We are a few short days away from the official start to the holiday season, and as with everything in 2020, its going to look a little different this year. Many states in the US are imposing new restrictions on capacity in stores, restrictions on the number of people at gatherings and encouraging people to stay at home as COVID cases rise, all while retailers’ busiest time of the year is quickly approaching.
So what can retailers do to make the best out of a less than ideal situation?
Plenty! And I have five tips that any business, regardless of size, can do to ensure their customers are receiving the best experience possible in a less than ideal holiday shopping season. So lets get to that list.
- Communicate, Communicate……Oh, And Communicate. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, communication with your customer is key and is one of the most basic and most important elements of providing a great customer experience. Its not just about communicating what sales/discounts you’re offering or your hours of operation, but its also ensuring that you are keeping the customer up to date on processing and shipping timelines. Its ensuring that if you have chat functionality on your website, that your A-team of customer service reps are there to lend a hand. While there will still be customers that venture out to physical stores, many more will be going online than ever before, and its important that you’re communicating the shipping deadlines for key holidays (maybe even adding a little padding to those dates) and other key updates with their orders to ensure what the customer needs is delivered on time. This ties in nicely to my next tip.
- Update That Inventory. We know more shopping will be done without a customer ever stepping into a store this season than past holiday shopping seasons. So its extremely important that you’re checking that your website and inventory management systems are talking to one another and refreshing frequently. If you’re a smaller business and don’t have a great inventory management system, hire someone to help manage your inventory during the season to ensure updates are being made as close to real-time as possible. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than getting all the way to checkout only to be told that one of the items is no longer available. Or, you’ve purchased something and you get an email or a call after your order has processed and are told that some of your items are out of stock. That said, in some instances, sending an email or giving your customer a call that an item is no longer available will be unavoidable. If this does happen, provide alternatives that are similar to the product that is out of stock; offer to ship the item for free once it’s back in stock (if its not super time sensitive); or offer to refund the cost of the out of stock items. DO NOT automatically assume the customer just wants to cancel the order for those items. This is your opportunity to make this stressful shopping season a little less stressful. So, go above and beyond and provide alternatives.
- Thank Your Customer Again And Again. 2020 has been a very stressful year. Not only have customers had COVID to contend with, but some have lost jobs, been furloughed, stepped in with facilitating virtual learning for their kids, etc. Consumers are having to think long and hard about where they spend their hard earned dollars for the holidays this year, and its important for you to acknowledge that they could have shopped elsewhere. However, they chose your business to entrust their hard earned dollars with. So, take a little time on your order confirmation page, in your shipping confirmation email, etc. to thank them for their business. If you’re a smaller business, you may even want to include a hand written note when shipping or delivering packages to your customer to say thank you.
- Take Time To Celebrate. Now this one isn’t directly related to your customers, but its important to take time for yourself and give your employees some time to celebrate that we’re in the home stretch of 2020. If you’re an owner/entrepreneur, take an afternoon off for some self-care. When you come back the next day, you’ll be fresh and ready to give your customers 110%. The same goes for your employees. While we may not be able to have big holiday parties this year, you can send your employees a note or a small gift to thank them for everything they’ve done this year. And if you can give them a little time off to take care of their holiday lists, it will go along way for their morale and in passing that goodwill on to your customers as well.
- Finally, Communicate! I know this one was the first on the list, but it bears repeating. This is a crazy time of year, but if you are proactive in your communication, it will go a long way to putting your customer at ease and ensuring they form a positive view of your brand/company for future needs after the holidays.
I hope these five tips were helpful and that you’ll be able to implement some of them during this busy shopping season. I worked in the corporate office of a large retailer for 3 years, so I totally get how stressful this time can be on both sides of the coin. Just remember to take a little time for yourself this season, put your customers and your employees first and remember to give thanks for the good things (no matter how big or small).
Wishing you a very happy and healthy holiday season!