Holiday Seasonal Shopping, Forever Changed

COVID-19 Impacts Everything This Year (and Next)

By Kevin Lyons, Chief Strategy and Customer Officer

Around this time of year, every consultant, trade publication, and [insert commerce expert here] starts pontificating about the upcoming holiday shopping season. I am here to tell you that none of them will accurately predict what this retail-sales season will bring, including myself. Why? It is simple: What retailers “bank” their annual plans on for holiday sales have already been a reality since March! 

E-COMMERCE IS THE CHOICE CHANNEL

Every client inside and just outside BlueSky’s sphere of influence has been reporting e-commerce as the channel of choice for customers. Customers are more comfortable online shopping, taking advantage of services offered, AND demanding services that may not have already been available. Buy Online, Pickup in Store, and Curbside Pickup are the new norm for traditional Brick-and-Mortar retail experiences.

These services commonly represented a small percentage, or none (in terms of Curbside), of the overall business before COVID-19. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, some of our big-box and department-store clients were fortuitous enough to have these services readily available. Some were not.

In all cases, what our clients have been experiencing is a massive shift in business. This shift places enormous pressure on back-end systems, destabilizing front end services, and places a higher demand on the organization to support it all.

If industries like food, drug, and grocery didn’t have plans in place to handle the digital influx, they now have to prioritize processes ahead of technology. Industries like apparel have had to use holiday-esque promotions to capture revenue during this time (see McKinsey chart below). B2B retailers have had to operate more digitally to reach prospects and existing customers.

So to say that this holiday season is going to be like previous years would be an incredible understatement. We are already seeing announcements from major retailers who plan to be closed on Thanksgiving.

Customers expect to have low-touch solutions, and while retailers are itching to get back to normal, the reality is that digital transformation has already been happening.

By this time of year, your commerce store is likely already prepared for the upcoming holiday season. If you have not prepared, then take this opportunity to evaluate what’s happened this year, and what that means for your unique business needs.

HOW TO PREPARE

This year, we may experience the most important holiday shopping season in the modern era. Beyond load testing and preparing the back-end of your commerce store, what else can you do to prepare? The answers may not surprise you, but the importance of taking action RIGHT NOW is the emphasis. 

  1. Talk to your customers 
  2. Talk to your frontline employees and supervisors
  3. Talk to your network administrators 
  4. Talk to your developers 
  5. Talk to your product and business teams in digital 

Then, ACT on what they tell you!

CUSTOMER VOICE

If you have followed any of BlueSky’s video series on the CX Journey and Mapping, you will see this as a bit of a refresher. Customers are demanding that retailers do something about service.

Think about how customers are behaving with your brand now and start implementing at least one thing in each channel that can have a positive impact on service and experience. If you implement changes now, whether they are process-related or technology-related, you may have a puncher’s chance at a smooth holiday season.

You may have to begin thinking outside of the box and employ additional contract-to-hire or seasonal staff members — or, perhaps, implement flexible models to allow for additional remote support for your customers. It may mean having difficult conversations with your CX platform providers to improve SLA’s. I certainly believe that it will mean pursuing more digital solutions, as you leverage your partners, to accelerate improvements in your CX experience.

EMPLOYEE VOICE

If you are not currently facilitating roundtable discussions with your critical touchpoint operations, do it right now. Don’t wait for the perfect agenda. 

Ask your operational leaders to select representatives from each area to join in informal discussions and gather critical feedback. Seek feedback regarding your business operations and how they currently impact the employee and customer experiences. Make the right decision by choosing those that are, or can be, the most vocal and constructively critical.  

This kind of dialogue can open opportunity, not only with “low hanging fruit” operational changes but can also provide you fodder for roadmap discussions with your IT and product teams — for both current and future investments. Frustrations will be articulated, and what will mean more to your team will be how you handle their feedback and commit to making changes. Remember, what they are experiencing now is projected to be amplified during the holiday season.

SYSTEM AVAILABILITY AND PERFORMANCE

Your network and infrastructure team have likely had a gut-check-type of year so far. With the immediate shift in customer behavior, your systems have been SCREAMING. Those who have made regular investments in the areas of connectivity, integration, and performance have had fairly smooth transitions. Those that have put the time and investments off in these areas have had a huge wake-up call. 

Because of the unusual times, you have been “load testing” since March – an effort that is typically practiced leading up to the holiday season. If you haven’t already load-tested, you should now have ample data and just enough time to make improvements that will allow your systems to match the increased demand. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Digital penetration is projected to be at record highs, especially on mobile. Optimizing localized search, digital spend, and planning for earlier shipping cutoff will take your now hyper-awareness of the forecasted holiday season and turn it into preparedness.

If you need a partner to guide you through it, BlueSky and our 360 approach to your business is just a quick call, chat, or email away.

Kevin Lyons

Kevin Lyons

Kevin Lyons serves as BlueSky's Chief Strategy Officer. Kevin is a growth-minded executive who overcomes complex business challenges by matching customer unmet needs and team member strengths. Kevin uses innovative solutions, based on solid judgement, strong work ethic, and integrity to provide strategic consulting to our clients.

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