What to expect in retail’s first post-pandemic festive season

Dean Frew
6 December, 21

Following a tumultuous 18 months, where retail was forced to adapt to the changing customer needs that were onset by the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry is now well on its way to recovery. Following Black Friday – which is often viewed as the beginning of the festive shopping season – this year’s seasonal peak will be pivotal for an industry that has been through an extremely challenging year and a half.

Last year, with many countries still recovering from nationwide lockdowns, many shoppers were left feeling cautious about returning to the high street. As a result, shopping over the festive period mostly took place online, and those retailers that had evolved their online platforms to cater to closed shop doors were at a significant advantage over those who had failed to react to the changing sales environment. In fact, according to a recent study undertaken by SML, 22% of retailers said that omnichannel fulfilment was their most prominent way of serving customers between 2020 and 2021. Over the past year, many have had to evolve and scale their online platforms to compete for sales.

The Key is Convenience

The pandemic proved to retailers just how much convenience matters to consumers. With stores closed, many businesses had to consider new ways of selling their products that didn’t put the health of shoppers at risk. While home delivery remained available, customers wanted more options. The answer for many came through a Buy-Online-Pick-up-In-Store (BOPIS) offering. Able to order products online and go in-store to pick them up, consumers were able to minimise face-to-face contact while collecting items at times that best fit their schedule.

As society transitioned away from lockdowns and began to recover from the pandemic, these highly convenient solutions continue to be heavily relied upon now by consumers – who now demand a seamless shopping experience that offers multiple sales channels to choose from.  It is now a basic expectation of consumers that omnichannel offerings will be provided by retailers going forward and the bar will only continue to be raised in terms of their effectiveness and ease of use.

Finding the Best of Both Worlds

With stores now open again, retailers need to recognise this change in consumer habits, and leverage both their online and in-store processes to maximise revenues as we near Christmas. However, with the ongoing workforce shortage and depleted staffing numbers, creating a seamless shopping experience online and in-store is easier said than done. 

Reduced store staff face competing operational and services priorities and have limited resources to execute both at a consistently high level. The time and labour required to locate items for in-store and online sales can be dramatically reduced with RFID item search capabilities, and store associates are freed up to provide improved customer service instead of endlessly searching for items during the peak selling season.

According to SML’s research, 48% of retailers frequently say out of stock items are a crucial challenge to serving their customers. This year, the key opportunity for retailers will be to invest in technology that allows them to maintain high inventory accuracy to quickly and seamlessly fulfil orders through all sales channels. This not only accounts for online shopping and deliveries but for increasingly popular omnichannel strategies such as BOPIS.  Retail decision-makers reported that BOPIS orders across their enterprises have a 28% average cancelation rate currently, which is unsustainable for the long-term growth of this selling strategy.

Relying on Technology

Inventory accuracy is the key to success. SML found that 43% of retail decision-makers say that having real-time visibility of stock levels would be one of the most critical factors in delivering a better customer experience. With its ability to increase overall efficiency at each stage of the supply chain, RFID technology is an effective solution that enables retailers to track and manage inventory in seconds accurately. The technology will allow retailers to keep operations running smoothly, provide quality customer service, and fulfil orders consistently in less time during one of the busiest events of the year, even with a depleted workforce.

While retail continues to recover, the festive shopping season provides retailers with a great opportunity to begin to thrive once more. While supply chain issues do continue to cause challenges, and a depleted workforce puts more pressure on in-store workloads, RFID can play a significant role in helping retailers provide a seamless shopping experience across all sales channels and maximise their returns. Not only will this benefit retailers throughout the entire festive season, but for the long term too.

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