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The weeks running up to Christmas Day are some of the busiest of the year for retailers, counting for a huge proportion of total annual sales.

This year, however, the US is expected to see a slight downturn in spending per family during the holiday season due to lingering uncertainty after the recent government shutdown.

On average, shoppers will spend $737.95 on presents, decorations and food for the festive season, which is about 2% less than 2012 according to the National Retail Federation.

With this year’s festive season presenting retailers with a bit of a challenge, it is also providing them a great opportunity to build real and lasting brand value and to win over such a precious customer base.

For many people, the run up to Christmas can be a stressful time. With must-have gifts hard to find and stores gradually becoming busier as the final shopping days approach.

Of course, this isn’t news for retailers. They understand that Christmas can be a difficult time for customers and for decades they have tried to make things easier by opening longer, offering gift wrapping services and perhaps even adding a dash of Christmas cheer by offering warm cookies and cocktails.

With 24.6% of shoppers in the US now buying some or all of their Christmas shopping online, retailers must consider how they can delight and entertain customers through online, mobile and social channels, as well as in store.

Recreate the in store experience on the web

Retailers live and die by the customer service they provide, and while this is true throughout the year, it is especially important during the Christmas shopping season.

Recognizing this, many brick and mortar retailers will increase staffing levels and provide training on customer service best practice long in advance of December to ensure that shoppers encounter top quality service in store.

This emphasis on in-store customer service is one of the main reasons why many shoppers still prefer to do their shopping in person. According to Rakuten’s latest Ecommerce Index, the ability to speak to a shop assistant and the ability to touch and feel goods are two of the top reasons why 24.1% of people in the US shop in brick and mortar stores.

Retailers can try to recreate this experience on the web by offering shoppers instant access to shop assistants via a web chat facility or by offering real-time customer service support through social channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

Almost half (42%) of consumers who complain on social media expect to receive a response from brands in 60 minutes or less, according to Edison Research. By increasing ecommerce support retailers can exceed expectations in the run up to Christmas.

Another way that retailers can impress shoppers on the web is to build a media-rich shopping environment. While nothing will ever be better than holding a product in your hands, high quality product photos and video, and the ability to ‘zoom in’ on product details, can really help.

It is also worth considering the importance of images and videos for consumers to share on social media sites, such as Pinterest and Instagram, which provide an opportunity for shoppers to discover your products.

With 24.1% of people in the US now using mobile as their primary online shopping channel, the rise of mobile shoppers should also be a key consideration for retailers this Christmas.

Online retailers should review what the mobile experience is like for shoppers on their site. Developing a mobile website or app can make it much easier for shoppers to find and buy the gifts that they are looking for.

It’s also important to remember how much value many shoppers place on recommendations by friends, family and others.

In the US, 45.1% of shoppers regularly recommend or seek out recommendations of products on the web. Retailers should consider giving consumers the chance to recommend items through their store by sharing them socially or posting a short review.

Inspire shoppers with Christmas gifts suggestions

To drive shoppers in store and provide inspiration for gifts to buy, many retailers invest in producing attractive window displays that stand out on the likes of Madison and 5th Avenues.

Online retailers can replicate this approach and generate similar results by updating the design and layout of their online store. Investing in a graphic designer to produce a festive storefront can help to put shoppers in the Christmas mood as soon as they enter your store, while providing an opportunity to draw attention to some of the products that you have on offer.

It’s a simple thing to implement, but can be an incredibly effective tool in the online retailers’ arsenal.

As we all know, working out what to buy for friends and family at Christmas is not easy. Retailers can provide shoppers with inspiration in a number of ways, from pulling together a round-up of the best gift ideas or stocking fillers in an email newsletter, to creating Pinterest boards showcasing a selection of potential presents for him or for her, or for certain price brackets, and revealing which products are proving to be the biggest sellers in the run up to Christmas.

Add a touch of sparkle to the online shopping experience

Throughout the year, and at Christmas especially, there are opportunities for retailers to impress customers by doing more than is expected. In Japan this spirit of service is called ‘Omotenashi’, and it’s not uncommon for retailers to offer customers unexpected treats and gifts from time to time.

All shoppers appreciate when retailers show that they care, even if it’s just a small gesture. For instance, it could be something as simple as contacting existing customers with personalised deals on certain gifts or offering free shipping or a gift wrapping service, as a way of saying thank you for previous custom, while encouraging them to make a repeat purchase through your store.

Even after a sale has been made, retailers can still exceed shoppers’ expectations and build brand loyalty by doing something unexpected, such as including a few sweets or candy canes with a purchase or a personalised voucher.

Aside from spreading a bit of seasonal cheer, this can encourage positive word-of-mouth about your business.

During one of the busiest shopping periods of the year, going the extra mile to deliver an exceptional experience across multiple channels can seem daunting, but this can pay dividends by helping retailers to build real and lasting brand value that will keep shoppers coming back all year through.

By considering your business from the shoppers’ point of view, and prioritizing the customer experience, retailers can delight and entertain customers through online, mobile and social channels, as well as in store, making shopping for Christmas presents a much more enjoyable experience for all.

 
Bernard Luthi

Published 28 November, 2013 by Bernard Luthi

Bernard Luthi is CMO and COO of Rakuten.com.

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james

nice idea for marketers to catch this Christmas shopping season.

almost 3 years ago

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I came across these lovely 12 tips of christmas from Zopatioss.

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