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Clicks, bricks and Saint Nick: Christmas shopping in the digital age


22 December 2016

Alison Wiltshire

Blogs by author: Alison Wiltshire, Global Practice Lead, Retail and Consumer Goods, BT.


If the recent cold snap wasn’t enough, the invasion of mince pies onto supermarket shelves and the appearance of festive jumpers, signals that the build-up to Christmas has begun.  But while retailers launch their heart-warming TV ads wishing for busy and crowded stores, some of us find the prospect of Christmas shopping more of a nightmare.

It’s not that people don’t like shopping in traditional stores. In spite of the popularity of ecommerce, ‘bricks and mortar’ shops still account for 90 per cent of all retail sales[1]. But we consumers want shopping in the physical store to be much more like it is online: easy, personal and fun.  This is especially the case at Christmas when shops are bursting with people and queues can stretch to the door.

BT Futurologist, Dr Nicola Millard, has talked to consumers to find out what we really want when we go shopping. Her report ‘The omnichannel swap shop’ reveals six factors that retailers should take into account if they want to keep us coming through the doors this Christmas and beyond.

1.Understand why we choose to shop on line or in the physical store. It’s not one or the other but a complex journey as we zig zag through websites, mobile apps, social media and the store itself. Festive offers might attract us to the website but ‘parcel paranoia’ means we might choose to collect a precious gift or make our purchase in the store rather than risk the post or courier.

2.Bring digital and physical worlds together. As shoppers we just see the retailer or brand; we don’t differentiate between different ‘channels’ such as websites, mobile apps or physical stores and we’d appreciate some consistency. That means retailers must collect and keep a single record of us and our activity. Give us the same quality and quantity of information (pricing, stock availability, customer reviews and special offers) in store and online. And the same ease of transaction so there’s no more queuing to pay in the shop.

3.Give us good signposts, clear direction as we navigate our way through choices and decisions. Reassure us that we’re heading in the right direction. In the store, help us find things quickly and declutter our journey. Maybe direct us to items we viewed on line? After all, many of us will have our smartphones with us.

4.Make our visit to the store or branch a pleasure, fun even. Retailing is not just about buying something, but is also theatre, therapy, and a social occasion. For some, gift shopping is an essential part of feeling ‘Christmassy’. So entertain and inspire us with videos, festive music and even seasonal scents. Make sure there is free wifi in every store, so we can share our good times with friends via our smartphones and social media.

5.Turn sales associates into personal shoppers for everyone. We are social beings who respond to human warmth and conversation. We’d like to see sales people equipped with mobile devices so they have all the information they need to talk to us individually, to answer questions, check inventory, order items and even take payment on the spot. That would really help to take the stress out of Christmas shopping.

6.Create personalised experiences for us. With our consent, use information about us to send us a welcome message on our phone when we arrive in store, or special offers designed for us.

There is plenty of technology available for retailers who are serious about meeting the needs of today’s digital consumers. But we consumers also have a part to play. If we want retailers to offer us a better experience wherever, whenever and however we shop, there’s a deal to be done. Our personal data is valuable and we should think about what we want to share with retailers, and for what return. The more the retailer knows about each of us, the easier it is to give us a more personalised experience.

Of course, smart retail technology is not just for Christmas. Successful retailers in the digital age will deliver enjoyable experiences and personalised services that will keep shoppers coming through the doors every week of the year.

To find out more about how you can overcome today’s digital retail challenges, have a chat to our experts at the NRF 2017, Retail’s Big Show, from 15 to 17 January 2017. They’ll be in booth 3181 on level three.

[1] https://bostonretailpartners.com/the-future-store-manifesto-real-time-retail-changes-everything/