For the past two years, the year-end holiday season has been a little atypical, to say the least. With the ebb and flow of the pandemic and its assortment of COVID variants, shoppers’ behavior and supply chain and delivery logistics have been shifting more and more toward ecommerce.
What has typically been the retail season “par excellence,” has been marked by store closures, retailers moving out of certain cities and states, and various accommodations for customers’ health and safety concerns, like the expansion of outdoor dining for restaurants, added shifts for disinfection and social distancing protocols, and ongoing changes in local and state health guidelines.
Having said that, vaccination of an ever-increasing percentage of the population means that as reopening continues, families and individuals are likely to continue supporting local businesses by visiting stores in person while also shopping online.
Foot traffic is still an ongoing opportunity for retailers. Recent research from the National Retail Federation is showing YTD sales growth above some forecast projections, with the strongest driver corresponding to the sales of goods, while leaving some room for services spending in the remainder of 2021 and into 2022. Despite recent supply chain constraints and concerns over growing inflation—at least here in the U.S.—the savings rate among consumers is higher now than prior to the pandemic, so disposable income will likely play a significant role in shaping the spending economy in the months to come.
While retailers adapt to and accommodate for the growth of ecommerce, the physical location still plays a vital role in sales and logistics in a number of ways. No matter how convenient online shopping is, nothing can replace the real-world feel of an article of clothing, or the experience of a bookstore with a cafe. People long for a sense of connection and the ability to “get out of the house”—especially after the long months of lockdown.
According to a series of surveys conducted by Google and Boston Consulting Group, only 14 percent of U.S. shoppers will not be shopping in-store this holiday season, while 70 percent will use online touch points to guide their buying decisions.
In the post-pandemic fast-evolving economy, a dual strategy of ecommerce and brick-and-mortar will accommodate the growing demand for online commerce while partially repurposing physical store space as micro-fulfillment centers. This will help retailers avoid the costs and headaches of the big distribution centers while maintaining a brick-and-mortar presence for evergreen foot traffic.
One of the simplest yet most effective forms of online presence any small business should consider is a Business Profile on Google, coupled with an app like Google Pointy (free for Clover merchants) that helps local retailers bring more shoppers in-store by displaying products directly in their Google Business Profile. Those products can also appear in relevant Google searches, along with product availability, contact details, and business hours.
Time and resources permitting, social media business pages have been leveraged by multiple brands big and small to keep their customer base engaged – shortening the sales funnel by allowing click-to-buy images on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, linked directly to the retailer’s website.
However, beyond leveraging digital tools as part of your sales strategy, it is important that you think about how to satisfy customer micro-moments—those instances where an immediate need takes place—and how your business can be ready to fulfill it. Think of it as helping your customers see you first at that moment of intent, want, or need, and that you are there to answer their questions or help them make a decision. To catch those fleeting micro-moments and turn them around to benefit you as well as your customers, think about things like:
Rather than interrupting a customer’s thought process or journey, listen and look for ways to offer what the customer is actually looking for. A recent Think With Google piece describes how three different businesses are thinking about micro-moments.
In brief, it’s those businesses willing and able to remain nimble and ever-adaptive that will do well this holiday season and into the foreseeable future. However long and frustrating the COVID-19 pandemic might feel for us all, in the grand scheme of things it has not yet been two years, and global events of this kind certainly do not shake out in a matter of months. And if there is one thing that is ever certain, it’s that we can always expect the unexpected.