Americans are likely to spend a record $655.8 billion over the holiday period this year, potentially making this the merriest Christmas for retailers since the beginning of the Global Financial Crisis.
But as online retail continues to rise, gaining a slice of the shopping pudding will require more innovation than ever before, with bricks and mortar stores required to put in some solid footwork to get customers to walk through their doors.
Here are three modern means for real-world retailers to boost holiday sales.
The mobile shopper
The modern consumer is savvier than ever before with a host of hours spent online researching products and refining gift lists long before they actually hit the stores, if they even do.
Rather than slogging out the hard yards, they're pricing out items, searching stock availability and finding their retailer of choice then spending only a short time in-store purchasing exactly what they want.
For retailers this creates the challenge of educating their consumer about what they have available, how much it costs, and what's popular, and then providing them with incentives to spend a little more.
This makes marketing the key ingredient to this year's retail feast, and it occurs in a number of ways.
Website - If you're not online you don't exist in this frenzied lead up to the festive season. Shoppers expect to be able to search products on your website, find prices and availability of stock. They're also looking for modern ways to buy including having items delivered, or to click and collect.
Social media - Facebook, Twitter and Instagram remain the prime social media channels in which to highlight new products, and experts suggest adding visual cues to your social media campaigns, just as you would decorate a shop front.
Meanwhile Twitter research indicates 55% of holiday conversation in December is about a consumer's shopping progress. And as the Christmas Day deadline approaches there is a spike in mentions of apparel, electronics and gift cards.
They suggest soothing the tired shopper in the Christmas rush, by suggesting gift ideas, easy shopping apps and convenient locations.
Email - While social media is hot, The Balance notes email still wins the day as the most disruptive way to "reach and woo" customers. Their figures indicate email is three times more effective than social media and the average customer order is 17% higher.
Using consumer data and available apps like MailChimp, emails should be used to promote your product and services, or highlight sales and events. Email provides the potential to create a marketing campaign where you can regularly refine the message, highlight a product a day, provide consumers with gift suggestions, target customers personally or notify everyone of a sale.
As a quick tip Hubspot notes that including your customer's name in the subject line increases their click through rate, giving them the message "you're special".
Proximity marketing is soon to become part of the everyday shopping experience via technology such as iBeacon and iSign Smart Antenna. And it provides very real potential for retailers to target preoccupied shoppers in-store or on the street by sending messages to their phones when they are in the vicinity of an outlet.
Using either low energy Bluetooth technology or WiFi, it allows messages like product promotions, deals or loyalty incentives to be sent to a consumer's phone. This occurs either directly or via an app that has been previously downloaded.
Make it easy
To combat the online retail trend, real-world retailers are being encouraged to make purchasing as simple as possible, and that extends from having their own online checkout to making payments in store easier.
According to Price Waterhouse Coopers "60% of retailers indicated they will provide both free shipping and free returns this holiday season – a must-have for consumers."
They're also offering a variety of online and in-store ordering and delivery (or pick-up) options to provide the optimum mix of convenience, price, speed, and variety.
Meanwhile speeding up the physical store checkout is also vital. Retailers can do this by ensuring they accept mobile and contactless payments so the consumer can utilize their smartphones to pay or simply tap their card and go.
A host of point of sale apps have this hardware capability including PayPal and Square, while bank issued payment terminals are also actively embracing the trend.
The benefits of easy payments are numerous; they reduce time spent at the counter, but also provide consumers with a selection of ways to conveniently pay.
Statistic also indicate Tap-n-Go sees shoppers more willing to buy, and spend more when they do as part of an ever-increasing "buy now, pay later" trend.
The gift that really counts
According to the National Retail Federation more consumers than ever before (61%) are hoping to find a gift card beneath the tree this holiday season, and the trend is even higher for women (63%).
With gift cards also among the top items shoppers talk about on Twitter in the lead up to Christmas, it makes sense for retailers to actively embrace this trend. This means ensuring your point of sale system can handle gift cards easily and you can distribute them electronically to cater to the growing digital wallet uptake.
Gift cards can be utilized in a number of ways to boost Christmas sales:
- You can offer them as a reward or incentive to your loyal customers to get them to walk through your doors and do their Christmas shopping with you. As a side-note, statistics indicate 61% of gift card holders spend more than the value of the card.
- Provide gift cards as a present option for frantic shoppers seeking last minute gifts. Be sure to highlight this in your marketing campaigns.
The Christmas wrap
With all pointers indicating a bumper holiday trade this year, it’s down to the retailer to put in the work to guarantee their slice of this mega Christmas pie. With a little education, convenience and accessibility this Christmas there's little fear of a silent night in the retail world. This holiday season may not be calm, but it should definitely be bright.