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A Very Covid Christmas: 5 Trends Retail Marketers Can't Ignore This Holiday Season

The holiday season for retailers is going to look a bit different this year — ok, maybe a lot. Trends that you could normally bank on have changed.  Your customers’ shopping preferences and behaviors are in constant flux — and consumers are buying products online that they never would have considered before.

While most purchases will likely take place online this year, having a physical presence at local stores will significantly influence whether consumers buy from your store or your competitors. In fact many consumers will want to go into your stores because they prefer the in-store experience. Read more on this topic about why your online-to-offline strategy matters for your customers this holiday season.

And we can’t forget, competition with lower price offers is going to be even more fierce. Now, at just over six months’ into a global pandemic, many retailers with offline locations are struggling to keep their revenues from falling from one day to the next.

Your Holiday Marketing Gameplan

Keep these 5 trends in mind and SLEIGH the holiday season

Trend I: Your offline sales begin online

Online and offline sales are no longer entirely separate. This holiday season, your customers will be gathering information online first to not only get inspired but also to make sure you’re open and what safety measures are in place before checking out a host of other items on their list.

Google notes that 67% of shoppers will confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it — so it’s critical to keep your website up-to-date to help consumers avoid more trips than necessary.

Cover your online bases, by making sure your platforms and directories for all of your locations include:

  • Safer ways to shop (buy online pick up in-store)
  • Store hours
  • Peak traffic times
  • Product availability
  • Pick up and return options
  • Customer reviews

In a recent Think Retail on Air: Grow Local Sales led by Tracy Kellman, Google’s Retail Product Lead in the US, “Adapting to unpredictability will be the competitive advantage this holiday season.” This means responding in real-time to the shifts in consumer purchasing behavior, starting with correct business information on all the platforms and directories your customers are looking for you on.

Not only are shoppers not returning to stores, but they are not always returning to their brands and retailers they have relied on in the past if they can’t readily find the information they need online first.

However, there are many who are returning to stores, especially outside the US, but also in the US in some areas. By December things may have improved to encourage more people to do in-person shopping. For retailers, this means there is an opportunity to reach and covert new customers who may not have bought from you in the past.

Takeaway: Make sure the online information for each of your brand’s locations is consistent and up-to-date on all the platforms your customers use — not only Google.

Even though roughly 95% of search market share(in the US, UK and Europe) is owned by Google, many multi-location businesses forget that while Google gets all the initial search traffic, the job isn't done when you have a Google My Business listing and reviews.

  • Accurate and consistent listings are important across a wide spectrum of search engines, directories and review platforms.
  • Then, not only will you increase visibility, you will increase engagement.
  • That's why it's so important to run all your local listings through a checker and make sure your local business listings are optimised.

Read this step-by-step guide on how to use our checker, and you'll quickly see what's wrong with your listings and how you can change them. Take your free ‘Quick Check’.

Trend II: Shopping will start early

Don’t delay your marketing outreach for another day. The time to start is now. In fact, in the second week of September, Glamour UK launched its roundup of 2020 holiday advent calendars, with brands such as the Fortnum & Mason, Lush, L'Occitane, Selfridges and Harrods already showcasing their holiday offerings.

With the majority of holiday shopping taking place online this year, consumers will start placing their orders sooner, not later, to avoid items running out of stock. With an earlier start, and marketing teams eager to bring in more business in the final quarter, consumers will be inundated with offers — so start standing out early.

Several sources are citing that Amazon Prime Day, one of the internet's biggest shopping events of the year, may take place in early October, so it's best to start advertising and promoting your discounts in the first week of October.

In the US, Walmart and Target will be forgoing Black Friday this year, opting for online shopping as well.

Trend III: Consumers want it local

Consumers want to work with small businesses, and they have an advantage like they’ve never had before.  Big business should take a small business approach by thinking globally and acting locally — even considering collaborating in co-marketing activities with smaller brands.

Ronan Harris, VP and MD of Google UK & Ireland, noted in a recent interview on Good Morning Britain that Google has seen:

  • A massive jump in the number of search terms using the word “local”
  • Including a 1,300% increase in people searching terms like “local farm box” or “local meat delivery”
  • And a 500% increase in people searching for “local beer delivery”

But local is not just reserved for small businesses. Greg Sterling, Uberall’s VP of Market Insights notes that brands, such as Walmart, Home Depot, Target and Best Buy also qualify as local businesses because their stores are present in specific communities and they sell predominantly offline (or used to).

To see how you measure how your locations stack up against the competition at the local level, try out the free ‘Near Me’ 360 tool for instant results.

Trend IV: Keep it frictionless with a hybrid approach

Consumers are looking for frictionless options that allow them to make purchases that make them feel safe and at ease — even if there are no major restrictions at one or more of your offline locations.

Buy online and pick up in store, and curbside pickup are examples of a hybrid model that many retailers have already tapped into. This trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down either as it offers a simple solution for customers’ health concerns about in-store shopping.

Google notes that 53% of holiday shoppers who shop at stores will go to the ones that offer contactless shopping.

And if that’s not reason enough to include this hybrid approach, 47% of planned shoppers said they’ll use options to buy online, pickup in store/curbside pickup. While stores that enable consumers to see higher-consideration products and buy them online later (e.g., furniture, appliances).

Leverage your physical stores by offering:

  • Instant access to products when purchased online (through curbside pickup)
  • Same-day local pickup (after online purchase)

Takeaway: Since online and in-store traffic is sure to fluctuate, retailers should ensure digital strategies remain agile to meet customers where and when they feel comfortable.

Trend V: Get more human and more personal

2020 is the year of the customer and being a global brand without a local presence won’t cut it anymore. Every one of your locations has special qualities that makes each special — and your customers want to get to know them and support them.

Even though there’s a lot of online noise right now from your competitors, your customers are craving in-person contact.

When you can't physically be with them in the store, show them, who you are via your local landing pages:

  • What makes your location interesting?
  • Who are your employees and what are they doing?
  • What do your employees or customers recommend?

Individual landing pages for each location inform your customers in detail and give you even more reasons to visit them. Another tip: Create a segmentation plan. Break up your audience into groups based on data, such as location and past purchase behaviour, so you can set up a plan for more relevant content.

Other marketing tactics to consider:

Collaborate with other businesses: Partner with brands with a similar audience to yours, so you can reach new customers. This is also a great way to bundle your content or offers with like minded brands.

Get more social: The majority of brand interactions on Facebook now take place at the local level. Social media posts are some of the easiest ways to turn customers into fans. Use social posts to share news, offers and events about your locations that will interest your local community.

Craft more personalized content: Your customers, like you, are inundated with messages, invites, offers and newsletters. When sending out emails, focus on your subject headers to grab attention. For example, “Hey, Laura, that dinosaur toy you purchased last year has a new member to the plush family”.

Engage with inactive subscribers: Do you have a large group of inactive subscribers? Consider approaching them in a different way. For example, set up preference options on how frequently they want to hear from you.

To sum up

Local is no longer about SMBs. One trend we can bank on this holiday season is the Age of 'Near Me'. Today, over 50% of all Google queries are ‘near me’ searches. But many retailers haven’t included this in their holiday marketing strategy.

With the year’s biggest shopping days coming earlier this year, retail marketing leaders need to prepare now for a season of peak demand — and use these final months to connect with shoppers at all stages of the customer journey. This will mean pivoting and adjusting your marketing strategies to meet today’s ready-to-buy customers near your local stores.

Posted by Nicole Gottselig