More than ever, businesses like yours are faced with rapid changes in the world of retail. To better serve clients like you, the Expert ENGINE team recently held interviews with two thought leaders in our network to gauge their opinions on these massive shifts. The first expert, Steve, had so much insight to share that we covered only some of his insights in the first blog post. In this week’s story, we’ll focus on Steve’s predictions on holiday shopping.
Steve has worked in retail leadership for nearly three decades. He’s spent most of that time holding major responsibilities in two household-name department store chains. Now, he focuses on consulting. Steve’s roles have included trade, purchasing, management, chief-of-staff equivalency, planning, analytics, financial forecasting, and comprehensive planning support. Thanks to the depth of his experience, Steve had a great deal of insight to share with us!
Holiday Shopping: Nuts and Bolts
Speed, convenience, and friction. These three variables make up Steve’s list of retailers’ primary goals and roles every Q4 as consumers ramp up their holiday shopping. This time of year, he observes, “everything is magnified.” On the consumer side, that means the priority of family and ideas of luxury — and, on the retailers’ side, it means a major uptick in sheer product volume. Priorities for customer experience have hinged more on efficiency than ever before. The retailers who can ship to customers quickly are those who stay ahead. As you might expect, “focal mistakes” tend to consist of customer letdown. Every procrastinating shopper, and every concerned retailer, has long feared that striking image of the empty space where their loved one expected a gift under the Christmas tree.
At the same time, retailers are always pushed by their competitors’ delivery offers. If another retailer takes orders up until December 22nd, for example, the retailer can no longer cut off at the 19th. Call it a game of retail chicken (or, perhaps more gently, “trade-offs”) for taking orders and maintaining a reputation of reliability. Keeping websites open for last-minute shoppers becomes a necessity, which in turn has driven an increasing Q4 focus on technical operation and supply chain — all for the sake of staying competitive. The result? A major uptick in the importance of the relationship between retailers and their shipping partners. In a nutshell, getting packages out of the door and preparing trucks for shipping readiness has become the priority.
How the Strong Survive: A Short Story
Steve cited the example of Christmas 2013, where every major retailer was “hammered” with consumer disappointment for missing Christmas — but Amazon, as the biggest player, was forced to absorb the brunt of shopper ire and risk to their reputation. What did they do? Learned quickly. In response, and with total unwillingness to fail, Amazon bought airlines, built a network of trucks, and promised buyers their own people are handling the shipping. The result, in Steve’s words: Amazon now controls their own destiny.
Predictions for 2021 Holiday Shopping
Though it’s a sad picture, Steve predicts empty shelves this Christmas, as have many others in the industry . In his words, the current global supply chain situation is “an absolute mess.” Retailers have long advised consumers to buy early — to their own advantage, of course — but now they really might run out by the holidays. The mantra for customers has become, “if you see it, buy it,” and now many players, including Amazon, have already extended their return windows into January. The motive? Consumers need to buy with confidence.
Starting long before today’s supply chain nightmares and the effects of the COVID era, Steve notes that Christmas has been nudged earlier and earlier every year. (Anyone who’s shopped for a family member, especially online, can attest.) Trends include continual increases in Black Friday sensationalism, the rise of Cyber November, and, more recently, a development into October shopping events — the latter once again spearheaded by Amazon. And every time such a giant takes hold of the market share, every other major retailer has no choice but to follow suit. Steve cited the parallel “Back to School” phenomenon, which once took up only the last two weeks of August into September and now spreads out across several months. The increase in these trends, plus very real shortages in products and shipping that Steve predicts, will ramp up the drive for consumers to shop earlier and earlier this winter.
How will you stay prepared as we enter the last two months of 2021? What can you expect as numerous aspects of the retail landscape continue to change? Stay tuned for the next installment of our “Shopping Insights from Retail Experts” series of blog posts sharing expert insight into the ever-shifting world of retail. We’ll share Steve’s thoughts on consumer expectations, the impact of COVID on supply chain, massive adjustments in workplace attire – the concept of comfort, new approaches to marketing, gaps between industry giants, the evolution of the shopping mall, and eCommerce — past, present and future.
Steve is just one of the many talented professionals in Expert ENGINE’s network of highly skilled and specialized experts. If you are interested in working with an expert on a project of your own, please reach out to get started.