For many years the holidays were a relatively predictable time of year.
Consumers would shop and – apart from how much growth we would see year on year – there weren’t too many changes outside of that.
But the pandemic changed all of that. Last year, because of economic uncertainty and varying levels of personal comfort shopping in person, as well as brick-and-mortar retailers being completely dependent on local guidelines, the holiday season brought a large amount of uncertainty for all of us.
Unfortunately, this year is equally unclear. Is the shift to online shopping here to stay if brick-and-mortar stores remain open this shopping season? And how will the holiday season be affected as the pandemic worsens again?
In this report, we’ve compiled our list of seven ways to get ready for the 2021 holiday shopping season, and asked some industry leaders and Trustpilot customers to weigh in about another atypical festive period, and how you can best prepare for it.
Here are 7 Takeaways to remember this 2021 holiday season
1. Prepare for eCommerce growth and hybrid retail
The period of self-isolation we went through last year changed the way consumers search and shop, while businesses have had to adapt to new channels of communication and new consumer behavior. In fact, last year, the online retail sales growth hit a thirteen-year high.
Now that most restrictions have been lifted, we can expect some customers to do more brick-and-mortar shopping this year than they did last year. However, one study found that 38% of consumers still intend to do their holiday shopping online, and only visit stores when they provide outstanding experiences.
“With the pandemic, most offline traffic switched to online traffic, meaning a substantially higher customer base was acquired for eCommerce retail. The challenge with the reopening of brick-and-mortar is to maintain the value-added your business provides as an eCommerce retailer by focusing on the elements that make it easy for customers to trust your store,” explains Gary A. President of FragranceBuy Canada.
For retailers that have brick-and-mortar stores, focusing on improving your in-store experience could be essential to succeed this holiday season, while businesses that sell both online and offline are likely to be in the best position possible to convert consumers.
We asked Melissa Dixon, Director of Content Marketing at BigCommerce, to share her thoughts on the upcoming festive season:
“During Cyber Week 2020, BigCommerce recorded a 74% increase in GMV year-over-year. While we’ve continuously seen YoY Cyber Week growth over the years, the pandemic had a significant impact on last year’s shopping habits, which makes it difficult to predict if that same level of growth will happen again this year.
However, we do know from a recent survey that BigCommerce conducted with PayPal that since the beginning of the pandemic, 62.5% of shoppers have reported spending more online than in person.
The best advice for merchants is to check your supply chain and prepare your inventory for both online and in-store holiday shoppers. Also, make sure you’re accounting for newer shopping behaviors, like buy online pickup in store (BOPIS), that have really grown in popularity over the past year and a half.”
Whether consumers choose to shop online, offline, or use BOPIS or curbside pickup, many consumers could try and get their holiday shopping out of the way earlier than usual, to avoid delayed deliveries like last year.
Jordan Brannon, President & COO of Coalition Technologies, explains:
“Q4 2021 will continue the decentralization trend of consumer shopping behavior. As with 2020, and 2019 before it, consumers will begin shopping earlier in Q4 than in years prior.
Merchants should focus more effort on getting their consumers checked out sooner in November, or even late in October. They'll also need to ensure they have solid plans for unique engagement strategies to avoid promotion exhaustion from consumers who will be inundated with a heavy sales cadence for months.
Merchants can succeed in these challenging holiday conditions by ensuring their marketing calendars feature a diversity of promotional events, clearly communicated, and designed to get more competitive product category sales closed out earlier in the season.”
Whether you’re an online or offline retailer (or both), here are three things to keep in mind for the next few months.
2. Omni-channel experiences are on the rise
Today, an omni-channel experience should approach customer service, marketing and customer experience in a cohesive, connected manner, wherever and whenever a customer reaches out.
This means connecting multiple communication channels, tools and platforms to create a seamless shopping experience.
Recently, it’s become clear that multi-channel strategies no longer match consumers’ needs, as they create separate and independent shopping ecosystems, rather than one holistic experience.
This holiday season, offering seamless experiences from store to mobile or desktop is more likely to convert consumers as shoppers’ needs to navigate through different channels before making a purchase continue to increase.
Exploring new channels and creating a holistic customer experience from one channel to the other will be key to success this festive shopping season.
In their 2020 report, PwC found that the number of companies investing in omni-channel experiences has jumped from 20% to more than 80% in just a year. And as this year’s mobile sales could make up for 72% of this year’s total sales, you could be missing out without an omni-channel strategy in place.
“One of the biggest tips we can give for this holiday is to expand your reach through additional channels and marketplaces. Over the past year, BigCommerce has launched new integrations, including Instagram Checkout and Walmart Marketplace, and many of our merchants are embracing these new channels to boost sales.
This also emphasizes that the way shoppers discover products has evolved. For instance, in our 2021 Consumer Spending Trends survey, we found that 54.8% of respondents said that they were using social media to discover new products.
Our advice is to find out which channels your customers are using, and start selling there. And if you’re unsure or don’t have the data, start experimenting by listing some of your inventory on places like Amazon or Instagram,” reports Melissa Dixon, Director of Content Marketing at BigCommerce.
3. Cross-border selling is growing in popularity
Cross-border selling has become one of the main ways that merchants can grow their businesses and increase their bottom lines. And it makes sense. If you’re selling a great product or service, why limit your market size?
“Another trend we are seeing with our merchants is the growth in cross-border sales — last holiday season, we saw orders spike in November and December,” says Melissa Dixon.
But cross-border selling comes with a lot of potential issues as well, and it’s really important to take them into account and make sure you’re in a position to benefit from cross-border selling instead of doing a poor job at it and giving any of your customers a frustrating or negative experience.
“We’ve written a blog on how to successfully sell cross-border, and some of the top tips include localizing content, selling on marketplaces like Mercado Libre, offering local payment methods and planning for shipping,” concludes Melissa.
If you’re ready to invest in cross-border selling this holiday season, here are four takeaways to keep in mind.
4. Great shipping and return policies are still essential
As consumers move to do more and more of their shopping online, parts of the shipping experience that used to be an added bonus are starting to become expected from retailers.
90% of consumers say free shipping is their biggest incentive to continue shopping online. And because customers can’t see or feel a product in their hands before purchasing, some of your online sales are always going to end up being returned. Consumers want a free and simple way to return the items they don’t end up wanting and failing to give it to them could mean losing their business in the future.
As free shipping and returns become more standard, two new shipping offerings have started appearing as a great way to gain an edge over your competitors. Package tracking and shipping insurance.
“Between the growth in eCommerce and the rise of lost and stolen packages, we’ve seen more and more of our merchants prioritize package tracking and shipping insurance with apps like Route. And since the holidays are typically the time of year when package theft is more likely to occur, merchants can improve their customer experience by offering these options to their customers,” says Melissa Dixon, Director of Content Marketing at BigCommerce.
Offering these makes your brand look great, keeps your customers happy, and helps you beat the competition.
5. Use reviews to build trust and deliver great experiences
Today, 91% of people say ads are more intrusive than they were 3 years ago. One of the best forms of marketing a business can partake in is trustworthy social proof and third-party validation, because your customers’ opinions are more likely to be heard and considered by their peers than your own.
“It’s important to ensure your customers trust you when buying online, especially at this time of year. The best way to do this is to have honest and genuine reviews on your site. Today’s buyers are savvy – they’re looking for companies that have a mix of good reviews and not-so-good ones, to check how the company responds to, and improves, any bad experience a customer might have had. Doing your very best to offer your customers a great experience and service, and encouraging all buyers to leave a review, will help you build the trust needed to sell online this festive season,” reveals Jan Jivmark, our Head of Global Marketing.
Consumers also love to compare businesses online to make sure they’re getting exactly what they’re looking for, especially during the holiday season. This only makes it more difficult for brands to stand out in a crowded space – that’s why offering great customer service and customer experiences can be a real differentiator.
“In this highly competitive environment, the shift to digital-first delivery models has managed to keep both shoppers and customer service agents happy. The mainstreaming of AI bots has eased the load on query volumes and enabled agents to focus on delivering contextual and empathetic service. Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat, or Facebook Messenger, that have high customer dwell time, have redefined convenience for shoppers. Brands that will continue to win have unlocked the key to delighting customers with easy, fast, and intuitive digital-first customer service,” remarks Freshworks’s Director of Growth Marketing, Abhishek GP.
But providing great customer service means understanding your customers and your audience, their needs, and their wants. Reviews can help you collect fresh consumer insights and highlight areas of development, as well as identify opportunities to improve your existing customer experience and customer service, and grow consumer trust in your brand.
Rhiannon Williams, Partner Marketing Manager at AmericanEagle, concludes:
“During the holiday season, being able to provide a beneficial experience will go a long way in turning that browser into a long-time buyer. Customer service is a critical aspect of the overall customer experience; you can’t have a good customer experience if great customer service isn’t part of it. The holiday season means an abundance of pre-Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday sales. With the expected influx of traffic, it’s imperative to provide great online experiences.”
6. Purpose-driven businesses will thrive
There’s been a lot of talk about mission driven brands and ethical gifting lately, and it’s not going to be slowing down any time soon.
“The trend toward making ethical purchases will continue to grow, despite other economic factors. Consumers feel good when they help others and help the planet,” confirms Mark Agnew, CEO & Founder eyeglasses.com.
Believe it or not, there are so many ways for your brand to be a part of this, regardless of what you’re selling.
Why not try partnering with charities or nonprofits this holiday season and giving a percentage of proceeds to that charity? If you’re a local business, you can take it a step further by partnering with local charities that will help right in the community you operate in.
Alan Duncan, our VP of Brand and Consumer Marketing, points out that “The climate change conference COP26 takes place at the start of November and will put the environment at the top of the news agenda just as the holiday season reaches its peak. When you give a gift it also says something about you, so smart marketers from brands with a green agenda should be able to capitalise on this to shift purchasing behavior towards more ethical gifting.”
Does your brand operate ethically and sustainably? If so, this is something you should be shouting from the rooftops about. Especially during the holiday season. The environment really matters to people and getting them a gift that they not only love but also reaffirms this to them is a great way to show you support the causes they care about.
7. Plan for increased consumer spending
Economies have started to bounce back and for most people out there, it feels like we’ve settled back into some sort of normality. And it’s not just consumers that have their spending back on the rise again.
“With consumer confidence on the rise and ad spend from major brands bouncing back strongly I would expect to see luxury brands do particularly well this holiday period. People will be looking to have a much needed celebration with family and friends this year with the gifts to match. Another strong category is likely to be experience-based gifting. One member of a recent focus group said the daily Amazon delivery was pretty much all his family had to look forward to during lockdown and, like many others, may now have a house full of gadgets. Gifting the real life experiences they dreamt of during those dark times may now be a priority for gifting,” says Alan Duncan, our VP of Brand and Consumer Marketing.
Ad spend is carefully measured and planned, and major brands wouldn’t be investing their money here if they didn’t think it was going to pay off.
With all factors pointing to higher sales and spending this holiday season, make sure you’re focusing on providing an excellent customer experience overall. When products are running out, shipping delays are long, and customers are burnt out from shopping, those are usually the moments that a good – or bad – customer experience speaks the loudest.
‘Tis the season for great customer experiences
In the last few months, the global shift to online shopping has meant that customer service and customer experience have become a real necessity – not just a nice-to-have – for businesses who wish to stand out from the crowd.
So whether you’re an eCommerce business or a brick-and-mortar retailer, providing seamless shopping experiences will be crucial to your success this holiday season.
But with the risk of the pandemic resurging, brands should be ready to welcome more changes over the next few months.
“Many brands have learned to pivot their businesses at lightning speed over the past eighteen months. Keeping this agility over the coming months will be just as crucial. We may be hopeful that the pandemic will slowly but surely recede, but consumer behavior is likely to be even less predictable as new habits and old fight it out post-COVID,” says Alan Duncan, our VP of Brand and Consumer Marketing.
So as we head into another unusual festive season, the ability to understand your consumers and build trust with your audience will be more important than ever before. Investing in a review strategy can help you do just that, alongside our seven strategic tips.