Retailers rejoice! The holiday season is here! And guess what? According to industry experts, people are going to spend more than last year. So get your shelves (online and in-store), virtual reality surprises and store associates ready for the sale of the year!

The NRF has recently released a survey, according to which sales are expected to rise between 3.6% and 4%, between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Retailers would make most of the season and the competition is heavy in the air with everyone trying to lure in customers with one innovation or the other.

2017 Holiday Season Retail Innovations:

Let’s take a peek at the surprises that the retail industry has planned to spring on its customers this holiday shopping season.

Magic mirror: Fashion retailers like Japanese clothes merchant Uniqlo and fashion brand Rebecca Minkloff have planned to cut down trial room queues using magic mirrors. These mirrors are a virtual reality, touch screen mirror like innovation that empowers the customers to complete the look or select a product virtually, in less time and conveniently. See what you look like in different colors and patterns of the product, see what shoes matches with the dress or what handbag goes with the look. Do all this without stepping in and out of dressing rooms multiple times.

Pop up store: The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts an 11% to 15% rise in non-store sales this year, which include catalogs and kiosks as well as e-commerce. From small shops to shop fronts to even truckloads, pop up stores are the new ‘it’ thing of retail. It provides customer engagement, greater visibility and it surely creates a stir among the customers. The vegetable retailer Birdseye, took advantage of the social media craze and opened a pop-up store where customers could pay by putting food images on Instagram with the retailer’s hashtag.

Virtual reality: Customers are in for a ride this season! Virtually.  Leveraging virtual reality, disruptive retailers have innovated virtual try on, ramp walk and even a waterslide! TopShop has created a virtual reality waterslide which gives their customers a thrilling ride through London.

In-store tracking: Location analytics has been counting footfalls and studying customer behavior to help retailers plan the product display and store map. Now, analytics products like Vieweasy helps retailers track the time each customer has to spend waiting in the queue. This helps customers track their time and decreases chances of cart abandonment. Retailers will also be using in-store navigation apps to help their customers find what they needs without many roadblocks.

Connected store: Shoppers will shop, from one channel or the other and in volumes! Retailers are prepared to keep their payment methods flexible and all the channels integrated to make the shopping experience a hassle free one.  Using RFID technology, retailers are easily keeping their stores (online, physical) connected. Take the example of Harvey Nichol’s, the British luxury store chain, which uses a cloud based solution to keep their physical and online store connected. Thanks to this, their customers are able to opt for mobile rewards program and redeem them in store as well as online according to their convenience.

Predictive analytics: Putting big data and analytics to good use, retailers are now equipped with knowledge that lets them personalize their sales pitch for different customers. Taking into account browsing history, purchase history and patterns, retailers can create customized deals for customers this holiday season. Analytics can also help in pricing optimization. According to Mckinsey “With a 1% price increase translating into an 8.7% increase in operating profits, assuming there is no loss of volume, pricing has significant upside potential for improving profitability.”

Upcoming holiday sales preparations

Gearing up for the major sale weeks, retail giants like Macy’s and Target are taking steps to serve their customers to the best of their abilities. Macy’s has announced their plan to hire 18,000 holiday workers to fulfill online orders, including shipping and packaging, an increase of about 3,000 from last year.

Target Corp, on the other hand, said they would hire 43% more seasonal workers, or a total of 100,000, for the holiday season rush.

Getting social: Retailers are lighting up their customers’ social media pages with holiday ads consisting of heartwarming videos, funny memes and exciting deals. Also, with the help of predictive analytics which uses algorithms to identify customers’ individual interests and needs, retailers can use the technology to personalize ads and create clickbait content for individuals.

Themes and décor: With twinkling decorated Christmas trees and snowing backgrounds, retailers are ready to give their customers that warm fuzzy feeling of holidays on their apps and web. Store fronts dazzle with twinkling lights and a lot of red, Christmas stockings, as fashion retailers put their best foot forward with the latest fall collection from designers. Amazon whole foods had slashed prices for prime members this Thanksgiving. Their homepage banner flaunts a sumptuous Thanksgiving meal with lowered prices for turkeys.

Interactive campaigns: Offering promo codes for liking, commenting or sharing is a good way of spreading the word about your holiday sale. Using email campaigns or social media, interactive campaigns can drive in a lot of opportunities for retailers. Macy’s has launched a charitable campaign called Macy’s believe. Children write letters to Santa and send them to Macy’s and for each letter Macy’s makes a donation of 1$ to a charitable organization.

Rewards and freebies: The holiday spirit is about giving. Giving something extra to your customers would build loyalty, and what better time to reward the customers than the holiday season? Offering free gift wrapping/gift box, free doorstep delivery and free gifts on certain purchases would strengthen the bond with the customers.

Major online rush

The online market, with major players like Amazon and eBay, is giving tough competition to the brick and mortar retailers, including those with omnichannel reach. A recent Forrester report predicts that US online holiday sales will reach $129 billion in 2017. This represents 12% growth in holiday sales over 2016.

The major allure for online shopping is mostly three benefits that customers vouch for:

Free delivery: Most online retailers are offering off on shipping charges and a select range of products is mostly delivered without delivery charges. Amazon Prime offers this service to all who hold a prime account.

Fast delivery: Customers love the fact that with online shopping they won’t have to jostle the crowd in shops and stand in queues. They can get their desired items delivered to their doorstep within hours or one day.

Easy returns: Holiday rush, lucrative offers and a general wish to purchase new and good things may lead to a couple of wrong choices. The size doesn’t fit, someone didn’t like the gift or just a whimsical purchase, any of these can be the reason for an exchange or return. Online shopping offers them the luxury of easy returns and refunds.

 

Retailers to watch out for:

The past two years has seen a lot of retail innovations. The next one will see more. As more brick and mortar retailers opt for various virtual reality offerings, online retailers like Amazon are prepared to launch drone deliveries and eBay is gearing up with virtual try on online to give the stores competition.

American departmental store chain T.J. Maxx is giving e-commerce retailers a tough time by playing the FOMO (fear of missing out) card with their customers. Even with very little online presence they were able to increase their revenue by 5% to 7% in 2016 on average.  They urge their customers to take advantage of the discount offers before they run out of stock. With a small inventory and lucrative discounts, this makes for a good strategy to bring back the crowd in store.

The 2017 shopping season looks bright and promising and retailers are more than ready to reap the best out of it. Whether in-store or online, according to more than one marketing research outlook, this year will be a good holiday sale for both retailers and customers.

Shreyasee Ghosh

Shreyasee Ghosh

Research Analyst at Aspire Systems
Shreyasee Ghosh is responsible for handling various kinds of marketing content including whitepapers. She has a 1st class 1st Graduation degree in Mass Comm & Journalism. In a career spanning over four years she has worked at a renowned media organization and other IT companies.
Shreyasee Ghosh