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How Retailers Can Win The Holiday Season

The holiday season is nearly here, but retailers still have time to get their teams prepped and ready for the rush of consumers looking for the perfect gifts.

The holiday season comes around like clockwork, but it’s rarely predictable and strategizing for it never truly ends. Holiday planning can start as early as January, and brands work year-round preparing stores and store managers alike for the biggest shopping time of the year.

From pouring time and money into campaign strategies and gathering data, to studying habits that emerge from the preceding seasonal rollouts, retailers are doing everything they can to identify and anticipate holiday trends.

Back To School, Back To
The Drawing Board

The back-to-school (BTS) shopping season can teach retailers some of the best lessons in the run-up to the holidays. It gives brands early glimpses of the latest trends and consumer spending habits, and provides great insight into what to expect before the clock strikes midnight on Black Friday.

Using this information, retailers can implement training programs and develop strategies to prepare and align in-store and fulfillment teams.

While BTS shopping spend expectations are much smaller than those of the holidays, they certainly aren’t unnoticed. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), total BTS spending for K-12 and college kids was expected to reach $75.8 billion, up from $68 billion in 2015. Although the increase in spending can also be attributed to the surge in education technology, the changes impacting the 2016 BTS shopping season resound far beyond how much money parents are spending and what they’re spending it on.

In short, this year’s BTS shopping trends peeled back some unexpected findings that will help prepare retailers for holiday success:

* Purchasing habits have changed, and are now a family affair. In the past, moms held a majority of the purchasing power, but dads and kids now influence where the money goes.

* Discount stores are losing their luster. The culprit? The Internet. Consumers are opting for the convenience of the web to find the best deals on goods.

* Shoppers are flexing their controlling muscles. They’re not only savvier with their dollars, but spread them over a longer period of shopping time. Last-minute shoppers are now the minority.

From First Day To First Snow

These BTS lessons should serve as retail’s North Star during the holiday season, helping brands drive actionable improvements and setting brands up for holiday success in four simple ways:

* Connect the dots between online and in-store. Earlier this year, we conducted a national survey of store managers and found that only 45 percent believe their company’s in-store experience is consistent with the online experience. Creating a consistent brand experience starts with better aligning your teams and creating greater transparency between in-store teams and online platforms. Setting goals that foster collaboration will not only make internal organization easier, but will ensure brand success and an optimal customer experience.

* Make it your pleasure. Despite the proof that quick and agile problem-solving are keys to brand success, only 65 percent  of store managers feel equipped to make decisions quickly. Ready your teams with the resources that will train them to deliver top-notch service to shoppers. An age-old concept maybe, but real humans solving real problems will yield real customer loyalty. Brands that move too slowly this year may not be around to fix it next year.

* Feel the need for speed. Gone are the times of waiting days for an ordered item to arrive. Today, the most forward-thinking brands are incorporating more instant gratification into their shipping and payment strategies, fast-forwarding delivery wait-times and allowing customers to order online and pick-up and return in-store in order to meet customers’ growing expectations. Preparing both your in-store and warehouse teams to quickly pick and fulfill orders in real-time can create a faster turn of merchandise and cut down process time, keeping everyone happy.

* Humanize yourselves. REI made a big statement last year by closing all physical stores on Black Friday … and the public loved it. Consider a social strategy that encourages the spirit of the holidays; make it less about the sale and develop campaigns that show your kindness and creativity. Remember your branded values and standards —reviewing these with employees before the holiday rush will help keep your teams synchronized and increase consumer loyalty.

So take courage retailers. While change may be the only constant in this industry, there are some predictables. Happy holidays!

Logan Rodriguez is retail director at Square Root, an Austin, Texas-based software as a service (SaaS) company that leverages data science and agile development to build enterprise-class technology solutions for large, complex businesses including Nissan, Southern California Edison and Best Buy.