Retail in a Winter Wonderland - a quick look at Christmas past & future

Ed Armishaw

As I sit here writing this on a sunny October afternoon, it’s 80 odd days to Christmas and already thoughts are turning to what we’re going to see from Retailers this Christmas season.

Now I don’t know about you but each year it feels like the Christmas advertising, music, and promotions start earlier and earlier with retailers looking to get a jump on the competition. So I thought it would be fun following our webinar on this subject to recap how we at Walkbase think things will play out this festive season.

Key retail trends – from clicks to bricks with pop-up’s in between

E-commerce has been on the rise in particular at peak for the past few years, and last year saw the interesting rise of the clicks to bricks phenomenon, better known as click and collect. Spurred on by the success in previous years of the likes of John Lewis, with an excellent buy online and collect in-store offering, the whole high street seemed to jump on the bandwagon. 

Click and collect is clearly a good thing for business, and several of the retailers we work with highlighted some interesting benefits over and above just servicing customer delivery needs; the most obvious of which was the opportunity this gave them to upsell other products, especially with the Christmas gift impulse purchase factor at play. Expect to see more of the same in 2015, with several major Oxford street retailers already looking to Walkbase to provide a baseline of data for which to measure “additional/cross-channel” purchases against!

Of course we can’t talk about E-commerce without mentioning the dreaded B & F words  yes that’s right I’m talking about Black Friday. Initially, UK retailers were slow to embrace this US tradition which sees the Christmas sales get a jump start on well, Christmas, but 2014 really was the launch pad for Black Friday in the UK. 

In 2014, Black Friday had a particularly interesting knock-on effect, which we spotted when looking at footfall conversion figures with loads of our high street clients. Footfall was consistently higher before Christmas, than afterwards, as has been traditionally the case with Boxing Day sales. Indeed, November 2014 saw higher retail sales than December in the UK for the first time in history! So much for that Boxing Day trip to the shops in 2015 and beyond.

One of my particular favourite seasonal happenings is the Christmas pop-up. Now you can argue that Christmas Pop Up’s are as old as retailing itself – think German Christmas markets; stalls selling gluhwein and wooden decorations have been taking over market squares for generations! Well, many high street retailers, started out as pop-ups, and then grew to have high street presence, so it’s been fun to see this trend reversing over the last few years, with brands such as Ted Baker, eBay and The Post Office all using pop-ups, to further their footprint, provide a fun seasonal take on their offering or enhance customer experience. We’ve already seen this trend extending this year with Selfridges opening their own Christmas pop-up to much fanfare in July!

2015 and beyond

Christmas ad campaigns are becoming bigger and bigger each year, and where before it was ok to get away with a Christmas catalogue, or a cheesy TV ad, the onset of digital and social media has led to ever more integrated and engaging campaigns. 

What’s been interesting for me has been the role the physical space as played in all of this, as it’s still the ultimate destination the retailers are pointing you towards with their elaborate campaigns. One challenge, which comes up time and again with retailers, is how to measure advertising effectiveness and success? At Walkbase we’ve spent time thinking about this one, and we think we’ve got it wrapped (all puns intended!) by comparing online browsing, with it’s physical equivalent using Walkbase data, we can help retailers get a full multi-channel view on key metrics such as increase in traffic and dwell times following targeted ad campaigns on particular products, or lines.

The topic of multi-channel shopping is a common one in the run-up to Christmas, and we’ve already seen some really interesting examples of integrated multi-channel experiences which put the store at the heart of the customer journey. A favourite of mine is the shoppable window concept, which House of Fraser are set to trial this year. The brainchild of Andy Harding, HoF’s Chief Customer Officer – shoppable windows will allow the department store retailer to engage customers on the pavement, drive traffic through the doors, and also offer an alternative shopping experience when the store is closed. This is a solid and imaginative use of technology, which if it pays off will enable and enhance customer engagement.

Finally, I’d like pay tribute to the unsung heroes of retail during peak – the retail store staff themselves. Those hard working Christmas elves, who enable us to get all our Christmas shopping done in time, with the minimum of fuss, who spend 12 hour days on their feet, and have to work whilst the rest of us contemplate eating another mince pie and watching the Snowman for the millionth time. Well I have good news store staff (and retailers) we’ve been working with many of you to help you better understand shopping peaks, and by simply measuring wait times, and passing traffic we’re able to help optimise staffing schedules to make sure stores are staffed according to customer demand! Hopefully this year, and many years to come we at Walkbase will be able to say we played a small role in improving customer and staff experience during the busiest times of trading!

To wrap things up, I’m not going to wish you a Merry Christmas just yet, there’s still plenty of time for all of that. But instead I’m going to wish you good luck for the holiday season – may your customers be happy, and their shopping bags heavy during peak 2015!

Read more and access the FREE guide on this topic: Measuring the In-Store Performance of the Holiday Season.

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