This year’s shortened holiday season (the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas) means retailers are losing almost a week’s worth of sales opportunities compared to last year. So there’s no time to waste when it comes to promoting deals, engaging customers, and delivering positive experiences. 

Despite the lost days, predictions point to a record year for consumer spending. With that in mind, here’s how retailers can ensure this is their most successful sales season yet.

Reach customers where they are

Printed, mailed catalogs, and coupons haven’t phased out just yet. But this year, more than half of consumers will be starting the gift searches online. The internet has made it easier to research products, check out reviews, and track down the stores with the best deals. And it’s no longer just for computers — mobile shopping is growing, particularly among younger generations.  

From social media advertisements to email offers, there have never been more options for connecting with customers. But to stand out from the competition, retailers will need creative strategies. Here are a few ideas:

  • Use limited-time offers, first-time customer discounts, and newsletter signup coupons to encourage shoppers to complete their purchases on from your site, rather than search for better prices elsewhere.
  • Offer personalized deals, information, or assistance via chatbot or email based on customer interactions with your brand. 
  • Employ shoppable media, which uses compelling visuals, storytelling, and interactive experiences to engage prospects and encourage sales. This could take various forms across social media platforms, for example, a “swipe up” Instagram ad or a Youtube video with product links.

Create a flawless omnichannel experience

Whether they’re swiping an app, shopping online, or browsing the store, customers appreciate when products are easy to find and purchase, wait times are minimal, and customer service can solve problems quickly and efficiently. Online, this translates to a website or app that’s glitch-free and user-friendly. Simple navigation, fast load times, mobile optimization, and secure checkout are the minimum requirements. But shoppers also want search and filtering functions that make finding products a breeze, as well as easy access to customer service if they need it.  

All the things customers love about online shopping shape what they expect to find in a brick-and-mortar store, too. The most successful stores make it easy for customers to find everything, ask for assistance, and try on or test products. They maintain the store’s professional appearance by keeping shelves stocked, organized, and free of open or damaged products.

And even though it’s the busiest shopping season of the year, customers aren’t likely to forgive long checkout lines. Over 40% of customers abandon their carts if lines take longer than nine minutes, and more than 85% won’t go into stores if they notice long lines. While some stores can get away with simply opening up more lines during these times, others may have more success with adding express or self-checkout options. 

Hiring extra staff for the season may help keep things running smoothly, but that decision should include a strategy for effectively managing time. For example, moving more employees to checkout during the busiest hours and focusing on stocking shelves and managing inventory during downtimes. 

Protect and personalize online orders

Porch pirates are waiting to take advantage of the end-of-the-year surge in unattended packages. And customers want to know that retailers have their backs when it comes to securing last-mile and last-yard delivery. Offering detailed tracking information, sending delay alerts, and following delivery instructions can keep customers informed and orders arriving safely. And should something go wrong, retailers should readily offer refunds or send out replacements.

Fast, free shipping will continue its reign this year. But while the importance of shipping speed has doubled compared to last year, customers still consider cost before speed. If they need to choose slower speeds to unlock free shipping, they will likely do so. However, some shoppers would like to see more options for when and how they receive their orders. For example, those shopping with sustainability in mind may wish to select slower shipping speeds or have their items grouped together.  

Regardless of how much effort retailers put into the above services, sometimes returns are unavoidable. When a gift turns out to be less-than-perfect, shoppers must have a convenient way of returning online orders that doesn’t require them to repackage items, print labels, and visit a shipping center. The ability to bring those returns to a local store is not only easier, but it might convince customers to shop around while they’re there. 

Adopt in-store pickup services

In-store shopping can be a stressful experience this time of year, especially when time is running out, shipping deadlines have passed, and shelves are looking bare. This is when buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) will swoop in as the holiday hero. Shoppers will get the ease of online product browsing and buying without dealing with congested aisles and — if spaces are designated for BOPIS — parking lots. It’s also an environmentally-friendly option that avoids the shipping costs.

In-store pickup is a problem-solver for both procrastinators and planners, and it can help retailers improve inventory. If shoppers arrive at a store and find the item they’ve been eyeing is now sold out, it leaves them with a bad impression of the store. On the other hand, if they can reserve that item through BOPIS before it disappears, they might be back to cross more items off their shopping lists.  

And, as more customers choose to complete their purchases through the store app or website, BOPIS can also reduce checkout lines. However, if adopting this strategy just shifts the burden to the customer service line, retailers may need to rethink the pickup process. Fulfilling BOPIS orders through automated package lockers is one solution. The lockers allow customers to access their orders without crowding the lines or interrupting employees. 

To learn more about streamlining store pickups, check out Smiota’s smart package lockers.