Omnichannel Holidays: Not Optional for Retailers

Earlier this year as COVID-19 vaccination rates continued to climb in the U.S., it seemed retailers could look forward to a much more normal 2021 holiday shopping season. Stores are largely reopened, and many consumers appear ready to spend and shop in person. However, the delta variant is presaging a possible repeat scenario from 2020.

This uncertainty around holiday store shopping makes an omnichannel strategy more critical than ever. Retailers need to figure out where to sell, both geographically and through which channels, and the best way to get products into customers’ hands. Based on these imperatives, here are four strategies that will be paramount to launching a successful omnichannel campaign this holiday season.

Choose the Right Channels by Investing in Data

Data is the key to knowing who your customer is, where they are most likely to purchase, and how they prefer to receive their products. The days of selling exclusively from a brand website or solely on one marketplace such as Amazon are over. Consumers are increasingly discovering new products while scrolling through social media, and many are even purchasing directly from apps like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

A recent survey of 3,000 consumers in the United States, the UK and Australia found that close to half of the respondents reported discovering new products on social media at least once per month, and two-thirds said they’d made a purchase directly through their phone at least once in the past month. Retailers really need to drill down to identify where their customers are shopping most frequently, and determine which combination of marketplaces, ads and social platforms make the most sense to showcase their products and advertise to their specific audience.

To do this, you must invest in ways to collect the right product and inventory data specific to the channels you want to sell in. Who likes your products and where are they shopping? How can you help customers not only discover them but hit your site where you can build a loyal relationship? Data is a crucial part of any brand marketing strategy.

Consumers View Shopping Differently

Ecommerce, once a convenience, became a shop of last resort during the height of the pandemic. And many more people have discovered the ease of one-click shopping and free shipping. McKinsey & Company found that as new ecommerce behavior becomes entrenched, brand loyalty has shifted and product availability, convenience and value will drive purchases.

Many shoppers also turned to new convenient options like curbside and BOPIS. Target, for example, said these services grew more than 55% in the first half of 2021, on top of a more than 270% increase last year.

Ecommerce shoppers want the traditional in-store experience from the convenience of their home, with highly styled, immersive websites that showcase the brand and products directly. Those who still prefer in-person shopping can still see and touch a product before they purchase, enjoying the experience and the immediacy. You need to walk a fine line, creating seamless omnichannel strategies that offer a store-like experience online, with convenient options for those that still want to buy in store.

Shipping and Fulfillment Is Key

Amazon has completely changed customer expectations. This means efficiently managing orders and inventory to let them receive their orders in the most convenient way, either store or shipped, is of utmost importance. Meet their needs quickly, or risk flight to a competitor.

With ongoing and major supply chain issues, you need to ensure adequate store and online inventory. Consider leveraging different shipping options across channels to include a mixture of two-day fulfilment and in-store pickup options. Shipping should also be thought of from a profit standpoint. With more brands competing for their attention online, offering threshold-based free shipping or charging a flat rate can drive more sales.

Ramp Up Your Omnichannel Marketing Strategy

Just as you need a mix of sales channels to display your products, you also need a great omnichannel marketing strategy to target your customer base. The goal of this is to give consumers a choice and allow them to buy when and where they want to shop. It sounds simple, but with so many sales channels now available, brands need to deliver cohesive messaging across various platforms to stay relevant and engage potential buyers.

When it comes to the holiday season, the best advice for brands is to start early and put your money where you’re the most likely to see a return. If the majority of your customers skew younger, for example, pouring your ad spend into social media platforms or influencer marketing is a safe choice. Brands with an older demographic may want to consider a mix of online marketplace ads and traditional direct-mail marketing. The key across the board will be to connect frequently. Ecommerce is expected to be busier than ever this holiday season, and you need to start early with messaging and marketing incentives to get consumers engaged across channels.

Meeting consumers where they shop is critical year-round, but it will be especially important in a holiday season already presenting unique challenges. You should already be finalizing omnichannel sales strategies, digging deep into data to target customers on the right platforms, while investing in a complementary marketing plan. In addition, you need to understand the fundamental shifts in consumer behavior that will influence shopper’s decisions this holiday season.

The most successful retailers will be targeting their customers on a variety of channels and providing an attractive mix of online and store shopping options, allowing consumers to plan and buy products early. The good news is that the pandemic pushed many into omnichannel a year ago, often painfully so, so for most this year will hopefully be an exercise in fine-tuning strategies vs. starting from scratch.

Sharon Gee is general manager of omnichannel at BigCommerce