It’s Dec. 19, and I just received an email from J.Crew that catches my attention. The message is crystal clear, and the retailer is taking a cue from social media. The subject line reads, “we’re making holiday shopping super easy in stores.” That includes finding stores, in-store appointments, services (alterations and locating sizes) and virtual shopping apps.
In our December Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,095 online shoppers, 65% indicated they would be shopping at least the same or more in stores over the holidays. There is still business for retailers to draw in.
So where is the opportunity? This is a chance for omnichannel retailers to strut their stuff and flaunt their strategic advantage. In the spirit of the season, I am going to suggest eight reasons the store still matters, particularly at this time of year.
1. Shoppers can procrastinate and wait until the very last minute
Uncommon Goods, a web-only merchant, calls out to the procrastinator and feels their pain. The retailer’s Dec. 19 email is well aware of this behavior, and it is reaching out to those who have waited. At 2:22 p.m. CST on Dec. 20, it followed up to let me know I have one hour left to order for holiday delivery.
In my youth, I worked retail and there were always those who waited until the last minute. Many stores will have late hours as the clock ticks down and these shoppers know that the store is a sure thing for these procrastinators. Just to see how one retailer is approaching, I found that my go-to Target store in Chicago is open 7 a.m. to midnight through Dec. 23, with Christmas Eve hours until 8 p.m. Let’s face it — there is still plenty of time.
2. Take advantage of the touch and feel
There remains something about the tactile that sets the store apart, and that is still insufficiently addressed online. With that in mind, I reached out to my colleagues to see what their experiences over the holidays have been. When asked about if they shopped in-store, one of my coworkers, a parent of two young children, said, “No, though I am using stores for omnichannel fulfillment and more showrooming than I did last year (for toys in particular to see quality).”
3. Get my gifts on time
There has been significant discussion around deliveries internally and across the industry. While some of us expressed limited issues so far with logistics, a handful suggested the following when I posed the question “Are deliveries slower?” Shopper responses were as follows:
- “Some orders from Amazon sellers seem to be a bit slower. My wife has the impression that deliveries are slower overall.”
- “Overall shipping is slightly slower, but still acceptable.”
- “Yes, I’d say slightly slower, but I’m not mad. I still have plenty of time before Christmas, so this is one of those rare times I’m patient. I bought so much I can’t even remember everything that’s coming in, so everything is like a happy surprise when it arrives.”
- “YES!!!!!!!! So much slower. A gift I ordered in November will now not arrive until after Christmas, so I will cancel the order. Yet, I continue to get multiple emails from them promoting holiday sales — it’s a bit infuriating to say the least!”
4. Take advantage of last-minute markdowns
Overall, the deals haven’t been that impressive, according to our shoppers.
There’s always a chance someone can get lucky and take advantage of last-minute price cuts. Savvy retailers continue to promote, and smart shoppers visiting stores may just be the winners.
5. Get help with my purchases
Sometimes, it’s a pleasure to talk to someone who actually knows the product to help you when you are purchasing a gift. Our research reveals there appears to be some positive sentiment about store services, while others view them negatively.
When it came time for our 2022 apparel survey, four in 10 shoppers reported they avoid retailer customer service departments. When interacting, email topped the list of customer service usage that resulted in conversion. Second on the list was general in-store interaction, which I take as a positive sign.
Of course, not all circumstances are rosy. 26% of online shoppers survey respondents report that when shopping for apparel post-COVID-19, stores are understaffed or generally poor.
6. It can still be omnichannel (pickup curbside or in-store)
Our Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights omnichannel survey of 1,116 online shoppers in August 2022 found that 34% had placed a BOPIS order and 27% had done a drive-up order. This time of year, what’s not to love about omnichannel? Particularly as the snow heads our way. I’m always happy to let the store associates come to me.
Jewelry brand Kay positions its logistics choices with buy online pick up in store front and center. We will watch to see if shopper interest in this option can remain at pandemic levels, though it’s not likely. It’s also instructive to note in-store and curbside pickups were selected as 44% believe they save time, and the same number of participants find it more convenient. That is certainly the case over the holidays.
7. Avoid paying for shipping
The Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights pre-holiday survey of 1,088 online shoppers in September indicated that 59% of online shoppers find free shipping is the No. 1 way they chose a retailer when shopping online. This puts the store in a perfect position, particularly at this time of year, to help shoppers save money. Bottom line: no fees and no waiting — especially during the holidays. Cost savings and peace of mind are welcome at this time of the year.
8. Take in the spirit of the holiday season
In a world that seems full of more hate than love, there is something to be said about visiting a store and being in the spirt of the holidays. The store can inspire gift givers, address personal needs, and deliver a sense of joy that’s tough to get via a computer. While convenience is hard to compete with, in my mind, stores still have a role to play.
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