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(originally published by Booz & Company)


“I’m Still Standing,” Say Consumers

• Refresh your return and fraud policies to ensure that your customers can return items bought online to the store.

• Consider free shipping on targeted items or basket sizes, because shoppers are increasingly savvy about their “all-in” costs. Last holiday season, free shipping was a major driver of online sales, and we expect more of the same this year.

• Use “we match online prices” messaging on the items most likely to drive overall price perception.

• In apparel, increase your chances of “buy it now” conversion by making sure your fitting rooms are clean, organized, and staffed with your best people. An enjoyable fitting room experience nearly always turns into a purchase.

• Invest in preparing your online and mobile technology platforms for high volumes. Online shoppers are quickly discouraged by slow websites and apps that crash.

• Ensure that your sales associates are intimately familiar with your website and your mobile offerings (such as apps) so that they can help customers navigate between your channels in real time. In a multichannel world, nothing alienates a consumer more than a blank stare from a salesperson in response to “Well, on your website it says…”

Some retail categories, such as food (in groceries and supermarkets), will have distinctive opportunities this holiday season. Because of the drive for frugal celebration, there will probably be an increase in parties and large home dinners — a trend no doubt viewed with some trepidation by the lead cook in the household. Grocery retailers can help these home cooks with interesting new side dishes and desserts, along with ready-cut and ready-washed salads and other ingredients. They can also provide exhausted cooks with ideas for use between the major celebrations, such as creative recipes for using leftovers.

The last year or two has seen a tremendous expansion in farmers’ markets as a source for fresh groceries. A supermarket can respond to this trend over the holidays by hosting a holiday market out in front of the store (perhaps in a heated tent in cold climates), thus attracting customers, building community spirit, and emphasizing the local store’s role in a successful and happy holiday season.

The Regifting Conundrum

“Regifting” is another trend that could have a significant impact on retailers. According to the survey, 32 percent of shoppers are currently considering giving an as-yet-unused gift to someone else this season. Thirty-one percent of shoppers view this as an acceptable form of gift giving (versus 25 percent last year). Of course, most consumers will ensure that their “regift” is appropriate for the lucky recipient, and many will consider appending a low-cost accessory or fresh packaging to make the gift appear new or personalized — or, perhaps, to salve their conscience!

The regifting trend could hit retailers hard. We see two possible strategies for persuading frugal customers to spend. First, you can resist the regift. Emphasize what is new and different about this year’s product, compare and contrast features (especially in electronics) or style and trim (in apparel). The online environment provides a great forum for providing this kind of information to consumers to help them choose the latest upgrade.

Alternatively, why not embrace the trend? Accept regifting as a phenomenon and sell accessories that add some novelty and help the giver feel good about the gift he or she is offering. In apparel, this could take the form of “updating last year’s looks,” ostensibly aimed at the owner of last year’s knitted top but actually aimed at the surreptitious regifter.

The Case for Optimism

Retailers are hearing a lot of somber forecasts these days: Economic uncertainty is everywhere, and significant technology-driven disruptions are affecting the shopping experience. But our research indicates that there is room for optimism — even compared with this time last year. Consumers are becoming more innovative and cautious with regard to spending, but many also seem focused on celebrating with friends and family — and giving thanks for economic survival. They have a value-seeking mind-set, but they will shop this year. Retailers that recognize their needs and concerns, and tailor their strategies accordingly, are the ones most likely to succeed this holiday season.

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