“There’s a lot of pent-up desire to return to pre-pandemic activities, especially in-person shopping,” said Jeff Bradbury, Hughes Enterprise senior marketing director. “Consumers are eager to return to stores and we expect retailers will see higher foot traffic as shoppers strive to soak up the holiday experience.” Here are Mr. Bradbury’s top five tips for retailers as they prep for the upcoming 2021 holiday season.
- Become a true omnichannel brand.
The pandemic prompted retailers to shift towards a richer omnichannel experience, providing consumers with multiple ways to purchase and receive products and services. Placing orders through a mobile device for curbside pickup is a prime example. This holiday season will be unlike any other, Mr. Bradbury noted, because shoppers want that seamless experience and the ability to interact effortlessly with the brand across online and in store environments. That includes the ability to do it all simultaneously: be on their mobile device using the loyalty app or the Web to search for product options while in the store.
- Create an immersive experience.
“Successful retailers will use their online capabilities to encourage people to visit their stores, where they can create a more immersive branded experience and deepen customer loyalty,” he said. This requires integrating systems across all environments–online, in-store, and even partner networks.
Technologies driving immersive experiences include augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) capabilities, QR codes, interactive digital signage and kiosks, and loyalty apps. Some of the ways retailers are accomplishing this customer experience include deploying small digital signage screens at aisle endcaps to deliver product demonstration videos; or using the loyalty app and Wi-Fi location analytics to push out promotions in real-time to an in-store shopper as they stand in a specific product section.
- Spruce up your network as well as your stores.
“Since the branded experience is at the core of how retailers attract and retain customers, it’s a top priority for IT teams today to identify and implement the best mix of technologies to deliver that experience,” said Mr. Bradbury. Consequently, retailers should give just as much (or more!) thought to sprucing up their networks as they do to installing holiday displays. As they consider their needs and goals, retailers should also verify that their networks have the capacity and optimization tools to handle bandwidth intensive apps and high transaction traffic. This will help to eliminate long lines and shorten transaction delays common during peak shopping times.
- Update security protocols.
Security breaches can be costly when it comes to penalties, damage to the brand and customer confidence. For that reason, it is imperative that retailers continually evaluate and update their network security protocols. This is especially critical where third-party devices, like product scanners or security cameras, connect to the network.
“Retailers must confirm not only that their network is secure, but that their service provider networks are secure. Many breaches happen on the partner’s side of the network, yet they still put the retailer’s network operations at risk,” he explained.
- Test systems in advance of the season.
Especially if new applications or systems have been deployed, retailers should confirm changes and updates are fully operational–well before the holidays begin. "Test any new omnichannel and third-party system that supports holiday shopping. For example, retailers should troubleshoot all order processing and fulfillment operations to ensure they support the desired customer experience," he advised.
With a little bit of guidance, retailers can prep their operations to create an immersive experience, meet customer expectations, and maximize this season’s many opportunities—plus deliver some long-awaited joy!