By Casey Chroust, Executive Vice President of Retail Operations
This time last year it seemed as though momentum was starting to build and the economic recovery was making slow but steady headway. As early as the spring retailers and analysts alike felt we were turning the corner and we were on our way to a much improved holiday shopping season.
Since then, inflation, high commodity prices, the slumping housing market and high unemployment has reminded us that we don’t in-fact have a crystal ball and that the way back is going to take time and patience.
Now, does this mean that the future is bleak and this year’s holiday season is going to be a bust? No. It means that there are fluctuating variables present in 2011 and no matter what the predictions floating around are; the reality is the outcome is anybody’s guess with many predicting a slight increase over last year.
What we can say with certainty is that consumers are looking for two things, to enjoy their holidays and avoid a buyer’s remorse hangover. And retailers want to offer an exceptional shopping experience for their customers in every way possible and end the year on a good note. With that, 2011 will most likely be a mixed bag. Consumers and retailers alike have adjusted to the new economic realities and both are looking to be resourceful and prudent.
Consumers are watching their spending closely and will be looking for the best value for their dollar across all segments of retail. They will seek deals and promotions, and items that are more multipurpose with better quality and with potential for everyday use.
Retailers will follow suit as they continue to work hard to earn shoppers’ business with promotions this year. Retailers will offer promotions early and often throughout the holiday season. Using all mediums available to them including, in-stores, on-line, Sunday circulars, mobile, email and social media. Promotions may include free shipping, discounts; buy one get one, social media coupons, discounts and scavenger hunts.
Retailers also continue to put their energy into improving the shopping experience for customers, through superior customer service, attentive customer service representatives, layaway programs, better product assortment, quicker lines and multi-channel. As well as a good return experience, shorter checkout lines and options such as mobile checkout, ordering on-line and picking up at the store and returning on-line products to the store.
Retailers are also being smart about their own operational strategies, keeping inventory levels balanced so they are not stuck with excess product at the end of the year, making sure they have the top products available for consumers and streamlining their supply chain processes to maximize performance. Retailers have also been advertising earlier openings this year, prepared to open their doors on Thanksgiving evening and midnight on black Friday.
Finally multi-channel retailing will be the huge this year with the popularity of tablets and mobile devices and an opportunity for growth for many retailers. Consumers will be well-informed comparing prices, paying attention to product reviews, finding directions and gift ideas and making purchases through their mobile device, tablets and on-line.
It will be fascinating to see how this year shakes out and what will be in store for 2012. And here at RILA we will continue to stay abreast of the newest trends throughout the holiday season and into 2012 and beyond. So continue to check back with retailcheckout.org for the latest on what is happening in the industry from the country’s largest and most successful retailers.