Supply chain issues, Brexit and the pandemic are set to create a Christmas period like no other. We speak to the experts to find out how retailers can maximise profits and sales…
1. Buy early, sell early
Traditionally, retailers have avoided unveiling their Christmas products too early. But it’s 2021, we’re still in a pandemic, so there’s nothing usual to see here. According to research, Brits have been preparing for Christmas unseasonably early as they look forward to making this year extra special. Bira has been urging buyers to finalise their festive stock plans since August and is advising indies to begin their marketing now: “Given the problems faced by non-essential retailers in the past 18 months (and let’s not forget they were closed all of November last year), this is the most important Festive period ever,” says CEO Andrew Goodacre. “It would be a tragedy if supply problems undermined the independent retailers at the busiest time of the year. So, look to buy stock now and start the marketing for the festive period now.”
2. Unify online with offline
To be able to compete this peak season, retailers must strike a balance between the online and offline worlds. The pandemic has helped consumers of all ages get on board with new technology. And now retailers need to make sure they deliver what they want, when they want it: “While some shoppers will be demanding a fast one-click purchase online, there will also be those wanting to view, try on and test products before they purchase in real life,” says Pecoraro. “To bridge the gap, an omni-channel approach based on experimentalism is needed, with offerings such as buy online pick-up-in-store models (BOPIS) or buy online, ship-from-store acting as a key differentiator. Taking learnings from last year, retailers that pre-emptively invested in omni-channel capabilities fared much better during peak season 2020. In fact, two-thirds of retailers (67 per cent) who invested in BOPIS initiatives reported an increased sales volume.”
4. Sell on social media
More shoppers are turning to social media to buy products than ever before, with Grand View Research estimating it represented 11 per cent of all global e-commerce last year. What’s more, two-thirds of global shoppers say their mobile phone has become their most important shopping tool. According to a recent report published by Facebook, social media is now becoming the new flagship store, serving as the main source for product and brand discovery. Globally, 63 per cent of fashion shoppers say they discover new clothing brands or items on social media. Then there’s the rise of live commerce, a growing trend that showcases immersive product demonstrations via live streams. But don’t discount the power of humble direct messages: 59 per cent of global shoppers say they want to connect directly with brands via their DMs to place orders.
5. Create the in-store experience at home
Online shopping has become more immersive since the beginning of the pandemic, with people wanting to mimic some of the in-store experience at home. Many independent retailers are already achieving this with styling and how-to videos, live fashion shows, styling advice via direct messages and personalised product recommendations. For Christmas, the most successful retailers will be tapping into this consumer demand to offer gift and partywear ideas. Going one step further, virtual try-on tools are becoming more popular and could be a reality for fashion retailers sooner than we think. Facebook’s research reveals that shoppers are ready for it, with 61 per cent of online customers saying they want to virtually try on products from the comfort of their homes.
6. Offer convenience for time-poor shoppers
While e-commerce has undoubtedly grown in popularity since the onset of the pandemic, research firm e-Marketer predicts that 81 per cent of total retail sales worldwide will still take place in physical stores. However, customers’ needs and expectations are shifting, with many planning and researching their trip online before hitting the shops. Facebook’s Reimagining Retail Report highlights a growing need for convenience when shopping in-store: “Luxury shoppers are now 2.5 times more likely to use click-and-collect services than non-luxury buyers,” it says. “To prepare for this, non-essential and luxury retailers will need to consider how they can emulate some of the conveniences offered in sectors such as grocery in their own customer experience.” Ideas for fashion stores include taking payments on the shop floor and offering road-side pick-ups for online orders. In short, it’s about making your transactions as easy as possible for those customers who are looking for speed.
7. Join a ‘shop local’ campaign
Some towns and city centres are capitalising on the demand for supporting local businesses with great results. Tavistock in Devon launched a gift card scheme last Christmas that can be redeemed with over 50 businesses in its town centre. Shoppers buy the card online, which is preloaded to a value of their choice that can be spent on anything from fashion to food. The initiative was led by the Tavistock Business Improvement District and supported by West Devon Borough Council as part of its Town Recovery Fund. Bury St Edmunds has also launched its own successful gift card initiative, raising £33,000 for local businesses in 2020. “A Town and City Gift Card is a piece of potential,” says Mark Cordell, MD at Miconex, the company behind the card. “The potential to support a small, independent business who has struggled through the last year. The potential to keep money locked into where you live and the potential to safeguard jobs, livelihoods and the vibrancy of where you live.”
8. Reconsider Black Friday
Black Friday is an event that many independent fashion retailers avoid. However, with research from Future Plc suggesting that 82 per cent of shoppers are going to actively engage in it this year, can you really afford to shun it altogether? Indies clearly can’t compete with the likes of Amazon in their gargantuan deals. However, thinking outside of the box with promotions could help encourage extra sales while the world’s haemorrhaging their lockdown savings. If you don’t want to offer a straight-forward blanket discount, experts recommend going down the ‘added value’ route with a complimentary gift when customers spend over a certain threshold or free next day delivery. Start dropping hints on your socials in the run up to Black Friday and don’t forget to add a banner on your site’s homepage to ensure maximum visibility.
9. Take advantage of Small Business Saturday
If you’ve never taken part in Small Business Saturday, this is the year to start. The popularity of shopping local snowballed in 2020 – and 15.4 million people supported the campaign spending a record £1.1 billion. So, with the press almost guaranteed to run away with stories on this year’s event (Saturday 4 December), now’s the time to get prepared. There are hundreds of ideas readily available online as well as free resources, courtesy of organiser American Express, available via smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com. Get in touch with your local BID to find out if there’s anything planned in your area for the day. Experts advise steering clear of Black Friday-style deep discounts, opting for in-store incentives such as raffles and freebies instead. Some retailers have also seen great success by donating a portion of sales to charity. Lastly, shopping local is all about community. So, use the day as an opportunity to join forces with other indies too with cross promotions.
10. Revise your delivery strategy
The last 18 months have been a rollercoaster for fashion indies needing to get to grips with e-commerce. Martin Bysh, CEO of fulfilment specialist Huboo, says the situation has been made even more difficult because of the ‘Amazon effect.’ “There’s now this notion that all e-commerce must meet the dizzying standards of fulfilment convenience enabled by this retail behemoth,” he says. “But while there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that free delivery matters, there’s comparatively little to support claims that rapid delivery is now a pre-requisite of success.” The expert says that free delivery matters to shoppers to remove the element of surprise at the checkout. Also, that offering free delivery has an algorithmic impact, making your products more visible in marketplace searches. However, customers are usually happy to pay for the convenience of next day delivery if they need something urgently (or they will visit the high street to collect it in person).
11. Create a destination
With major brands disappearing from our high streets, some town centres are struggling to pull in footfall. It’s hoped that the Christmas period will draw crowds into physical shops, but with the rise in e-commerce, retailers will need to ensure their customer service is top notch: “The challenge now is in creating a reason to visit town centres and it is important for retailers to work closely with town councils and landlords to make our town centres and high streets a destination once more,” explains Laura Morroll, senior manager at BearingPoint. “We’ll see more examples of former city centre retail locations becoming mixed-use entertainment locations – with popular brands offering alternatives to traditional shopping. Indies will benefit from this rejuvenation of the high street and should ensure that they are ready with personalised service and a compelling product offer – providing the real-world shopping experiences that we have been craving.”
12. Remember a customer isn’t just for Christmas
Lastly, focusing on loyalty means you’ll reaps the rewards of your festive marketing efforts long after shoppers have polished off the last of the Christmas chocolates. Customer loyalty schemes are a tried and tested method to keep shoppers returning. Digital retail solution provider Citrus-Lime offers an integrated Customer Rewards programme for its users, which makes it easy for retailers to implement a points-based system (citruslime.com). Alternatively, going the extra mile for every customer is almost guaranteed to maximise repeat purchases. And there’s no one on the high street that does customer service better than independents.