The holiday season is upon us, and chaos is in full swing. While many consumers like to get an early start, others tend to wait until the last minute (you caught me).
I'm not the only one. College kids especially put off shopping until December. According to a recent Barnes & Noble College Insights survey, 41 percent of students do most of their holiday shopping in early or mid-December, and 18 percent in mid- to late December.
Translation? Timing is everything. Don't think you're in the clear once you've reached December. If you want to increase your sales and attract consumers this season, try these tips for retailers.
1. Engage your loyal customers first.
While you obviously want to seize the holiday season by increasing your sales and recruiting new consumers, don't neglect your loyal customers. In fact, you should gear most of your marketing efforts toward them.
"Before you focus on acquiring new customers for the holidays, engage your existing loyal customers first with exclusive online offers or in-store events," said Mark Gally, CEO of Zaius. "Based on their past buying history, you already know exactly what will appeal to them most and can create personalized campaigns."
Additionally, he noted, loyal customers spend about 67 percent more than new customers. If you dedicate your tactics to those regular clients, you'll retain their devotion while still attracting new prospects. What works on them will likely work on others.
Gally recommended centering the insights you have into your current customers that could help you encourage repeat customer purchases as well as new ones. Find out when they shop, which devices they shop on, etc., and use that information to your advantage.
2. Offer omnichannel shopping options.
In today's retail industry, you want to ensure you're appealing to a diverse pool of consumers with various shopping tendencies. Some customers might prefer to shop online from their couch, while others would rather go to a physical location.
For instance, according to Lisa Malat, COO of Barnes & Noble College, much of Gen Z values an in-store experience over a digital one. They feel dissatisfied if not at a physical location, prefer trying on apparel before purchasing and think returning products online is a "hassle."
"That being said, many students utilize an omnichannel approach to shopping," she said. "They order online and pick up in-store, or maybe try on their options in-store and buy online. That's why it is absolutely critical for retailers to take a fully integrated approach to reaching customers. A great in-store experience, a seamless e-commerce site and a smart mobile app are all important components of the Gen Z college student shopping experience."
Consumers are especially spoiled today, and with Amazon Prime's free two-day shipping raising the bar, it seems many retailers are following suit. However, multichannel retailing will please even the ficklest customers.
"Last-minute shoppers will likely be under more of a time crunch, meaning fast shipping is going to play a large role in getting their business," said Gally. "If you don't have the resources to do fast and free shipping yourself, consider offering order online with in-store pickup."
With same-day delivery, virtual wardrobe and social commerce gaining pace, it's also crucial for retailers to have mobile channels.
"Make 100 percent sure there are ways for your customers to browse, order, pay and receive goods that combine online and offline channels – with maximized mobile usability and payment options," said Richard Stevenson, head of corporate communications for ePages. "Then, advertise your flexibility. Research shows that convenience remains the No. 1 priority for holiday season shoppers, and they will pay a premium for rapid, painless options that dovetail with their busy lives."
It's also important for retailers to be flexible with their selling options. Stevenson noted that consumers are buying from multiple, constantly evolving online platforms beyond your storefront – marketplaces, social media, and even Amazon Echo and Alexa. Think local, but sell worldwide, he says.
"Make sure you figure in all and [that] your online listings for marketplaces, search engines and comparison portals are fully visible," Stevenson said. "Always offer currency and shipping options for cross-border sales – the world is getting smaller."
3. Perfect the customer experience.
Customers want to feel valued, and offering them a personalized yet seamless shopping experience is the best way to do that.
"Using your deep understanding of your customers, you can create an enjoyable and hassle-free customer journey, from browsing to checkout to returns," said Gally. "For traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, this can be as simple as opening your doors earlier and closing them later, or adding staff members to reduce time customers spend in line. For online brands, that means having your customer support team on call and ready to address any customer complaints at the drop of a hat."
The holiday season is not just a time to shop, however; it's also a time to celebrate. Your business should encourage consumers to do just that.
"Whether you're a local shop or a big e-commerce brand, a fun event or pop-up shop is a sure way to draw in your customers during the holidays," Gally added. "You can offer a special in-store consultation from the experts, or even something as simple as wine and cheese while you shop – whatever it takes to stand out and offer something exciting and exclusive to your buyers."
Wine and cheese? There's no way your customers will forget that shopping experience. Stomachs full and spirits high, they'll be loyal to your brand far into the new year.
Additional reporting by Stephanie Weaver. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.