Rethinking Retail Tech for the Holiday Season and Beyond

Retail challenges will continue well past the holidays as many of the changes, such as curbside pickup and a preference for online purchasing, will remain in place long after the new year. For retailers that want to survive, they must transform their technology plan to deliver the safe, fast, efficient services that consumers now expect.


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Image credit: USA Today

By now it is a truism to state that the pandemic has radically altered the retail environment. In the midst of the busiest shopping season of the year, shoppers’ reluctance to walk into stores has accelerated a massive increase in e-commerce shopping. As a case in point, even shopping for a Christmas tree–arguably the most sensory of holiday shopping experiences–has migrated online.

Not only has the pandemic “turbocharged” e-commerce sales—up a whopping 31.8 percent between the first and second quarters of the year—but consumer behavior is changing in other ways as well. According to a recent McKinsey report, one result is a “shattering of brand loyalties,” with large numbers of shoppers trying and incorporating new brands, often private-label, into their shopping routines. In fact, a full 80 percent of shoppers who started using a private-label brand expect to keep using it after the COVID-19 crisis passes.

What this all points to is an emerging reality that retail changes hastened by the pandemic are likely to continue long past the holidays. For example, FedEx, UPS, and the US Postal Service, struggling to deal with the massive surge in deliveries to residences—from 50 percent of all deliveries to over 70 percent—have  all tacked on additional fees that are almost certain to remain in place. Retailers, whether e-commerce only or hybrid, will need to determine how to account for these increases as they continue to fine tune their operations.

Multi-day Deals and Early Start Dates Push Retail Sales High

One way that retailers are adjusting is by moving away from massive, one-day, in-store sales in favor of online discounts that roll out over a period of weeks. In many cases, these types of deals were timed to coincide with Amazon’s Prime Day. In fact, retail giant Walmart is exclusively selling some of the season’s most sought-after items, such as the Sony PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X, only via its Website. In short, savvy retailers are seeking to capitalize on changes in buyer behavior that are expected to persist well beyond the current year.

Retail analyst NPD Group reports that retailers who started holiday sales early—in October rather than November—have seen a lift in sales totaling almost $3 billion in incremental sales over October 2019. Capturing these early shoppers has required catering to numerous different shopping behaviors, from shopping online and picking up curbside to shopping in-store only if they can be assured of maximum elbow room. At the same time, though, retailers remain keenly aware that impulse buys make up a full 25 percent of holiday purchases.

Positive Shopping Experiences at Every Touch Point

For this holiday season and the year ahead, retailers have to plan for all manner of scenarios while making sure that they’ve taken care of the basics, such as inventory management. Case in point, they cannot ignore the disappointment consumers have felt on previous Black Fridays when shoppers were surprised to find many shelves bare of seemingly lower demand items such as hoodies and kitchen appliances

According to Deborah Weinswig of Coresight Research, one Target on this year’s Black Friday completely sold out of certain key items. She even describes being contacted by a large retailer recently “to see if we could help them get access to merchandise from bankrupt retailers.”

The scenario shared by Weinswig serves to underscore the many challenges retailers are facing and where an integrator can step in with solutions. Retail stores of every size need to quickly ramp up their ecommerce capabilities, but at the same time meet shoppers’ desires for in-store shopping scenarios. To do these things well requires a higher level of foresight, operational know-how, and logistics insight than was previously required.

  • Retailers looking to improve their ecommerce services and improve customer experiences can start here to learn about retail technology powered by Intel.
  • Read the white paper “2025 Post-Pandemic Future” for an in-depth forecast for consumer and retail footwear and apparel industries.
  • Discover some IoT solutions aimed at supporting urgent retail needs. 

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