After reviewing the data on the effects of COVID-19 on retail, one thing became clear: People are slow to return to brick-and-mortar stores.
The pandemic pushed traffic online. And as of August 2020, visits to retail stores had yet to recover from their initial dip.
But, it wasn’t all bad news. August retail sales were even up 3.9% year-over-year.
So, what are the implications for this year’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday (BF/CM) season? People will be ready to spend during the final quarter of the year… but they’ll likely be spending online.
While COVID may have initially suggested a lag BF/CM in 2020, that won't necessarily be the case. And there are enough digital and omnichannel options to boost retail back to expected levels by the holidays.
However, time is running out. All retailers — brick-and-mortar, legacy, DTC and omnichannel operators — need to get ready now.
Last year, forecasts and predictions lined up well with each other. Predictions were for “between 3.8% and 4.2%” increases in holiday sales, according to the National Retail Federation. Salesforce predicted $8 billion on Cyber Monday.
And these were relatively close to the final results.
NRF’s prediction was dead-on with a 4.1% increase. The 2019 results would ultimately see $7.4 billion in online sales on Black Friday and $9.4 billion in total sales on Cyber Monday to help create the 4.1% increase.
The gist of this data suggests that economic turmoil does indeed have an impact on the bottom line in BF/CM. But even when that happens, BF/CM sales have continued to grow year-over-year.
Projections for 2020 are currently in line with the increase from 2018 to 2019. If that holds up, we may not see social distancing make the dent in BF/CM that many experts might have imagined six months ago.
In short: Don’t expect the COVID pandemic to slow things down for you. It’s time to prepare.
If the NRF’s projections hold up, retailers are in for another busy season. But this season will look different than any other.
So, how should retailers prepare themselves?
The first step is getting a handle on staffing needs, according to Melissa Jones of The CEOffice. She recommends immediately putting a staff coverage plan into place.
“Burned out staff isn’t helpful for customers, performance or team morale,” said Jones.
She went on to recommend that retailers account for existing vacation days and unplanned sick days. And for retailers who need overtime from staff, she suggests asking for volunteers first, then outlining the exact time and pay associated with the extra work.
Additionally, brick-and-mortar retailers should prepare for the hectic holidays by:
Jumping off that last point, here's how to get your online store operations in order.
This year's BF/CM season will look different, no doubt. Here are three ways retailers can get their online stores up to speed for the holiday shopping season.
Because BF/CM projects for growth this year despite the increased social distancing, the in-store experience can be an issue. Alex McPeak, content strategist at Klaviyo, recommends replicating in-store experiences, such as window shopping and product browsing, online.
Fewer people will shop in person. But they’ll still want that visual experience.
Consider that 93% of consumers consider visual appearance before making purchasing decisions. You can start preparing by reviewing your online store — How does it look to someone who likes to window shop on Black Friday?
Small details matter. If necessary, you should:
Baymard found that 25% of ecommerce sites don’t have sufficient zoom levels on their site. If you do, it’s an instant advantage.
“Additionally, brands will have to leverage things like wishlists and gift guides more than ever this year,” McPeak said. “So start preparing those assets now.”
Whether it’s a virtual wishlist that shoppers can curate and share with friends and family or a gifting tool that makes sending gifts simple, these offerings can reduce friction in the product discovery process and help drive more sales.
For example, American Eagle Outfitters does a nice job of both by allowing shoppers to “heart” favorite items or gift a product to a friend.
Digital strategist Eddie Garrison also believes that the lack of physical shopping could affect retail this year.
“Not everyone will feel safe,” Garrison said. “So offering multiple shopping, payment and delivery options will go a long way with your customers. Streamlining the purchasing process will be essential this year.”
As such, consider introducing multiple purchasing options. The customers are coming, after all. We just don’t know precisely where they’ll come from.
Make things easy by being ready for orders across many different channels. For example, the Shopify POS makes it possible to take payments everywhere while sending orders. Or you might look to offer same-day shipping to appeal to the online impulse buyers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
When it comes to your online checkout flow, make the process as easy and as distraction-free as possible. You can do this by making the experience mobile-friendly, offering guest and one-page checkout, and more.
Afterward, keep your customers engaged and informed during the post-purchase experience as well.
“Have a plan for if, and when, you run out of products,” said Wallace. “For online shoppers, have an ‘out of stock’ notification pop up before you are completely out… then, gather email addresses for those who are still interested.” Doing so, she said, will create a waitlist that you can leverage whenever the product comes back in stock. Also, upgrade your infrastructure and leverage multichannel selling from a single inventory management source, while providing an omnichannel experience.
At the very least, be clear about shipping costs, times and any delays. While you want to optimize your ecommerce fulfillment strategy as much as possible, there’s still a pandemic going on — there will be hiccups, so it’s best to be transparent, upfront, about expectations.
In an unprecedented BF/CM, that’s the one experience you can be sure people will want.
The Black Friday/Cyber Monday ecommerce season has descended upon us. And while foot traffic may decrease this year, the projections tell us to expect another busy shopping season.
Create a marketing plan that utilizes channels like email marketing and social media to keep consumers engaged and “in the know” all season long. With online shopping on the rise, having consumers’ attention through these channels will be critical — it’s easier than ever for them to buy from your competitor on the web vs. having to drive the next town over and shop in-person.
Fine-tune your plan now, and you’ll be in a prime position to attract new customers ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer specializing in ecommerce content. She also contributes to publications like Forbes and Vogue Business on topics around fashion and retail.