A Team-First Approach to Smart Retail Holiday Planning

Because the holiday season accounts for so much of a retailer’s annual sales, as much as 30% to 40%, achieving the highest possible holiday ROI is crucial. However, many retailers will see less than stellar results because of a failure to properly prepare their teams to execute a successful holiday campaign.

To give themselves the best chance of success, retailers must prepare a solid, comprehensive, and coordinated plan with motivation, organization, and governance coming from the top down.

Some companies have created dedicated teams to drive digital transformation, and this approach can be adopted for holiday planning.

A “special forces” holiday team can galvanize the retail organization and ensure that the best conceived plan is executed as efficiently as possible. This can include testing of marketing concepts and messaging, customer service preparedness, as well as DevOps drills to ensure no outages will cripple the holiday campaign.

The Right Tools

The success of your holiday campaign relies heavily on the capabilities and readiness of your team. If your staff is equipped with old, outdated systems, your efforts are undermined right from the beginning. Giving your staff high-quality tools and training will result in better engaged, more productive and loyal employees. Additionally, their increased enthusiasm will translate into more satisfied customers and sales.

To allow your customer support agents the ability for better efficiency, give them dashboards where they can easily call up customer purchase histories, returns, complaints, and current activities to further increase customer satisfaction. For your marketers and email campaign operations teams, give them the right marketing automation and analytics systems that will result in increase conversion rates.

Additionally, investing in a centralized database that contains holistic customer profiles will allow your marketing and merchandising teams to better segment and personalize messages and offerings, translating into increased sales.

Fundamentals First

It is better to be able to perform a smaller number of fundamental things well than to overextend your organization by trying to cover too many channels and deploy new technologies that are beyond your skill and comfort level.

A CMO Council study found that what consumers desire most is simplicity. Contrary to popular belief, the study found that consumers do not want retailers to be everywhere at all times. Instead, consumers want a smaller number of key channels—such as the company website, email, and a direct phone line—to be available and responsive.

Providing solid web and mobile e-commerce experiences should be priorities—for displaying merchandise, conducting promotions, and taking orders. With customers researching and buying in stores and online in varying combinations, e-commerce and physical store experiences should be integrated to the highest degree possible, including the ability to track customer identities and activities across channels.

With more and more customers desiring quick and convenient product pickup options, retailers should enable customers to buy online and pick up in-store during the holidays. With studies showing U.S. retailers lagging in in offering these pickup options, there is an opportunity to outperform competitors.

Smart Holiday Planning

Planning your holiday strategy in accordance with the best available market intelligence is a safe way to gain competitive advantages and maximize your holiday sales. For example, NRF survey data shows that nine in 10 shoppers said an added value convinced them to make a purchase that they may have balked at making. Surveys also show that providing a wish list drives more retail sales. You can increase your chances of success by preparing your team to make these types of offerings, recommendations, and services available to customers.

Supply your team with important market intelligence, such as current customer behaviors and desires, so the team can work towards a customer-centric approach. Competitive advantages during the holiday season can be gained by focusing team planning and execution on key areas in which other retailers are falling short, such as email, personalization, social media marketing campaigns, and mobile commerce.

Make sure your team is aware of trending styles, customer buying patterns, and other issues such as shipping and delivery options and competitive price ranges to help better plan better holiday campaigns.

Excel at Email

Email has been found to be the biggest revenue generating medium and should be a core competency for every retailer. To fully capitalize on email’s potential, retailers can send personalized teasers and promotions to customers and prospects, re-target shoppers who abandon carts and sites, and respond to queries and other in-the-moment opportunities via triggered messages.

Retailers that implement personalization strategies see sales gains of 6%-10%, a rate two to three times larger than other retailers, according to Boston Consulting Group research. However, only 30% of brands personalize emails and only 9% of retailers were found to offer personalized product recommendations.

Even though email list segmentation has been shown to lead to higher sales rates, 50% of marketers still are not segmenting their email lists. Even worse, less than 9% of marketers said they aggregate their data within a single system of record.

Personalizing messages and offers requires not only segmentation, but 360-degree customer views within a centralized database, as well as analytical capabilities. The complexity of the analytical and automation technologies required for personalization is what is holding back many retailers from capitalizing on the opportunities.

Retailers that outperform lagging competitors in these areas can gain advantages. By assembling the automation systems, acquiring the talent, and putting in the effort to master the techniques required for personalization, retailers can run circles around  less-capable competitors during the holiday season and beyond.

Mobile Commerce a Must

Indicators show ecommerce growing by 17% to 21% this holiday season, with mobile commerce growing by 58% over last season. Mobile phones are now a primary portal for shoppers, with research showing that more than 80% of smartphone users turn to their phone to influence a purchase decision while in a store.

As Google relates, mobile has “fractured the consumer journey into hundreds of real-time, intent-driven micro-moments. Each one is a critical opportunity for brands to shape our decisions and preferences.”

The mobile readiness of many retailers has been found wanting, and differences of seconds or even 100 milliseconds in response times can result in lost business. Faster load times result in higher conversion rates, while 53% of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.

Beyond giving shoppers an exceptional mobile shopping experience for finding and ordering products, retailers have opportunities to engage customers and boost sales using geolocation, personalized offerings, mobile payments, augmented reality, and live streaming video.

Research shows that 57% of shoppers spent more money at a retailer after receiving a notification, while 68% of consumers said that notifications, whether received in-store or at home, have led to an unplanned purchase. Thus, sending push notifications is an effective way for retailers to boost sales by engaging consumers at key moments in their shopping activities.

Great Customer Service Is Paramount

It cannot be emphasized enough how important providing caring and responsive customer support is. Buying decisions are based on how customers feel they are being treated, and even more, that customers will spend more with companies they believe provide exceptional customer service, according to an abundance of surveys. Furthermore, many customers are unhappy with the lack of attentiveness and quality of help they receive in stores.

With customers eagerly seeking information and recommendations during the holiday season, investing in a staff of knowledgeable, personable, and well-trained sales associates who ensure that customers receive all the help they desire will payoff.

The holidays are a critical time for retailers, but also the most stressful times for their e-commerce teams. However, readying staff and bringing in additional help will reduce some of the stress and allow teams to focus on delivering exceptional experiences. Retailers that sufficiently prepare and energize their teams will see the results in higher customer satisfaction and sales.

Bart Mroz is the co-founder and CEO of SUMO Heavy




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