The holiday season has always been prime time for retailers to roll out new marketing campaigns, events and experiences that draw people to their stores — and keep them there. But supply chain pressures and ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic means that consumers are focusing less on how immersive and entertaining in-store shopping experiences are and more on how safe and efficient they are.
Top-line findings from a recent Sensormatic survey reveal that while in-store shopping is expected to rise through the holiday season, what consumers are looking for while they’re there is for retailers to provide insight into product availability and alternative fulfillment offerings.
Kimberly Melvin, Global Leader of Marketing at Sensormatic Solutions, outlines key takeaways from the report and how retailers can best adapt and respond during the holiday season and beyond.
Retail TouchPoints (RTP): How would you describe consumers’ comfort level returning to stores, and how will this change or evolve leading into the peak of the holiday season?
Kimberly Melvin: This summer, Sensormatic Solutions found that only 27% of consumers were concerned about the safety of in-store shopping; however, with the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, this comfort is beginning to fade. Our 2021 Holiday Consumer Sentiment Survey reveals that 63% of shoppers are concerned about in-store shopping, a 36-point increase from the summer survey, and nearly the same as the 2020 holiday season when 65% said they were concerned.
Despite these reservations, 47% of consumers plan to shop in-store this holiday season, an 8% increase from 2020. Retailers’ health and safety policies and innovative technologies can help consumers feel more comfortable in stores. Nearly half of consumers surveyed (45%) said that occupancy limits designed to prevent overcrowding would make them feel more comfortable with in-store shopping. Additionally, 42% said extended opening hours to prevent overcrowding would help ease their fears, and 38% said temperature checks taken at store entry would also ease concerns.
RTP: It seems like consumer priorities fall into two main buckets: ease/convenience and health/safety. Do you foresee one taking precedence over the other during the holiday season?
Melvin: No matter how they are shopping, consumers remain invested in great customer service, efficiency and well-stocked stores, but with the rise in concern over COVID-19 variants, safety also remains important. When asked their top reason for planning to shop with buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup this holiday season, shoppers ranked convenience (65%) and health and safety (64%) nearly equally at the top of the list. No matter how they are shopping, consumers don’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, sacrifice health for convenience or vice versa.
In pursuit of both goals, focusing on connected, data-driven technologies that can help meet high consumer expectations and support a safe and comfortable environment will help retailers not only enhance their customers’ experience, but also effectively deliver unified commerce services including BOPIS and curbside pickup. Shoppers will continue to leverage these fulfillment methods as an alternative to in-store shopping during the holidays: 42% of consumers say they’ll use BOPIS this holiday season (a 9% increase from 2020) and 44% say they’ll use curbside pickup (a 12% increase from 2020).
RTP: What tech do you believe will become key as retailers strive to keep pace with demand spikes during the holiday season?
Melvin: Inventory intelligence and loss prevention technology can help retailers stay on target during busy times, and when it’s integrated, this data becomes even more powerful, producing actionable insights for retailers to optimize enterprise-wide outcomes.
Inventory intelligence solutions can deliver accurate, real-time insights that help retailers assess and adapt processes and supply chain flows to ensure items are stocked appropriately. By leveraging RFID, retailers gain a comprehensive view of item-level inventory across their entire enterprise. Fully integrated inventory data helps retailers understand what merchandise exists where, and quickly and accurately fulfill orders from whatever channel they’re placed in.
In addition to supply chain challenges, the rise in shrink and ongoing labor shortage makes loss prevention technologies critical for retailers during the high-traffic holiday season. More associates on the floor during the holiday season often act as a visual deterrent to potential thieves, but if increased seasonal hiring is not possible, retailers will have to find alternative methods to prevent theft. When AI and machine learning loss prevention solutions combine with connected solutions and third-party data, insights can be leveraged into prescriptive actions to improve store performance and prevent loss cases before they even happen.
RTP: What can retailers do to best optimize these investments leading into the holiday season and beyond?
Melvin: Selecting technology that is connected and can grow with the business over time is the best way for retailers to optimize their investments, so that they can solve for the challenges of the current holiday season and be well-prepared for what’s next in the ever-changing retail environment.
Inventory intelligence is one solution that can be implemented quickly to support holiday shopping and grow to meet retailers’ future needs. Retailers can add RFID hard tags to keep track of where items are in stores and what levels of inventory are available to customers. This also allows retailers to more accurately determine which products need restocks and where loss events may have occurred, as well as make necessary changes to store format and more. The resulting insights help optimize supply chain logistics, improving the customer experience with better item accessibility and improving sustainability outcomes with fewer unnecessary restocks and repeat shopper trips to pick up missing items.
RTP: How can in-store staff play a role in enhancing the in-store shopper journey?
Melvin: Technology alone cannot create an optimal shopper experience. Employees who know how to leverage the tools and resources available to them are also an essential piece of the puzzle. By encouraging retailers to implement new technologies to aid with current challenges such as labor shortages, we are not suggesting that the technology will be able to replace employees, but instead it will make companies stronger by allowing employees to leverage technology to make informed decisions – such as well-timed promotions, more effective customer communications, improved store layout, and more – ultimately streamlining internal operations to provide enhanced shopper experiences.
RTP: Do you have any closing tips or recommendations for retailers as we head into 2022?
Melvin: Retailers should be implementing data-driven, digitally enabled technology that will allow them to keep up with customers’ evolving expectations, optimize operations based on predictive insights and improve outcomes across their entire enterprise. And when implementing technology solutions, retailers should prioritize integration, innovation and flexibility to avoid ending up with outdated tools in just a few short years.
One retail technology best practice that’s not likely to change soon is unifying data into one source to help connect insights across consumer experiences. From the supply chain to the storefront, these integrated insights help predict future outcomes and prescribe actionable solutions, making sense of multiple functions and data sets to support a connected strategy that drives customer loyalty and growth. Intelligent operating platforms are the future of retail technology and will enhance experiences for both retailers and shoppers.