Holiday Shopping Trends and Tips

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With the holiday shopping season fast-approaching, retailers around the country are preparing to put new and innovative sales strategies to the test and capture the attention of customers, notes Kelli Hollinger, director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School.

Free shipping:
It’s 2016 and Americans are still impatient.

No longer is 3-4 days considered fast, and many consumers expect to pay less for same-day shipping.

“It wasn’t too long ago, relatively speaking, that free delivery and returns felt like a special-added bonus,” says Andrew Schmahl, principal of PwC’s Strategy & consulting group. “Now, 60 percent of retailers surveyed say they will offer both this holiday season.”

According to the National Retail Federation, nearly half of all consumers stated that free shipping was one of the most important factors when purchasing holiday gifts.

Retailers are brainstorming new ways to accommodate elevated consumer expectations as a result of Amazon Prime and Jet.com’s fulfillment strategies, such as same-day pick-up or scheduled replenishment deliveries.

In-store Experience:
Brands like Walmart, Whole Foods, Nike, Under Armour, Target, Apple, Adidas and Google are discovering ways to entertain and excite customers in-store as they work to make brick-and-mortar cool again by adding in-store demos, virtual reality experiences, celebrity appearances, and classes.

New York’s “Story” retail concept is a prime example of reinventing retail. The store flips its entire interior decor and merchandise assortment by telling stories around a different theme each month, such as love, superheroes and home for the holidays.

“The truth is that for stores to stand out and succeed amongst their competitors they must add value in a unique way,” says the Huffington Post.

Expect retailers and brands to experiment more within stores to create experiences that really wow customers.

Stores are also being optimized for increased mobile device interaction. Between comparing prices, looking up product info via beacons or paying with Google Wallet, phones participate in the shopping experience almost as much as their human owners. So why not cater to the phones?

Creating personalized offers for mobile users through apps or social media expands ecommerce opportunities. Such personalization can build a loyal and exclusive relationship with the shopper who feels the brand “really gets me.”

In an age of automated chat bots, or “computer programs that mimic conversation using artificial intelligence,” stores physically and emotionally can connect retailers with consumers.

There is a basic need for many shoppers to see, feel, touch, and try on products, making visits to a brick-and-mortar stores a must. With brands hosting events, the store also becomes a social place to make memories.

According to Steven Barr, PwC’s U.S. retail and consumer leader, “[unlike a store] a website can’t give you goosebumps.”

Black Friday:
ShopperTrak still considers Black Friday to be among the busiest shopping days of the year, followed by Dec. 26, 23, 17 (Super Saturday) and Nov. 26.

Due to an increase in online shopping, Nov. 28 (Cyber Monday) sales are expected to beat Black Friday’s.

Whereas most deals and door busters are already online or have been teased out through email or circulars, shoppers no longer have to wait until the Thanksgiving paper delivery for Black Friday sales to be announced.

However, because actually making a purchase on a smartphone’s small screen can be challenging, some shoppers prefer to brave the malls and opt for the excitement that still surrounds the early morning line-up for Black Friday deals.

Despite public backlash about Black Friday creeping into Thanksgiving dinner, several major retailers will open on the holiday, including Old Navy, Macy’s, ToysRUs, Best Buy, Walmart, Kohl’s, and Target.

JCPenney, ahead of its competitors, will open at 3pm on Thanksgiving Day.

Sam’s Club, DSW, Half Price Books, Home Depot, PetCo, PetSmart, Barnes & Noble, Dillard’s, GameStop, Guitar Center, Hobby Lobby, Jo-Ann, Lowe’s, Marshalls, Office Depot, Office Max, and T.J.Maxx, among others, will be closed on Thanksgiving.

BOPIS Is On the Rise:
According to a PwC survey, “retailers are 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,” including Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS).

When surveyed, 20 percent of respondents said they used BOPIS on a regular basis as an alternative to traditional home delivery and half said they use it occasionally.

Last month, Walmart began testing a vending machine-like tower in one of its Bentonville, Arkansas stores. Similar to placing a hold on an item, shoppers can go straight to the tower, enter their confirmation code and await their package to be dropped like a bag of chips.

According to Kevon Hills, StellaService’s vice president of research, “Providing this service allows retailers and shoppers more flexibility and is often used by shoppers to ‘expedite’ receipt of their packages.” Retailers are also able to capitalize on “cross-sell and up-sell opportunities” when customers, who normally shop online, enter their stores.

While large crowds, long lines and a lack of product selection are reasons consumers avoid spending too much time in-stores, Chain Store Age cites that “71 percent of shoppers said they were likely to purchase additional items not part of their original transaction when going to a store to collect an online order.”

Overspending:
Christina Kan, assistant professor of marketing at Mays, was quoted in WalletHub’s recent piece about 2016 holiday budgets:

“Set a budget for your holiday spending in advance, and make sure to track it throughout the holidays. Budgeting facilitates an unambiguous view of your finances, making it very clear how much money you have to spend on different categories of purchases. This may help mitigate overspending. It is also important to think carefully about what your financial priorities are – remember to consider not only what you are getting when you make a purchases but also what you are giving up by making that purchase.”