Retailers Choosing Tech Upgrades Over Holiday Magic in 2021

This year, if you want holiday magic, you’re more likely to find it on Netflix than at your local store. Holiday movies often focus on the retail gift shopping experience with scenes inside department stores with joyful crowds, and Santa and Jeanne and bright, flashy decorations. All this while it is snowing outside against the winter sky. It’s magical.

Then there is this year. Of course, this year is an improvement over last year when everyone was still planning to spend the holiday season alone, sheltering from the pandemic in the pre-vaccination era. This year with so many people vaccinated, there may be some holiday gatherings and gift exchanges on the calendar, but supply chain problems and a tight job market have made this holiday season in 2021 one of the continuing challenges for retail businesses.

Retailers are used to trying to create in-store magic to lure shoppers into spending during the holiday shopping season. Not much anymore.

“Retailers have at least temporarily held back from making the store a more enjoyable experience,” says Dan Mitchell, director of global retail practice at analytics software giant SAS. “In 2020 the script has flipped. I would hardly call it innovative contactless hashing.”

Retailers are working on several initiatives in 2021 designed to improve the processes they put together in a hurry during 2020 to meet the needs of pandemic shopping patterns that have shifted in unexpected ways.

Omnichannel Fulfillment

After a lot of online shopping during the pandemic, whether it’s gifts or groceries, retailers are working to create a better integration between these two worlds. For example, achieving omnichannel marketing has become a huge deal, says Mitchell. The goal is to get rid of stock silos – one for physical stores and one for online orders. Instead, organizations want to create a virtual inventory of all inventory in stores and warehouses. From there, they want to fulfill orders with inventory that will reach the customer in the shortest amount of time, be it from a nearby warehouse or store.

“The single most important thing is how to efficiently fill out an omnichannel order,” Mitchell says.

Some of that importance comes from the fact that most retailers compete with Amazon, the giant online retailer that was able to use its analytics and dominance of the supply chain in the last year to outsmart everyone else in offering what consumers want to buy by the next.

Click and collect

This may have caused what Brian Kilkors, general manager of retail consulting firm RSR Research, described as a massive click-and-collect boom. This is where consumers order groceries, lighting fixtures or new online game consoles on the brand’s website ahead of time to pick them up at the store later. This business boomed through 2020 and beyond, as shoppers avoided stores during the pandemic, sometimes having to stop shopping in person due to the closure.

Online Sales Experience

Other retailers have focused on creating a more engaging sales experience for their online customers.

For example, luxury cowboy boots and leather goods manufacturer Lucchese has added to its e-commerce sales site the ability not only to have a text chat with customers, but also to start a video call with a physical store salesperson.

“Usually people’s preference for buying cowboy boots is personal,” says marketing professional Lucchese David Berger. “People want to feel, touch, and try the shoes and gain product knowledge first-hand. The shoes are unique. They don’t like trying on sneakers or dress shoes. There are different styles and types of feet, which can make it difficult to sell them online.”

Photo courtesy of Lucchese

Lucchese launched the service before the pandemic started, but the pandemic has been a catalyst for its growth. Berger said the addition has allowed Lucchese stores to continue operating, even during shutdowns.

Sales representatives can chat with customers about style preferences, sizes, and other product information. It’s the kind of information customers want when they invest in a premium quality item.

Most questions revolve around sizing, Berger says, and when salespeople can provide guidance to customers on sizing, it reduces returns, an important KPI in retail.

Lucchese added this feature to their website using the Immerss program, which is currently available to online retailers on the Shopify platform. Arthur Fitzman, CEO of Immerss, says luxury brands have struggled with how to serve customers virtually during the pandemic. Chat has always been about providing customer service, not about sales. The heart of this idea is where Veytsman got the idea for Immerss.

“That was great AHA Fitzman says. “Customers are always left alone on the website to do their shopping.” They are not directed and provide personalized service the way they were when they are shopping in person at some high end retail store. Veytsman created Immerss to help retailers bridge this gap.

Immerss offers two services for retail clients. One is the one-on-one video call that facilitates what retailers call a “customer” – that kind of personalized service and guidance offered to customers. The second is a one-to-many type of broadcast capability that enables brands to do QVC-like sales and sales pitches. The Dress Barn brand is one of the retailers using the latter service.

Holiday shopping 2021

While you may see holiday decorations and other temptations in physical stores this year, they weren’t the primary focus of many retailers in the 2021 holiday shopping season. Retailers aren’t just working to discern the same kind of in-store charm that they had in past years. Currently, they are rapidly improving the systems they are implementing to respond to the pandemic and changing consumer buying patterns. But don’t count that magic for the future, says Mitchell.

“Retailers will go back to checking out the store and making it an enjoyable experience,” he says.

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