by Deirdre Ives
November 30, 2017

Merchants rejoice, it’s that time again: retail’s biggest quarter of the year! The National Retail Federation reports that U.S. sales totaled $658.3 billion in November and December 2016, $122.9 billion of which was spent online. And for this year’s holiday season, Forrester predicts a rise of up to 12%.

The National Retail Federation reports that U.S. sales totaled $658.3 billion in November and December 2016, $122.9 billion of which was spent online. And for this year’s holiday season, Forrester predicts a rise of up to 12%.

It’s not news that the retail industry is in the middle of a drastic transformation thanks to smartphones and smarter shoppers. Consumers now have an endless supply of information at their fingertips – 78 percent of them own a smartphone – and it’s changed the way they pay and shop.

Winning smart shoppers requires a smart retail strategy

Today’s consumers are savvier. They expect convenience; they order everything from apparel to groceries online, and they’re willing to leave a preferred shop if it means getting a better deal. They have options, and they exercise them liberally.

For retailers, then, making a sale is not as simple as it used to be. The ultra-competitive consumer-centric landscape presents an exciting opportunity and it boils down to this: Make the shopping experience easier for your customers.

Pursue an omnichannel strategy, make the checkout process simple, offer free shipping and accept a variety of payment methods – this is how you can turn holiday shoppers into return customers

These four strategies can help you meet their needs and keep them coming back well into the new year:

1. Adopt an omnichannel retail strategy, starting with a mobile-friendly app or website

The average person now spends about 5 hours per day on their mobile device, according to a report by Flurry. And according to American Express, 76 percent of Americans used their mobile devices for holiday shopping in 2016, up almost 25 percent from the previous year. At the same time, yet only 54 percent of small and medium size businesses have a website. Setting up shop online represents a huge opportunity to engage customers and is essential to be competitive in the growing mobile landscape.

76 percent of Americans used their mobile devices for holiday shopping in 2016, up almost 25 percent from the previous year.

When trying to capture the attention of mobile shoppers, time is of the essence. On average, website visitors decide whether to click away within just 8 seconds, so simply having an online presence isn’t enough. Investing in a user-friendly, on-brand e-commerce platform is a necessity. When done well, your digital selling space can connect users seamlessly between where they shop online and in real life.

A notable champion of the omnichannel experience is Starbucks: The business depends on in-person purchases, and yet 27 percent of U.S. transactions in 2016 came through mobile payment. The company recently revamped its mobile app so that customers can preorder on the go and pick up at a nearby Starbucks location; now its rewards program boasts 13 million active members (up 16 percent year over year). Sparing visitors the wait in line has added value to the experience and to the brand.

"No time, no line" - Starbucks spares busy customers to queue, like here in Tai Po, Honkong

“No time, no line” – Starbucks spares busy customers to queue, like here in Tai Po, Honkong ((c) Aheiahizak, published under CC license at Wikimedia)

2. Implement a simple, frictionless checkout process

Something as simple as reducing the number of steps during checkout or allowing shoppers to complete their purchases without logging in can cut down on the number of orders abandoned during checkout – currently an astonishing 75 percent, according to Listrak. Amazon’s 1-Click payment button or Uber’s invisible payment solution provide seamless online checkout.

On these platforms, customers enter and save billing and shipping information before or during their initial purchase, so that little to no information needs to be entered later on. The one-click strategy has proven extremely appealing: A study by Slice Intelligence (read the report here) notes that Amazon’s sales accounted for 43 percent of all online retail sales in the US in 2016:

 3. Offer free, fast shipping

It’s simple – nobody likes to pay for shipping, and nobody likes to wait. Two-day shipping is the new normal, and free shipping is the e-commerce incentive that 80 percent of shoppers want most, according to Walker Sands Communications, a consulting group.

nobody likes to pay for shipping, and nobody likes to wait. Two-day shipping is the new normal, and free shipping is the e-commerce incentive that 80 percent of shoppers want most

4. Accept a variety of payment methods

It’s all about options. When you take credit cards, mobile wallets and payment services such as PayPal, you’re adding to your pool of eligible sales. It’s not only a statistical likelihood: Simply having options can be a deciding factor for online shoppers.

While credit cards are still the preferred payment form, digital solutions such as Apple Pay have begun to take hold. Accenture estimates a 50 percent increase in mobile wallet users by 2020 – a figure that suggests retailers stand to benefit from accepting them. With platforms such as Samsung Pay, which utilizes the magnetic strip reader on most POS terminals to communicate with the smartphone, implementation is as simple as letting customers know it’s an option.

Conclusion: Be smart, seamless and offer a great consumer experience

With online sales expected to hit $114 billion this holiday season, it’s up to retailers to adopt smarter, seamless, omnichannel strategies and adapt to the evolving retail environment to capture the interest, dollars and loyalty of their increasingly savvy customers.

Infographic Convert Holiday Shoppers into Repeat Customers

Find a visual summary of the key figures and of our advice in this infographic – and download it here