Christmas decorations, household appliances, games, toys and sports equipment that are mostly imported from Asia, particularly China. As cargo vessels carrying all these goods made their way to the US ports, a serious dearth of able hands that would normally and swiftly offload these containers on any Covid-free day sprang up an unpleasant surprise.

What resulted was a shipping backlog so long that it could now cause a disruption to shipping well into Christmas and New Year. Which is a frustrating scenario really, because even though some delay was natural, a surge of such magnanimity could never have been foreseen by anyone.

Clogging of cargo ships making unloading a challenge at US portsSource: qz.com

3. Shrinking labor market will lead to retailers' woes

A tightening of the labor market of such intensity was hardly ever witnessed in the U.S., as hordes of Americans just got up from their work, threw in the towel and said “I quit.” In a historic wave of quitting that has earned the moniker “the great resignation,” a ground-breaking number of 4.4 million Americans have quit their jobs in September 2021.

This trend has now persisted for six months without a break, even as employers seem to be scrambling to hire workers for vacant positions, specifically in the minimum wage lines and supply chains. As analysts would put it, the primary reason behind this great exodus is - as you would have guessed - unhappy workers.

And why are workers unhappy with their jobs? Well, for starters they feel like they’re deprived of better working conditions and higher wages, which could very well have been aggravated by the pandemic that has gripped everyone with fear and frustration in a seemingly unbeatable battle.

Whatever the order in which these reasons can be listed, they’re causing some serious burnout among the workers, leaving employers high and dry with a crisis that will very well eat into their business profits. This has led to employers looking for ways to incentivize them from not quitting, which when you think about strategies that appeal in terms of giving something up or gaining something positive instead, just might make all those hard choices worth it.

Grim as the situation looks, this will most likely be the immediate future of retail, at least for a while now. As shoppers demand faster shipping for shorter delivery windows, retailers will be squeezed dry trying to meet these demands while also making sure goods don’t run out of stock.

There were 10.44 million or 6.6% job openings on the last business day of August 2021 in the U.S.Source: statista.com

4. Shoppers will expect free shipping & returns (what’s new?)

As Americans, both buyers and sellers, inch ever closer towards the much anticipated holiday shopping season, a report by January Digital revealed that free shipping and returns will be the top motivating factors for the shoppers. Now, if you are a retailer - eCommerce or brick-and-mortar - you better let that fact sink in while preparing for the season.

As to why consumers are so attached to free shipping, this little article on the psychology behind free shipping should help you understand it better. And why do I think this could be helpful? Because the better you know your consumers, the easier it will be to keep them happy and loyal.

Coming back to the topic, free shipping is the biggest selling point for eCommerce brands, especially for big names like Amazon, which has successfully maintained a legion of loyal buyers by throwing in a genius move called Amazon Prime. So, even though customers would have to pay a certain fee for the Amazon Prime membership plans, the fact that free shipping and other benefits come along with it is worth it for them.

As if that was not daunting enough, another undodgeable bullet in the form of demands for free returns comes flying in the general direction of all retailers. Of course, it’s not a challenge that is new. It quite simply snowballs into a more complicated and harrowing experience for both retailers, who want to cut down the losses that come with it and shoppers, who just want it to be an easy process.

5. Mobile commerce will make a huge impact

Mobile commerce, or m-commerce in short, is going toe-to-toe with traditional eCommerce, probably accounting for 45% of the total US eCommerce revenue or USD 284 billion according to a forecast by Insider Intelligence. Shopping on smartphones has gained increased popularity, thanks to telecommunication technology like 5G and one-touch payment apps like Google Pay, Apple Pay and PayPal One Touch.

The ease of use and convenience that comes with shopping on one’s phone is something that cannot be brushed aside as a phase. With more people relying on mobile devices for almost all daily tasks, it's only natural that they would turn towards their phones when indulging in something as delightful as shopping.

For what it’s worth, mobile commerce could very well become the dominant platform in online shopping in the coming years. Here are some more interesting m-commerce statistics for 2021 that should catch your attention.

Mobile commerce sales in the US from 2018 to 2025Source: statista.com

Holiday season checklist for your retail business

In the face of a global pandemic and a looming holiday season, marketers and managers at retail companies are literally forced to reorganize their strategies when it comes to managing operations, inventory and shipping. 2020 has been a hard year and they have have to learn from experience to offer a better shopping experience.

The ongoing pandemic has caused riptides in the sea of production levels as well as inventories around the world, which is expected to lead up to an increase during the last two months of shopping. So, to make sure that this holiday shopping season goes smoothly devoid of any (or a lot) of grievances from hysterical shoppers and overburdened employees, do take a pause and (re)visit this last-minute checklist.

1. Spruce up your inventory

Taking stock of your inventory is a delicate task that involves lot of careful research and planning before building it. The most sensible way to begin this exercise is to review previous year’s sales figures during shopping events like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Christmas.

These figures will give you an insight into how many items you’ll need for these events in advance so they don't affect what ends up on shelves at closing time, all the while not losing focus on the shopping trends and predictions that we already discussed above. Of course, before you decide which goods to fill up your inventory with, you need to assign a budget for the purchase.

Don’t go overboard, but don’t play it too safe either. And most importantly, don’t chicken out of considering discounts that could be offered through price matching policies to compete against other retailers who might have their own competitive pricing campaigns up and running.

I know it can be hard not knowing what products will sell the most and which ones might just sit on the shelves during this busy season, so take some research into account when ordering yours. One strategy that I find particularly smart is ensuring that you have enough variety in your inventory by investing in seasonal products while also stocking up with goods that will sell at any time of the year.

Making sure every item has its planned space in the inventory ensures less chaos, plus it helps you avoid unwanted expenses on items that you are doubtful of selling, bringing down your budget considerably.

Luckily, technology has come a long way to deliver innovative solutions for almost everything for everyone, including retailers like you. Here’s a list of some of the best supply chain management tools that can make your job a lot easier by improving operations, including inventory management, demand planning, warehousing and logistics.

2. Make sure your eCommerce site makes shopping fun and simple

It’s no secret that that the key to a successful eCommerce business is a user-friendly and well-organized website with great customer service to boot. During times such as the holiday season it becomes even more important that all these qualities stand out for you to be able to beat competition.

As retail eCommerce revenue in the US clocked USD469 billion in 2021, making a steady climb from USD431 billion in 2020, there’s no doubt that eCommerce will continue to be a much favored channel among deal hunters. Of course, the growth has slimmed off late as offline sales rose after brick-and-mortar stores reopened, but online sales continue to remain strong.

Investing in a high-quality and professional website can significantly increase your chances at higher sales by appealing to potential customers. By investing time upfront on crafting a brand story that your customers can connect to, you’ll be able to invite them into your world for a more comfortable shopping experience.

Putting up relatable, but professional images for your products, leaving trails to your active social network channels for them to follow, sharing product trends, etc are clever and effective ways of getting them aboard your platform.

Of course, all of the above don’t mean much if the shopping experience isn’t easy and smooth. Which means your eCommerce site should be easy to navigate right from the moment they step into your store until they checkout with what they were looking for. So, make sure the items are easy to find and the checkout process is short and sweet.

Retail eCommerce revenue in the USA from 2017 to a forecasted 2025Source: statista.com

3. Make sure it’s safe to shop on your eCommerce store

The rise of eCommerce has created an opportunity for businesses large and small, but it also gave rise to certain risks. Cyber security is something that online stores can't afford to be careless about because it's not just the customers who are at risk, but also retailers themselves with costly consequences, including payment fraud and identity theft if proper precautions aren't taken.

According to a Juniper report, eCommerce retailers face a threat of losing as much as USD20 billion in 2021 to online fraud, which shows a growth of 18% from 2020. Apologies if I scared the bejesus out of you, but we wanted you to know about the “truth out there”.

Anyway, point I’m trying to make is there are a whole lot of security threats that your eCommerce site could be facing unless you have taken adequate measurements. Threats such as identity theft, transaction fraud, triangulation fraud, clean fraud and so on are some of the high-alert risks that you need to be on top of.

Good news is, even though there’s a high rise in such crimes, there are always ways that you can keep them away from your store. Here’s a detailed guideline on how to protect your eCommerce site from being attacked by these security threats.

4. Guide shoppers to holiday gift ideas

The holidays are all about surprises and delighting people with unique, personalized gifts. In fact, a report by Market Research Future (MRFR) predicted that the personalized gifts market (yes, there is one) will cross USD38.66 billion by 2027 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.83%. Isn’t that something?

So, if you want to join this really hip bandwagon, here are some of the most popular gift ideas for 2021 that fashion and lifestyle magazine Esquire has curated. With an easy-to-follow guide to gift ideas for shoppers, you can have a whole legion of people eating out of your hands, because buying gifts for others is a whole lot difficult than buying for you.

Don’t believe us? Read this research piece that explains why it’s difficult to give the perfect gift. Whether you’re a small or large business owner, you want to make sure your customers' needs are met.

As a retailer, it is important to know how you should categorize your holiday gift guides. If you have a lot of new products that don't fit into any existing categories, then consider creating separate catalogs for each season and using those instead. Your target customer will tell you what they're shopping for as well as their values and you have to match up with the gifts offered by other companies before putting together specific lists based on those information.

The best way to get people into your store in the holiday season is by offering them a wide variety of options and bundles. This will help ensure you have enough inventory, so there's no risk of running out of options. Consider highlighting some of the popular products from last season or seasonal items in order to entice shoppers.

5. Shoppers won’t shy away from switching brands/retailers

You want your business to thrive? You keep your regular buyers happy and loyal, simple as that! The retail industry is currently faced with mounting obstacles this holiday season, including COVID-19 spurred switching of brands and retailers. But with an ever-increasing demand for goods, it shouldn’t be much of a problem to take advantage of the opportunities that come along.

The trick, of course, lies in maintaining customer loyalty like I said and establishing strong relationships through marketing channels like social media is one of the ways through which companies can stay ahead-of-the curve when things get hectic during peak demand times. If it helps, this article decodes why consumers switched brands during the pandemic.

In any case, here are some more effective ways to ensure you can keep your customers loyal:

  • One of the best ways to ensure a successful eCommerce business is by communicating with customers. Since consumers won't hesitate to switch to another store if they can't find the products that meet their needs, fulfilment is going be critical for retailers, who should therefore encourage customers to order ahead of time so they don’t end up with empty shelves.
  • Multiple studies have shown that if you focus more on making customers happy rather than just shipping out products at all costs then sales will rise significantly over time with increased loyalty coming back even sooner than expected.
    Negative experiences can create future hurdles for your business as the shopping season draws near. To make sure that doesn’t happen, find creative ways to make the shopping experience of your customers delightful and positive.
  • This one is pretty straightforward - ask your customers directly for their feedback. Asking customers directly provides valuable insights into areas that need improvement.
    Direct feedback from potential clients can help eCommerce owners optimize their website so it matches customer desires better while also building trust, which will increase conversion rates because people want repeat business from companies who care enough to ask questions when needed.
  • Reward customers for their loyalty because incentives are a great way to keep customers engaged with your brand. eCommerce shop owners can offer different incentives such as discount coupons and cashback in order to push bigger sales volumes and motivate returning customers.

Conclusion

At 0707 Inc, we understand the challenges and complexities of today's retail eCommerce industry. Our long track record as an eclectic design & engineering agency that blends technology with innovative solutions to drive optimal growth for our customers has led us to a crossroad where our expertise is top-notch.

If you would like us to help you reach the pinnacle of your business potential, just drop a message and we’ll get back to you right away.

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