For normal people, the holiday season is about cherished traditions, time with family, and a break from work.
For retailers, the holiday season is blood sport. It’s what retailers train for throughout the entire year; we’re all in it to win it. And industry experts are already skewing positive about this year’s possibilities – a JP Morgan analyst said last week that “this holiday season could be the best back-to-back that the consumer’s seen in five-plus years.”
If your mental image is a Mr. Burns-esque figure, rubbing his hands together with glee at the prospect, you’re probably not far off. Yet most retailers know that the outcome of this year’s holiday super-season is anything but a forgone conclusion. Our latest research suggests that a concrete showing means creating a delightful experience for consumers by every measure.
Here’s what we learned.
To no one’s surprise, online is running hot. Online shopping is up eight percent over 2017 and 11 percent over 2016. The majority of respondents plan to spend between 50 and 75 percent of their holiday budget at an online marketplace.
Projected winner: Amazon (come on, you knew that already). But to reinforce: of those who said they would specifically shop at Amazon, 56 percent said they’d spend more than half of their holiday budget with Bezos and crew.
But Amazon’s behind in a key area – and it shows. In a digital world, people increasingly value the hands-on element. 70 percent say they like the ability to see, hold and try on products before they buy, representing a substantial increase of 21 percent over last year. 55 percent enjoy in-store browsing and 47 percent say they’re simply too impatient to wait for a delivery.
But Amazon doesn’t have those physical store spaces – at least, not in a meaningful way. That’s unfortunate because 63 percent of Millennials and 55 percent of Gen Xers were excited by the prospect of actual Amazon stores. They’ll need to turn elsewhere for now.
Projected winner: Physical retailers – at least, at the moment. I’m particularly looking at you, Walmart, Target, Kohl’s. Target especially is getting early kudos for elements like “climbable, huggable toys” and more “department store-like” makeup areas that encourage lingering interactions.
Eliminate friction and introduce delight. Consumers were clear – as long as it’s easy, they visit real stores for multitude of reasons. Millennials are more likely than their Boomer and Gen X counterparts to visit stores specifically to seek discounts (20 percent) and get perspective from knowledgeable store associates (16.5 percent). 23 percent of consumers would make an appointment for an in-store, customized experience – and nearly the same percentage identified a personal shopper as exciting.
The majority of all respondents liked elements of convenience – being able to reserve items online for in-store purchase, for example, or the option to buy online and pick up in store. 47 percent of Millennials were likely to buy online and pick up in store at least 50 percent of the time.
Projected winner: The jury’s still out but the early contenders are clear. Walmart is throwing in-store Thanksgiving Day parties and integrating a map feature into its app to connect customers with “their neighborhood store’s top deals.” They’re also making associates mobile, arming them with the ability to check out customers in crowded store areas.
Target’s introducing free two-day shipping for the season, same-day delivery with Shipt, and an expanded drive-up option (order through the app, never even leave your car). The Kohl’s mobile app allows customers to take a picture of a product and find something similar in the store; they’re also on the buy online/pick up in store bandwagon.
Overall, the biggest winners here remain consumers. They’re firmly in the driver’s seat and retailers are truly just along for the ride, competing to one-up each other in services, convenience, inventory and value.
Got predictions for the retail holiday season? Weigh in below.