Opinion

Driving home Christmas

Christmas just can’t come soon enough. All of us ‘need a little Christmas’ to brighten our lives and give us hope of a return to, some kind of normality. But the all-important golden quarter is going to be very different for many retailers in 2020. Despite hopes earlier in the year that the worst of the Covid-19 crisis might have been behind us by now, a Covid-Christmas will pile even further pressure on to optimise in-store performance, and sales, during the festive season.

Instead of the usual hoards of shoppers eagerly looking forward to the outdoor town centre festive light switch-on, togging up in warm winter coats and enjoying hot chocolate from steaming mugs; many shoppers are instead thinking about securing, all important delivery slots for online shopping and groceries—which are likely to become as elusive as the main man in the red coat himself as the calendar ticks quickly down to the big day.

It’s not that the public don’t have the same appetite for Christmas shopping. After all, buying and receiving gifts and goodies brings a certain ‘feel good’ factor—something that has been in short supply for much of this year. But 2020 will likely play out quite differently, with the changing Covid guidance and restrictions likely to dampen the public’s appetite for visiting the shops in-person, with people still eager to protect themselves, their family and friends.

Things will look, feel and sound very different in UK stores this Christmas. For retailers, the message is clear: don’t even try to operate as business as usual. The good news, shoppers will want, expect and be sympathetic to a modified, and in some very real ways, a reduced in-store experience.

So what essential changes must they make now to maximise a reduced footfall environment and convert every potential sale to ensure this crucial trading period pays off?

1. Simplify to make it easy

Shoppers will be much less likely to browse. Impulse behaviour will be minimised, so random extras may be less frequently bought. Instead of being in ‘exploration mode’, behaviour in-store will be precise and targeted. Increased list making will focus people’s mind in advance, with pinpoint decision making. The emphasis will be on saving them time (and exposure) by avoiding being in any store environment for too long. Retailers should do everything possible to simplify in-store presentation (no touch displays, less choice, more availability of key lines etc.), and store operations (e.g. clear signage) to offer customers quick, hassle-free easy shopping.

There are countless changes that can be made to normal seasonal VM and visual operations to increase sales opportunities. It simply means ‘unpicking’ the entire customer journey and refocusing efforts only on the things that matter most, with simplicity the watchword.

2. Click, collect and buy more

With the pressure on national delivery services to fulfil online shopping orders, retailers should maximise the use of store-based click and collect services. Shop layouts can be reconfigured to make space for additional collection points, with more efficient queue management and, of course, responsible social distancing measures in place. This provides opportunities for encouraging additional unplanned impulse sales whilst shoppers make collections in-store.

Recognise how parts of the layout may not be as frequently visited. Retailers should re-evaluate other areas of their store space and replan this to make layouts simpler—repurposing focal points into selling displays and using aisles and walkways more productively to grab attention, and sales, as people avoid some areas in-store.

3. Less is more VM

It will be much less important to spend time on lavish VM and creative displays—shopper’s appreciation of these, and therefore stores ability to gain from their beneficial impact will be reduced. Place emphasis on VM replenishment efficiency, using bold, large-scale impact and limiting fuss to make displays easier for store teams to install, maintain and update. Don’t waste time decor trimming the whole store. Instead, focus only on areas that will be visited most, where it adds maximum value. Use VM staff to promote key lines rather than decorate.

The end of season sales will arrive early in-store as all retailers race to make every selling day count. Ensure stock to buy (in bulk) is adjacent to displays. Use bold red for impact to help quickly switch promotional messages out with a sense of promotional urgency, vibrancy and seasonal colour cheer. As a stimulant, the use of impactful red can tempt people to buy more.

4. Integrate technology

Shoppers returning to stores have been asked to embrace a host of technology innovations designed to provide safer, simpler, and more effective experiences. Even the humble QR code has seen a rebirth. Digital tools to manage timed access to stores, efficient queue management inside, provision of product information and customer services have been introduced to help shoppers to feel comfortable to visit this year. The key is to integrate both online and offline shopping elements and make the entire process as frictionless and easy as possible.

Retailers that explain the benefits of the new technologies and how shoppers can use them easily, will see their investment paid back quicker. Using staff at key points to help shoppers use these tools will also be welcomed and help reduce frustration and build greater adoption in-store—don’t assume people will adopt these naturally without proactive help by store staff.

5. Make Some Noise!

With reduced footfall, and corresponding ‘people energy’, creating a sense of excitement and seasonal warmth and in-store atmosphere will be vital. This festive season will be without the usual array of in-store tasters and testers, designed to tempt shoppers in to purchase. This will mean retailers have to rely on stimulating the senses in different ways—less taste and touch, but an opportunity to amplify the effects of sound and smell.

Build a greater sense of the festive experience with in-store music and announcements. Use bright, upbeat Christmas music (with a hint of warm nostalgia) to help compensate for reduced seasonal VM impact and to keep staff members motivated. Using a tannoy to promote products and seasonal offers will balance its more sombre use for Covid related shopping safety messages that could dampen the mood. Keep the soundscape cheery and positive.

Christmas can still be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ in 2020 and there is much that retailers can do to help shoppers enjoy their store visit. In an effort to maximise the opportunity, all retailers must review, plan and adjust how they execute and deliver the in-store experience, using the most appropriate measures to manage sales, safety and provide a sense of seasonality in a balanced and productive way that will lift the mood for both shoppers and retailers alike.

By Suzanne Tanner

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