5 Lessons the 2016 Holiday Shopping Season Can Teach Retailers

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By Rieva Lesonsky, CEO GrowBiz Media & 

As the dust settles from the 2016 holiday shopping season, what lessons can retailers take away? Overall, holiday retail sales rose in 2016 — by 4 percent overall, according to the National Retail Federation. Although, growth in e-commerce sales far outstripped that of retail stores.

Online sales grew by 12.6 percent compared to 2015. Consumer confidence was fairly strong, and spending reflected that surge. But how did consumers spend, and what do they care about when shopping? Here are five things you need to know.

1. They’re phone addicts.

Consumers continue to rely on their smartphones for shopping, even when they’re in your brick-and-mortar store. That’s one reason in-store Wi-Fi access was a high priority for consumers this season, according to a survey by PwC.

Takeaway: Even in your store, customers want to be able to look up additional product information and reviews on their phones or text friends to get their opinions on a purchase. Free Wi-Fi for customers is no longer a “nice to have” but a “must have.” However, create a separate guest network for customers so you don’t put your business network at risk.

2. They’re in a rush.

“Frictionless checkout” was a must for consumers this season, PwC reported. Having grown used to the ease of checking out online, they expected the in-store experience to be just as smooth.

Takeaway: Being able to assist customers with purchases anywhere in the store is a big plus. If you don’t already, get set up to accept payments via mobile devices. It’s easy to do and can help streamline checkout.

3. They need help.

Also high on customers’ wish lists, according to PwC, were knowledgeable salespeople who could help them find what they were looking for and provide product explanations and comparisons.

Takeaway: With so many competitors to choose from, customers will leave your store if they can’t get knowledgeable help quickly. Provide regular training to keep your employees up to speed on your products. Make sure your store is always well staffed. Using shift scheduling software makes that easy to do, no matter how hectic things get.

4. They’re pinching pennies.

Money was a major motivator in 2016 holiday shopping. Eighty-three percent of shoppers in the PwC study said they were motivated by low prices, and 65 percent said deals and promotions got them to buy holiday gifts.

Takeaway: Use promotions wisely. Consumers have grown to expect constant deals, but it’s important to make sure their savings aren’t eating too far into your bottom line. Maximize your net profits by using an employee time-tracking software that ensures on-the-clock accuracy and curbs unnecessary (and expensive) overtime costs. Your bottom line will thank you.

5. They like local.

The 2016 holiday season was marked by reports of several major department stores, including Macy’s and J.C. Penney, closing locations. Middle-of-the-road no longer cuts it when it comes to retailing, which is good news for those small retailers who can successfully differentiate themselves. PwC reported that almost three-fourths of consumers shopped locally during the holidays and more than half made a point of shopping at independent retailers.

Takeaway: Participate in any “shop local” campaigns in your area (or start one yourself). Get active in your community to develop a positive reputation. Make sure your marketing materials emphasize that you’re an independent retailer with strong ties to the community.


Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at rieva@smallbizdaily.com, follow her on Google+  and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

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