Five ways retailers can make Christmas shopping sparkle

John Lewis: Christmas ad
John Lewis: Christmas ad

Retailers worldwide are wishing for a plentiful Christmas this year. While some forecasters are giving conservative estimates, others are suggesting that 2013 could be one of the best years since the financial crisis began, writes Shingo Murakami, managing director at Rakuten's Play.com.

Either way the Christmas shopping period remains one of the most important times of the year for retailers and it’s vital that this opportunity is fully utilised.

Launching a pre-Christmas sale is a sure-fire attention-grabber, however there are many other ways that retailers can stand out online and on the high street, fostering loyalty that will last into the New Year and beyond. With so much resting on success in the run-up to Christmas, here are my top tips for showing shoppers that you care about more than getting them to part with their cash.

1. Give the gift of inspiration with recommendations of what to buy

With money tight and must-have gifts often hard to find, the Christmas shopping season can be a stressful time for shoppers, especially when looking for the perfect gift for those impossible to please friends and family members. In the UK, our research shows that the majority of consumers spend up to an hour researching gifts. Retailers can help customers by providing inspiration of presents to buy across all price points.

An easy way to provide inspiration is to prepare a round-up of gifts. This could be focused on an intended recipient, such as ‘for him’ or ‘for her’, or a price bracket, such as stocking fillers under £20. Round-ups of gift suggestions could be published on your website or even included in an email newsletter, providing a way to target shoppers who have bought items from you in the past.

2. Spread the Christmas cheer with top class customer service

Looking beyond more traditional customer channels, retailers should also take time to consider how they can provide customer support through other channels this Christmas, such as social media and web chat. Although virtual, customers expect the same level of service through these channels, so make sure you are able to meet their expectations by clearly outlining what times staff are available to answer questions and how quickly they can expect to receive a response.

As one of the busiest times of the year, it’s highly likely you will need some extra help. While many temporary workers will only be working for you for a few weeks, it’s important that they are fully equipped to deliver the same customer experience that you expect from your permanent staff, regardless of whether they are providing assistance in-store, over the phone or on the web.

3. Help social sharing snowball with high quality photos and video

In the UK, 26% of shoppers regularly recommend or seek out recommendations of products on social media, and Christmas is no different. Social media can therefore be a very effective resource for retailers to take advantage of.

There are plenty of ways for retailers to use social networks. Pinterest, for instance, can be used to create mood boards of potential presents. Retailers can also make good use of Twitter by tweeting suggestions of things to buy, such as the top-selling Christmas gifts. Alternatively, Vine, a platform for short videos, could be used to share fun videos, such as how to wrap an unusually shaped gift.

However, retailers shouldn’t overlook the power of a customer’s recommendation. It’s important to encourage shoppers to share photos and video content on your store. You can do this by making social sharing of product images easy, and offering rewards for posting reviews after purchasing a product, such as loyalty points or entry into a competition.

4. Don’t drop the ball when the big day comes

When the 25th December finally comes, you might expect things to ease off a little, at least temporarily, but our research shows that a third of shoppers in the UK continue shopping online on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Whether customers are looking to bag themselves a bargain in the sales or searching for some very last-minute presents, there are still opportunities for retailers to build customer loyalty.

Retailers can reward customers by inviting them to member-only sales in-store or online where they can get exclusive, first look at products in the January sales before it is opened up to the general public. Offering personalised deals and discounts is another effective way that retailers can drive sales after Christmas day, while saying ‘thank you’ to customers that have shopped with them.

5. Dazzle shoppers by going the extra mile this Christmas

Whether shopping online or in-store, the experience that shoppers receive impacts how likely it is that they will shop with you again in the future. Delivering a top notch experience is of course of vital importance, however there is more than retailers can do to wow customers after making a sale.

Retailers can show customers that they care by offering personalised treats for loyal customers, such as free delivery on their next order or free gift wrapping. Even a gesture as small as giving a few sweets or candy canes to customers in-store or in a delivery box for an online order can impress shoppers and ensure that your store sticks in their memory.

This article was first published on The Wall Blog

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