Holiday trends are pointing to a bigger retail revolution

Accenture's Gregor Barry dives into the firm's annual survey to see what trends will have an impact into the new year.
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By Gregor Barry 

One thing the pandemic hasn’t changed is that retailers are struggling to keep up with online giants like Amazon, but this holiday season will put their mettle to a new test.

It may come as no surprise that 71% of Canadians will do at least some of their holiday shopping online this year. With regular retail sales generally flat, we’re expecting to see retailers that provide enjoyable online holiday shopping experiences to be rewarded with sales, and be better positioned for whatever the future holds.

In Accenture’s 2020 Holiday Shopping Report, 63% of Canadian consumers said they weren’t likely to do business again with a retailer that provides an unsatisfactory online experience. Also, 40% said they are already shopping more from local and independent retailers and 44% plan to do so in the New Year as well.

The global pandemic has put a damper on the shopping experience, and people are prioritizing savings: 45% of Canadian consumers say COVID-19 has negatively affected their financial security, and another 57% said they’re likely to be shopping more cost-consciously.

This may sound like gloomy news for retailers, but there are some steps you can take to avoid holiday blight, beginning with ensuring that you’re doing digital sales really well. Easier said than done, but to excel in a slump market among skeptical consumers, you’ll have to:

Augment and sustain your digital assets: With the surge in online shopping, retailers need to make sure their ecommerce capabilities are up to the challenge. A tight focus on seamless experiences and fulfillment efficiency is especially important, leveraging all available consumer touchpoints for fulfillment and pickup.

Operate every day like it’s peak season: Operations excellence has never been more important to retailers’ top and bottom lines. Near flawless execution is required, be it online or in-store to capture and satisfy consumers this season.

Focus on visibility and agility to respond to demand changes: It’s anyone’s guess what the next several months have in store. Retailers need to have detailed visibility into inventory, and a correspondingly agile approach within their own and partners’ store networks and supply chains to quickly pivot in response.

Many retailers have already begun to spread the holiday peak over multiple weeks, launching campaigns well before Black Friday to address lower store traffic, prevent congestion and maximize fulfillment capacity. We’ve found that Canadian consumers are reluctant to shop on the traditionally “big” shopping days this year, a fact that is worth keeping in mind past Black Friday and as you begin planning for Boxing Day. A majority of shoppers – 58% – say they don’t feel safe in large crowds, and a notable 37% believe they can get equally as good discounts on other, non-sales event days.

This last point bears some scrutiny. While all of these factors entail building a strong digital front end, the customer is clearly at the center.

To no surprise, 79% of Canadians who shop online prefer home delivery and 40% expect it to be fast and free. Retailers are all too aware that shipping costs cut into margins, but according to our survey, Canadians would opt for in-store pickup instead of delivery, if offered certain perks, such as bonus loyalty points (30%), an easier in-store pickup experience (27%), a same-day discount (25%) or simply offering curbside or other forms of contactless pickup (21%).

Conscious consumption

While it’s a virtual certainty that the online trend will continue to grow post-pandemic, other factors have become important as well, especially when it comes to conscious consumption.

For example, we’re learning that post-consumer waste is a big factor in purchasing this year. As a result, at least 45% of Canadians say they want to avoid things like wrapping paper.

Consumers are also aware that people are at risk of losing their jobs if business is slow for a retailer. This may explain why 53% of Canadian shoppers prefer to shop at Canadian retailers and support local businesses. Another 57% say they’re much more inclined to buy locally sourced products when holiday shopping.

Some numbers I found particularly striking all have to do with the rise in consumer consciousness: 54% of consumers would be inspired to shop with retailers who have responded well to – and have supported their staff during – the pandemic. Just over half say they’re likely make more environmentally friendly, sustainable or “ethical” purchases, while 28% are buying more seasonal produce to reduce how far food travels, and 31% will do so in 2021.

These trends point to a retail revolution. Not only are we seeing people buying more online, but their expectations are higher than ever. And it isn’t just about the quality of the product or service anymore. Today, we see a generation of consumers concerned for their health (and the health of their neighbours) as well as their environmental footprint, among other conscious factors. Retailers who can’t provide an experience that seamlessly blends satisfaction with corporate responsibility will almost certainly be left out in the cold – this holiday season and perhaps forever.

Gregor Barry is managing director and lead for Accenture Interactive Canada.