January 22, 2021 Newsletter

COVID Christmas: Why Physical Stores Are Still Vital in An E-Commerce World

COVID Christmas: Why Physical Stores Are Still Vital in An E-Commerce World

No doubt, this holiday shopping season will be like no other in our lifetime. After a spring and summer of worldwide uncertainty, retailers have had to quickly rethink and reimagine their entire business models. Sadly, businesses that couldn’t successfully evolve became extinct. The e-commerce industry has been forced to make giant leaps in only a few months that they otherwise could have stretched out over the next few years.

The pandemic has forced retailers to realize that physical stores and online sales channels are not separate, but should be integrated. The economic impact has pushed retailers into beefing up their online channels sooner than they expected, transforming physical stores into veritable distribution centers for in-store or curbside pickup.

Customers will increasingly be BOPIS shoppers (Buy Online Pickup In Store), researching online and spending less time browsing in physical stores or traveling to multiple stores. Since the internet’s infancy, consumers have long since been researching products online before visiting a physical store anyway. Now, however, consumers’ primary focus won’t be on price or specs but whether the item they want is in stock at a nearby store.

In today’s anxious world, consumers don’t want to waste time visiting stores hoping they might find what they’re looking for. Retailers will need to focus on providing consistently up-to-date inventory data, as this could make or break a BOPIS sale.

According to a survey conducted by Numerator1, more than 2,000 past holiday shoppers were asked about their intended spending plans for the holidays through the end of 2020. The results indicated that “brands and retailers should prepare to cater to smaller, more intimate gatherings. Travel will be limited, so consumers will be looking for ways to celebrate at home, and they’ll also be looking for creative ways to stay connected with friends & family from a distance.”

Most shoppers this holiday season will be budget conscious, taking much more time to find the best deals. In addition, they will be starting their holiday shopping much earlier. More than half (54%) of consumers plan to do all or most of their holiday shopping online this year, more than double last year’s 22%. These intentions are evident in the specific retailers at which individuals plan to buy gifts; intentions to shop at Target and Walmart stores, for example, were down, while their respective websites were up.

Local physical stores — both independents and chains — will play a big part in shopping decisions, as consumers will want to be able to return products to a physical store rather than shipping to another state or country. Furthermore, the majority of shoppers this holiday season are more likely to make an online purchase from a retailer with a local outlet for returns or exchanges.

Here are some of the top U.S. holiday season trends, according to BigCommerce.com

  • E-commerce will continue to be the preferred shopping method.
  • Mobile and social commerce will gain popularity.
  • Consumers will demand customization, personalization and more choices.
  • Consumers will buy online, pickup in-store (“BOPIS”) or curbside.
  • “BORIS” (Buy Online Return In Store) will be hugely popular.
  • Customer service expectations will be very high, requiring quick answers via all formats (email, text, social, chats).
  • Video advertising will increase (YouTube and IGTV) as videos steadily become the most popular content types available.

What else can retailers do to increase their chances of holiday sales success? Beyond seasonal sales advertisements, they will need to reach out through all social media platforms to make meaningful connections with consumers in order to increase brand awareness. Offering purchase options through social media such as Facebook and Instagram shops will continue to trend, and retailers will need to ensure that consumers’ online shopping experiences are flawless.

Of vital importance during this unprecedented time, retailers must offer more personalized services, a much more focused customer service experience, and lightning quick response times.

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