Winning with holiday retail – can retailers have their turkey and eat it too?


The holiday retail season is upon us. Our resident Canadian looks at how the online and store experience converge in her shopping mix. She also examines consumer data, with advice for retailers on getting it right this season.

woman-retailBlack Friday and a record-setting Cyber Monday are behind us. We all have one thing on our minds after holiday meals – shopping for deals. But just because we want a good deal that doesn’t mean we want a crappy shopping experience.

I’ll be honest; I’m Canadian. I celebrated Thanksgiving in October, so there was no turkey for me last week. However, Canada has fallen into the footsteps of its next-door neighbor and adopted Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Heck, we even get a Red Thursday! And so, I officially kicked off my Christmas shopping – both instore and online.

What kind of experience do I expect? A good one.

Retail trends are changing, and technology plays a factor

I don’t like shopping in-store at Best Buy. There is never a store employee around to help you. You’re left to wander the aisles and figure out if what you need is there. One time though, we did get help, and this sales guy did something I’ve never seen before – he had access to inventory and pricing on his smartphone. What he couldn’t answer off the top of his head, he easily found when he searched. Now I don’t know what kind of app he used – he may just have used the online site. I don’t really care; he was able to answer my questions quickly and help me make a decision.

Could I have done the same thing myself from the comfort of my couch? Maybe. But I do like to shop in stores once in a while.

Something else I do. I love (really love) to shop at my local Chapters (Indigo) bookstore. But I rarely buy any books. And I buy a lot of books. What I do is find the book I am interested in, skim it to see if it’s what I want, then I dig out my phone and I look for it online at Chapters or Amazon. If the price online is lower (and it always is), I order it. If I order from Chapters, I pick up in the store because it comes faster. If I order from Amazon, I’m a prime member, so I know it will arrive in four days. I also use the online site to see if a book I am looking for actually is in the store because I can never find a salesperson to help me look.

Effectively, I mix the online and offline shopping experience. Technology works not just for online but can help improve the in-store experience.

The in-store experience can’t be forgotten

I’m not the only one who still likes to shop both instore and online. InMoment’s 2017 Retail Trends Report tells a similar story. As much as online shopping has grown, there are still many people who want the in-store experience. So while brands are figuring out how to make the digital shopping experience even better, they should also be thinking hard about the in-store experience.

The three top reasons people like to shop in store, according to the report:

  1. Location (63%)
  2. Previously good experience (33%)
  3. Quality of the products and services (28%)

These in-store shoppers also indicated that immediate gratification and the ability to confirm quality were important reasons to shop in the store.

And so are the salespeople. Thirty-three percent said positive interactions with staff improve in-store satisfaction across all industries. In some, like fashion, that number is a lot higher.

Brands seem to forget that in person, people expect friendly, knowledgeable staff. Proper training is critical. If someone is trying on clothes, they may want help figuring out the right size, or a second opinion (honest, but not brutally honest). If someone is looking for a new laptop, they may want help understanding the difference between a traditional hard drive and an SSD (solid state storage), or they may want to know if the laptop they are buying will run Star Wars Battlefront or Minecraft.

Sure, the shopper could get that kind of information by researching online, but sometimes it’s just nice to talk to someone who knows, and sometimes, the information is over their head, and the expertise is critical.

It’s about complementing, not competing

A key point from the InMoment report is that brands should build their in-store and online experience to complement each other, not compete (which is more often the case). People shop online for many reasons, convenience being a primary one. They shop in store for different reasons, product expertise being a primary one.

Monitor how your customers do both. Ask them why they do each one and what their expectations are. Apply that feedback. Also, figure out how you can implement technology to improve not only the online experience but also the in-store experience.

My take

I like to research expensive products to make sure I am getting decent quality and a good deal. I’ll do that whether I buy it in-store or online. I suspect most others are like that too.

Wouldn’t it be cool if I had an app I could take in-store that would scan a product and tell me everything I need to know about it and its nearest competitors?

Wouldn’t it be nice if I had video online that could demonstrate the quality of a good set of bed sheets, so I didn’t have to go into a store and feel everyone to know it’s the right kind? Because that’s something I’d much rather buy online.

The point is, brands need to pay attention to both the online and in-store experience. Both need to be great experiences – in diverse ways – but great just the same. And there are ways to leverage one to support the other; you just need to know what works for your customers.

NRF - 2018 - big show

Image credit - Young woman enjoying day in shopping mall © igorsinkov -