Last Christmas was one of the least festive in living memory. With COVID-19 cases rising and the nation on the brink of another lockdown, Christmas spirit was hard to come by in 2020.
One of the few bright spots was retail. Although 2020 saw the largest overall drop in consumer spending on record, the high street rallied in December. The increase in sales was moderate, but it at least allowed retailers to end the year with a sense of hope:
- High street sales in December 2020 were 2.7% higher than they had been in February 2020.
- Year on year sales increased by 2.9%
- Sales at clothing stores increased by 21.5%
Christmas to the rescue again?
With retailers still feeling the effects of the pandemic, many are pinning their hopes on another busy Christmas. It’s hard to say at this stage if this will materialise. Last month, retail intelligence agency Springboard released its annual Christmas forecast. It paints a mixed picture:
- Christmas footfall is predicted to be 17% lower than it was in 2019.
- Footfall at retail parks will rise by by 5.5%.
- Uncertainty around supply chains will encourage consumers to start their Christmas shopping earlier.
- Black Friday footfall is expected to rise by 7.9%, compared to just 6.5% in the week before Christmas.
A 17% drop in footfall is disappointing, but there is also good news here. An early start to the Christmas season means that there are opportunities for retailers who move quickly. The drift towards retail parks also shows that the nature of Christmas shopping is changing. Now is the time to focus on consumer needs and adapt accordingly.
Customer experience is back
The concept of customer experience was sidelined during the pandemic. Shopping was seen as a necessity rather than an activity. Speed and safety were all that mattered.
But this could all be about to change. Earlier this year, we asked customers what they were most looking forward to when stores reopened:
- 35% wanted to see items in person
- 30% wanted to browse at their own pace
- 11% were looking forward to shopping as a social experience
It seems that customers are keen to make up for lost time. In order to win back some of the ground lost to ecommerce, you will need to give them an experience that only a physical store can offer.
Christmas is the perfect opportunity to do this. Springboard predicts that the biggest rises in footfall will occur in large cities, as people from smaller towns flock to regional capitals. This suggests that shopping as a day out is back. People are seeking the Christmas experience they were deprived of in 2020.
Neil Godber is the executive strategy director of advertising agency Wunderman Thompson. He says that stores need to prepare for the return of “experience shopping” this Christmas:
“Could you offer shopping as part of a fuller day of activities, where leisure and present buying are included in the same trip?”
This is a view shared by many in the retail sector. The New West End Company is a partnership of over 600 stores based in London’s West End. Chief executive Jace Tyrrell agrees that stores must offer unique shopping experiences if they want to thrive this Christmas.
“We know that experimental brand techniques within the setting of a traditional Christmas resonates well with families and is a great way of enticing shoppers through doors.”
A good example of these “experimental brand techniques” is the recent partnership between Selfridges and SoulCycle. Introduced to coincide with the store’s reopening last April, it gave customers the opportunity to take part in an outdoor spin class as part of their shopping expedition.
What does this mean for colleagues?
Customer experience is about more than seasonal gimmicks. It’s about turning your store into a place where shoppers feel relaxed and cared for. As Holly Martin from digital marketing group Incubeta puts it:
“Rather than thinking about how to drive a customer to store, think about how to drive a customer to store and make sure they return.”
This is where we can help. By streamlining daily tasks, we give you and your team more time to focus on customers:
- Headsets let you find information for customers without leaving their side
- Call points allow customers to request help without searching for a colleague
- Call points can be placed on customer service desks, freeing up colleagues to help on the shop floor
- Remote self-checkout authorisation helps you to get customers through the tills faster
It’s important to remember that Christmas is not the be all and end all. The real challenge will be taking the momentum of the festive season and maintaining it throughout 2022. Whatever you need to make this happen, don’t hesitate to ask.