Every year the stores seem to get more and more packed on Black Friday weekend. But that's unlikely to be the case this year, as worry about COVID-19 and social distancing will encourage many shoppers to stay away. Walmart has even taken the surprising decision to close all its stores on Thanksgiving Day, the first time since the 1980s.
IDC Retail Insights vice president Leslie Hand thinks this year's holiday sales will be spread across a longer period of time than usual, because shoppers won't be focusing all their spending on pre-arranged shopping trips:
If they've got it in their head that they really don't want to shop at the mall, then there's no need to wait until everybody's ready to go. So I do think that it's more likely that more shopping happens online and earlier.
Planning for the holiday season
This has important implications for how retailers plan for the holiday season. Optimizing for e-commerce — especially on mobile — is clearly a priority. But just as important is optimizing for flexible availability. Visibility, flexibility and creativity in fulfilment will be the keys to holiday success this year, writes Abby Jenkins, Oracle NetSuite Product Marketing Manager for Supply Chain, Inventory, Warehouse & Order Management:
Customer loyalty is largely dependent on receiving the right product quickly … To do this, businesses must have visibility into items, inventory, orders and customers and the ability to connect them all together to create a holistic view.
With more shopping happening online and fewer customers spending time in stores, the role of physical store locations changes, but they still have a crucial role to play. This is why a unified commerce system that provides visibility into orders, inventory, point-of-sale and other metrics across both e-commerce and in-store is critical, in order to centralize data from all sources of customer interaction. Nowhere is this more evident than when offering the increasingly popular options of curbside pickup and BOPIS — buy online, pick up in-store.
A perfect storm for BOPIS and curbside pickup
The evidence from earlier this year is overwhelming. Social distancing in response to COVID-19 led to a spike in customers opting for BOPIS, with retailers seeing a 62% year-over-year increase in BOPIS usage in March 2020. Customers choose BOPIS to save on shipping costs or when they want to be certain of getting their order as soon as possible. This holiday season, with inevitable last-minute shopping, is likely to be the perfect storm for BOPIS. An Oracle NetSuite white paper on preparing for the holiday season sets out the following advice on setting up BOPIS and curbside pickup to provide the best customer experience:
- Resist the temptation to unnecessarily funnel shoppers through the store. Satisfaction with the experience is more important than the modest revenue boost of selling something like a candy bar at checkout.
- If possible, be mindful of social distancing practices by offering alternative ‘delivery' options, such as curbside pickup and drive-through options, which allows retailers to differentiate themselves and keep orders moving. These options must be supported by a dedicated BOPIS number so employees can respond quickly. In this guest post by Diego Isola, Founder & President, Tavano Team, curbside pickup is identified as a core tenet of improving brand reliability in the COVID-19 economy.
- Also consider ‘buy online, return in store' (BORIS). BORIS also allows you to resell bulky or heavy items that are difficult to ship back to a warehouse.
- Customers are most likely to use BOPIS and curbside options again if the turnaround is less than two hours. In order to meet that expectation, employees must move quickly to find the item, check it in at the pick-up counter and alert the customer that it's ready.
- Improve the BOPIS and curbside experience with triggered emails or SMS messages. On ordering, send detailed instructions for how they should pick up their purchases, and send another message when the pickup is ready.
No one can predict the scale of demand or the extent to which BOPIS and curbside pickup will continue to be a feature of shopping habits this season. That's why it's going to be important to keep a close eye on sales data from week to week and plan for various scenarios. Retailers will need to be ready to adapt quickly. They should closely study the data coming in during September and October to see if it sheds light on what might happen in November and December.
Catch the e-commerce tailwinds
Those with a strong online presence are in an advantageous position to capitalize on consumers' rapidly shifting preferences, believes Drew Cook, CFO and head of operations of apparel brand Pact, headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. In a Brainyard article with advice on optimizing inventory, supply chains and operations for the holiday season, he sums up his hopes for the season:
You don't have to have a huge erosion of brick and mortar if it flows directly into e-commerce for e-commerce to feel a huge growth. I think our hope — and this is where I don't know how the two different factors will balance each other out — is that the e-commerce tailwinds will more than offset the larger economic headwind.
While BOPIS and curbside options won't help reach far-flung prospects, it is particularly valuable to capture sales to locals. This means it can help smaller retailers win out against much bigger online brands when customers don't want to wait — or have run out of time — to get their hands on the product. Those final few weeks and days of the holiday season could be the moment when BOPIS comes into its own.