The most anticipated shopping season is around the corner.
This Q4, we expect more people to shop in brick-and-mortar stores as they indulge some pandemic-fuelled shopping habits. With 73% of surveyed U.S. shoppers saying they’re more confident about returning to in-person shopping, and 67% of consumers preferring to buy in-store because they can have their products instantly, brands should expect a high amount of foot traffic near the end of the year.
However, since 63% of all shopping journeys begin online, eCommerce will remain strong. To maximize Q4 sales this holiday season, it’s critical you invest in cohesive operations between your online and offline channels.
If you’re wondering how to strike that balance, you’re in the right place. In this post, we’ll share some top trends influencing online and offline shopping in the post-pandemic market. We’ll also reveal some strategic moves to ensure this Q4 is a winner for your business.
Table of Contents
- Why this Q4 will be different
- 8 Mission-critical steps to prepare for Q4
- The strategy for merry selling this holiday season
Why this Q4 will be Different from Last Year
The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly altered shopping behaviors. Some of these shifts in the retail and eCommerce markets will impact how your business operates this Q4 and beyond. Let’s dive into a few key trends and what they mean for your business.
Shoppers Have Returned to the High Street
Although high-street retail was in decline pre-pandemic, consumers are returning to in-store shopping. A whopping 92% of buyers report they’ll visit brick-and-mortar stores more, and 59% said they would shop online and pick up items in store. Additionally, a study from McKinsey found that 20% of consumers say that they shop exclusively in-store.
Shoppers are embracing a digital mix of online and in-store shopping. So, you’ll need to find ways to unify your online and offline shopping experiences for higher conversions. Later in this article, we’ll go deeper into how merchants can do this.
Consumer Expectations are Rising
Once upon a time, brands only had to think about delivering a great product, smart marketing, and excellent customer service to drive sales. Now, other factors can impact a consumer’s buying decision, from a brand’s sustainability and omnichannel shopping experience to fast and free shipping.
To give you an idea of this influence, 90% of shoppers expect two- to three-day shipping at a minimum, and 30% expect same-day delivery. Additionally, 80% demand free shipping after their order total reaches a certain number, and 66% want free shipping on every order regardless.
To satisfy your customers and grab sales from your competitors, you’ll need to fulfill their requests while maintaining margins. This could involve looking at your average return rate, then pricing shipping and returns into product costs.
Digital Transformation is a Home Run
Digital transformation is sweeping the retail and eCommerce industries. Retailers and eCommerce brands are implementing headless commerce and automation to stay nimble in the increasingly competitive market. To get ahead, it’s crucial to reassess your tech and introduce solutions that drive efficiency.
You’ll also need solutions that make it easier for shoppers to find what they want and keep existing customers engaged, like using Enterprise Resource Planning software to distribute content, augmented reality solutions, and virtual reality solutions. If you’re concerned these digital innovations are fads, don’t be — 66% of shoppers are interested in using augmented reality to aid their shopping experience.
Savvy Shoppers are Researching on More Platforms
Search trends reveal that shoppers are diversifying their research outlets. Consumers are using search engines, social media, brand websites, marketplaces, consumer review sites, and more to look into their products before they buy. Shoppers are even researching online while they’re in physical retail stores to compare prices.
This means that mastering omnichannel is more vital than ever this Q4. You’ll want to have consistent pricing, products, deals, and offers across these different platforms to capture sales.
8 Mission-Critical Steps to Prepare for Q4
As the Q4 countdown begins, use this time to get ready for the rush in your online and offline stores to maximize sales, profits, and customer satisfaction. Let’s run through the essential tasks to complete so you’ll know where to focus.
1. Optimize Inventory Levels
To avoid stockouts and overstocks, you have to keep an eye on your order volumes in your eCommerce and physical stores. Leverage an inventory optimization forecasting solution to predict stock needs with greater accuracy. Some tools you might consider include Brightpearl and Linnworks.
Once you have your number, add a buffer large enough to cover the time it takes you to manufacture, ship, clear, and process goods in your warehouse. For example, if it usually takes two months from placing an order with your supplier, to getting goods through customs and prepped and ready to ship into FBA, you want to order three to four months in advance in case something goes wrong with any step.
Then, place stock in strategic locations so you can meet demand spikes in case one channel sells more than predicted. If you know that your consumers are concentrated in certain geographic areas, place sufficient inventory nearby to get items delivered as quickly as possible with the most affordable shipping method (ground). If you know most of your sales come in from Amazon, ensure your FBA inventory is fully restocked.
2. Tweak Your Multi-Channel Fulfillment Process For Retail and eCommerce Orders
A physical presence changes your fulfillment needs and customer expectations. So, if you’re a multi-channel eCommerce brand planning to open a brick-and-mortar store in Q4, it’s time to reassess your fulfillment strategy.
Hire a fulfillment partner that can replenish both your retail and online sales channel inventory pools quickly and cost-effectively.
It’s also critical to offer multiple fulfillment and return options to satisfy different customer preferences. A few of the most popular ones are:
- Shipping options: Home delivery, curbside delivery, buy online, pick up in-store (BIPOS)
- Return options: Hub drop-off, at-home pickup, locker drop-off, in-store return
3. Create a Stellar Omnichannel Experience
Thanks to the growth in omnichannel shopping, the channel a consumer begins their shopping journey on may not be their final one. To put this in perspective, 56% of shoppers who purchase in brick-and-mortar stores used an app or online store to conduct research first. So, it’s imperative to merge the online and in-person shopping experiences.
Push promotions and initiatives that grab shoppers' attention in-store and online and encourage them to interact with your brand. To get your creativity flowing, check out the following projects you can implement:
- Push mail vouchers redeemable in-store
- Share exclusive online discounts on social media
- Host in-store events with a live streaming option
- Collaborate with other retail partners to put on a pop-up store
- Make items scannable in-store (with a QR code) so shoppers can obtain more info on the go
- Feature detailed product descriptions, close-up product shots, and videos so shoppers gain a clearer idea of the product’s quality, look, feel, and size
- Launch touchless kiosks and self-service checkout desks (79% of shoppers say they’ll continue to use these after the pandemic)
- Introduce interactive displays to enhance the shopping experience
Tip: Look at your online and offline performance before making adjustments. Only 65% of retail businesses evaluate their in-store business, leaving just 35% who consider how their actions impact their omnichannel experience.
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4. Diversify Your Payment Options
The pandemic also affected how people pay for goods. With the threat of new viruses and a looming recession, some new methods are here to stay. Take note of the popular ways your target customers like to pay and make them available through your store. For example, you could accept payment from:
- Payment plan solutions to spread the cost like Klarna, Afterpay, and Sezzle
- Secure payment intermediaries like PayPal, Alipay, and Stripe
- Digital wallets
- Contactless in-store payments
- Cash on delivery
- Self-service hubs with contactless payment gateways
5. Secure Flexible and Fairly Priced Funding
Expenses for selling during Q4 can rack up fast, especially when you have to cover your current operating costs as well. So, prepare for a spending spree.
Securing a flexible and affordable credit line or tapping into savings to pay for goods up front will reduce stressful delays in manufacturing and shipping goods. Stay away from credit cards or short-term loans with high fees and interest rates to preserve your margins.
6. Fortify Your Customer Support System
You may have excellent customer support your shoppers appreciate now, but things can unravel when more queries and orders start to pour in rapidly. To ensure your customer support remains top-notch, pressure test your customer service systems, streamline processes, and incorporate automation to reduce your team’s workload. Here are a few ways you can strengthen your customer support to handle increased demand:
- Launch email autoresponders detailing answers to frequently asked questions
- Implement a reliable ticketing system
- Offer live chat support
- Provide an AI bot/virtual shopping assistant to answer shopper queries in real time
- Outsource phone and email support
7. Test New Products
The extra market demand makes this the opportune time to test new products and uncover more winners for your brand. New items will freshen up your store, engage your existing customers, and entice new shoppers. Some questions to ask yourself to identify profitable products include:
- Are there any trends we can take advantage of?
- Can we combine any products to create exciting bundles and offers?
- Were there any products that performed well this year that we could launch a variation of?
- What products sold well for our competitor in the last two quarters?
Tip: Be sure to generate interest before each product launch to test the market and increase your chances of success.
8. Refine Your Online and In-store Presence
Even back in 2018 before social distancing, buying online was huge, and site search and navigation were the most important factors when purchasing online for 61% of shoppers. Consumers also felt new technology and innovations improved their shopping experience (80% online, 66% in-store, and 63% on mobile).
These sentiments have intensified post-COVID, so make products easy to find online, on your app, and in-store, then construct a seamless buying process to increase sales. Done correctly, you’ll also improve key metrics like average order value and ROI. Invest in enticing content and offers, robust technology, and strategic marketing to upgrade your instore and online presence.
Content and offers
- Assemble collections with dedicated sections and banners on your website, app, and brick-and-mortar store.
- Launch subscriptions as gifts and offer different bundles to create memorable offers.
- Use enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to update your business ecosystem's product descriptions and content.
- Automate price changes to stay competitive online and price match in-store.
- Test experience-boosting solutions that rely on augmented and virtual reality. For example, if you have an online clothing boutique, you could launch an AI-backed dress-fitting solution.
- Personalize your customer experience with technology. For example, you could implement cookies or IoT to save customer preferences, store data on the items they viewed on their last visit, and suggest relevant offers (remember to ask for customer permission and give them access options).
- Build an intuitive, mobile-optimized interface on your website and app.
- Invest in social commerce with stores on the platforms where your customers spend the most time.
- Tap into social media marketing (e.g., influencer marketing, social media ads, and live shopping events).
The Strategy for Merry Selling this Holiday Season
Q4 is one of the retail calendar's most exciting and intimidating times. But planning your inventory, fulfillment, marketing, and customer service now can help you avoid stress and excess work and end the season on a high with a huge paycheck. So, get started today: Test your technology, systems, and processes, find strategic partners, and craft a killer marketing strategy. At the close of Q4, your brand will be stronger.
About the Author
Rachel Go is the marketing director of MyFBAPrep, the leading eCommerce warehouse network for Amazon aggregators, enterprise-level brands and top Amazon sellers. Operating a global network of more than 50 warehouses and seven-million-square-feet of operating warehouse space, MyFBAPrep offers a full suite of ecommerce 3PL services including Amazon wholesale and private label, direct-to-consumer (DTC) fulfillment, and B2B retail. Powered by its SaaS technology platform Preptopia™, sellers get access to unified billing, analytics, business intelligence reporting tools and real-time inventory views across multiple warehouses in the network. The company provides FBA Prep automation, modern robotics item picking, and a dedicated account management team. Based in Coral Springs, Florida, MyFBAPrep moves over $1 billion in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) and processes over 10-million units annually. For more information, visit MyFBAPrep.com.