Retail strategy

How retailers can prepare for yet another uncertain holiday shopping season


  • alex bravo
    Alex Bravo
  • Jul 28, 2021
TLDR

Three ways to develop successful customer engagement to assist with the upcoming holiday retail shopping season.

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Most consumers aren’t thinking about holiday shopping quite yet, but retailers are already deep into planning for an upcoming shopping season that will stand in stark contrast with 2020.

Experts are already forecasting a considerable increase in retail sales for the second half of the year, with the National Retail Federation noting that retailers can anticipate the fastest growth the U.S. has experienced since 1984. Sales are estimated to total between $4.44 trillion to $4.56 trillion and online sales—included in the total figure—are expected to grow between $1.09 trillion to $1.13 trillion as consumers continue to utilize e-commerce. 

And while this holiday season is sure to be a challenging record-breaking year for both in-person and online sales, there are ways retailers can prepare now to create effective customer engagement and help with the upcoming influx of customer activity. 

Here are three ways to develop successful customer engagement during the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Personalized communication to engage customers

Customers' attention span has shortened from 12 seconds to eight seconds, and with most retail brands opting to go digital in one way or another, finding engagement channels that let you cut through the noise to reach your customers effectively is quickly becoming both a challenge and a key priority for retailers in the digital space. 

Digital channels are the only way to optimize marketing messages for conversions, but to ensure those messages stay relevant, brands need to rely on communications platforms that let them monitor customer sentiment across channels. They also need these platforms to analyze customer behavior and give users control over the type of channels they wish to use to receive notifications, and when to receive them.

The pandemic spurred many brands to enable different digital channels to reach their customers, including social, mobile, and email. Unfortunately, because each channel is separate and independent, they are creating massive data silos and hindering cross-team collaboration. The lack of integration from a multichannel approach creates a confusing and impersonal experience that often leaves shoppers feeling frustrated.

Today, more brands are switching from multichannel to omnichannel customer engagement as they are realizing that without data consolidation and identity resolution, personalizing their customer’s experience is close to impossible. Not to mention, companies with extremely strong omnichannel customer engagement retain on average 89 percent of their customers, compared to 33 percent for companies with weak omnichannel customer engagement.

With customers demanding seamless and consistent experiences across a company’s website, email, phone, live chat, or social media—as well as in-store—a robust omnichannel customer engagement strategy must rely on data to offer this unified experience.

Influencing and entertaining shoppers

Social media has become a powerful way for consumers to buy products without ever leaving their mobile app of choice. The pandemic has shifted how consumers discover brands and has made the convenience of shopping over social channels that much more appealing. 

Mobile sales are now projected to account for 72.9 percent of total e-commerce sales this year, and customers will continue to expect more and more from this convenient digital shopping experience. To meet customers’ needs, brands must make sure their social media accounts, mobile websites, and applications are ready to promote content that is both accessible and entertaining. 

Highly visual, interactive content engages consumers and creates memorable associations with a product or service. We see this growing trend from the growing popularity of apps like Tik Tok to Netflix blurring the lines between retail and entertainment. As customers become more accustomed to this level of engagement, many retailers are turning to video to bridge the gap between the in-person and online customer experience.

As we approach this holiday season, brands can begin experimenting on how to best convey their identity, messaging, and call-to-action with rich media and video. Beyond showcasing their company’s offerings, video also offers a more tangible feeling of a static brand. In addition, interactive quizzes or polls, and augmented reality allow the consumer to feel more invested in their shopping experience.

Conversely, as digital shopping has become more immersive, customers are seeking to have a semblance of the in-store experience at home. 

This approach to digital clienteling can look like this:

  • start with email invitations to attend a digital event;
  • followed by SMS promotions;
  • and later participating in styling and how-to videos, live fashion shows, augmented reality try-ons, messaging with sales associates, and other personalized recommendations.

Every digital engagement channel, whether it’s a push notification, an SMS text, or an email, should engage a customer with personalized content that promises a memorable experience and allows customers to move from channel to channel effortlessly.

Offering convenience and adding agility to fulfillment

Retail was the fastest industry to embrace digital transformation as the world pivoted to remote and distributed workforces. In-store, supply chain, and logistical uncertainties prompted retailers to kick off 2020 holiday efforts earlier than ever with online deals and promotions last October. This forced thousands of businesses to completely transform the way they conduct business and to adjust their supply chain systems to make them more flexible and efficient. 

Fulfillment modalities like “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) and closely associated curbside pick-up will be just as popular this year, even as stores open again. These approaches allow businesses to maintain continuity even during uncertain times. And with nine out of ten consumers saying they’re more likely to choose a retailer based on how much convenience they offer, perfecting these modalities will continue to be a key component to offering convenience to customers. 

Getting products across the “last mile” to consumers is typically the most expensive and complex side in fulfillment. In order to handle in-store pick-up and coordination efficiently, retailers are empowering their teams with omnichannel communication that helps them deliver convenient, safe, and enjoyable pickup experiences. Twilio’s research shows 92 percent of leaders say enabling digital communications for customers and stakeholders was critical in their responses to COVID-19.

In addition to adding efficiencies to operations and customer experience, retailers are also leveraging communication solutions that can integrate with other applications like CRM, ERP, knowledge bases, or even in-house applications. Once configured, store associates can access individual customer information and are able to personalize each experience. Order information pulled from a marketplace integration ensures store reps have all the context they need to validate the order. With inventory management integrations, sales associates can confidently fulfill orders and get them out the door. Unified single panes of information decrease response and total transaction times, ensuring that stores avoid lines and back-ups during heavy traffic hours. 

Agents can also communicate with the customer across multiple channels (SMS, Whatsapp, webchat, and more) from the same single interface, to confirm changes to their orders, confirm anticipated wait times, and even manage parking spot assignments, and queues for contactless pickup. The ability to keep all of these conversations in the same thread helps the customer feel fully supported and equipped for their pickup. Notifications also offer customers convenience, flexibility, and safety through updates on safety protocols, store operations, inventory alerts, and order status. 

These types of communications help instill consumers’ confidence in the brand. With eight out of ten consumers saying that being able to trust a brand is now a deciding factor in their buying decision, investing in this type of technology prior to the holiday season will pay back ten-fold in your customer’s overall shopping experience.

Learn how you can prepare for this upcoming holiday season with a true omnichannel retail experience.

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alex bravo

Alex Bravo

Alex Bravo is a Sr. PMM for Retail at Twilio. With a background in business strategy consulting and supply chain, Alex helps define how Twilio enables brands to turn engagement challenges into opportunities to build delightful customer experiences. She is also an instructor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the NGO Science Clubs International and was a guest lecturer through the department of economics at her alma mater, Harvard University.