Heightened Holiday Shopping Expectations Driving Retailer Preparations

Content Manager

Holiday shopping 2015 is going to look a lot like last year, only more so in terms of customer expectations for faster delivery, flexibility and options, as well as a mobile-friendly experience, retailers and industry experts told Multichannel Merchant.

Scott Cohn, vice president of ecommerce for Chinese Laundry, said his company is trying to meet these heightened expectations by having more items in stock and getting it out the door quickly so orders land on the doorstep when promised.

“It’s really about planning out all the fulfillment steps, as well as what we’re offering in addition to just being in stock on key items,” Cohn said.

Scot Wingo, executive chairman and founder of ChannelAdvisor, said retailers will continue their attempts to push holiday demand further and further back on the calendar, as they did last year. In that regard he said Amazon led the way with Black Friday events as early as the beginning of November. “We saw things move into November a fair amount last year, even early November,” Wingo said.

According to the MCM Holiday Benchmark Survey, 61.3% of merchants who responded said ecommerce sales increased during holiday 2014, 14.5% said they decreased and 24.2% said they stayed the same.

“Mobile is going to be a huge focus because many brands have had their ‘mobile moment’ where more than half of their orders are coming from devices,” said Wingo. In the spring of this year, Google announced that more than half of searches were coming from mobile. “I think it’s going to be yet again the year of mobile, but I think retailers are going to be more ready for it this year than they were last year,” he said.

In a Listrak-sponsored study, retailers said that more consumers are shopping and making purchases on their mobile devices. It found 20% of consumers plan to do at least some holiday shopping on a tablet or smartphone. Retailers are getting the message that consumers want to be able to effectively interact with them no matter where they are or what device they’re using this holiday season.

The report found that 71% of retailers provide responsively designed websites to enhance the shoppers’ experience and 65% provide responsively designed email templates and much lower on the list of email priorities are mobile apps, according to 13% of retailers.

According to the MCM Holiday Benchmark Survey, retailers said 25% to 29% of traffic came from mobile devices during holiday 2014.

Ian MacDonald, director of ecommerce for Silver Star Brands, said just like in 2014, customers are going to expect later cutoffs at Christmas.

“I think we’re going to see trends in more and better discounts, customers are very price sensitive in every market now,” said MacDonald. “There are competitive shipping offers, people are expecting free shipping, and I think when we get close to the holidays they’ll expect free expedited shipping.”

MacDonald said Silver Star Brands is making a concerted effort to simplify the shopping experience. While they know customers want offers and discounts and expedited shipping, they plan to reduce the burden on themselves and not change the homepage or have a new sale every day.

“We’re going to keep things stable and consistent and less work, but still give the customer what they need to purchase,” he said.

When it comes to holiday shopping, convenience is key winning over customers, according to the Listrak report. It found that nearly one in five consumers plan to purchase gifts online and pick them up in store if possible.

Sixty percent of consumers and seven out of 10 men and women aged 18-34 said they strongly/somewhat agree that the ability to buy online and pick up in store influences where they make holiday gift purchases and 25% strongly agreed. Even if customers don’t necessarily plan to take advantage of the option, they still want to know it’s available where they plan to shop – which is why nearly a quarter of retailers surveyed said they’ll offer the service this year.

Making returns easy and convenient is also a critical area. Seventy-two percent of consumers said they strongly or somewhat agree that the ability to buy online and return in store influences where they can plan to make holiday gift purchases.

The Listrak study also found that 27.4% of retailers will offer shoppers the convenience of being able to purchase online and return in-store; however considering what customers are saying, more retailers should consider getting a policy in place for a more convenient omnichannel return policy sooner than later.

Just 2.7% of omnichannel retailers surveyed said they plan to offer curbside pickup this holiday season. Other ways retailers plan to make holiday shopping easier for customers this season include providing gift guides (74.5%), organizing products by category on site (52.5%) and in email (47.5%), and by price point on site (40.7%) and in email (39%).