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CX Analysis

2 holiday shopping trends driven by COVID-19

Audwin Cash, SVP Enterprise solutions, Atrius, Acuity Brands, shares insight on how the pandemic's effects on the customer experience and store operations is spurring two trends: retailers are diversifying shopping experiences and investing in retail app engagement.

2 holiday shopping trends driven by COVID-19Photo by

| by Audwin Cash — SVP, Atrius Enterprise Solutions

The 2020 peak shopping season is officially underway with an unusual mix of traditional expectations and atypical concerns. Consumers are still searching for the best deals and retailers are counting on record-setting online sales. According to Deloitte's annual holiday retail forecast report, it seems retailers will get their wish as 2020 e-commerce holiday sales are projected to surge by 25% to 35% when compared to the 14.7% increase in 2019.

This is good fiscal news but personal safety and physical distancing concerns are still top of mind for shoppers and retailers. This year's public health crisis has retailers maintaining a delicate balance between delivering sought after pricing deals while adjusting store operations to prioritize shopper and associate safety. To address the pandemic's effects on the customer experience and store operations during the shopping season, retailers are turning to two trends accelerated by COVID-19: diversifying shopping experiences and investing in retail app engagement.

Accelerating commerce with more COVID-friendly shopping options

Earlier this year, multiple national retailers announced store closings for the Thanksgiving holiday, giving employees a chance to spend the day with their families. But even when the stores re-open, the annual holiday rush will look very different this year. Retailers are understandably concerned about limiting the seasonally characteristic long lines and crowded stores, given existing social distancing and capacity guidelines.

To achieve their goal of welcoming back shoppers while protecting team members and guests, stores are incorporating a variety of new tactics this holiday season. To begin, they are communicating social distancing and capacity guidelines to set clear shopper expectations. Stores are offering Black Friday deals weeks in advance to allow customers more time (and space) to score deals.

Retailers are also wooing consumers with flexible delivery options, including the standard direct shipping, buy online and pick up in-store and curbside pickup. They're creating more opportunities for consumers to shop differently, such as installing parking lot pop-up stores that bring the in-store experience outside for shoppers still unwilling to enter crowded indoor spaces.

With this season's ramped-up marketing efforts and multiple ways to shop, 2020 might be the year that discounted internet-busters, available for weeks instead of a single day, replace the traditional doorbusters.

The continued rise of mobile-app retailing

Mobile shopping isn't new, but its growing popularity makes it a powerful sales channel for retailers:
● Lead to action within an hour, whereas it takes a month to reach that conversion via desktops.
● 53% of smartphone users buy from company-specific apps.
● 78% of people prefer accessing a store's e-commerce options from an app compared to a website.

The above metrics and the long-term growth of online sales illustrate the general demand for e-commerce. This data, and the fact that millions of Americans perceive online shopping as a safer way to shop during the pandemic, has retailers looking to elevate the shopper experience while building brand loyalty. And they're racing to the front of the line by introducing mobile-exclusive strategies that build loyalty and create immersive customer-centric experiences. An intriguing "new for 2020" service is one that allows loyal customers to reserve a store entry time, personalizing their holiday shopping journey before they leave home.

We know shoppers who download and use a retailer-specific app are more likely to check that store first versus visiting other stores' websites. Last year, mobile commerce, sometimes referred to as "mcommerce," set Black Friday and Cyber Monday records of $2.9 and $3.1 billion, respectively. I'm confident this is the year for retailers to further push their online models by focusing on mobile app engagement. They have a few opportunities to make the mobile shopping experience unique. Specifically, stores can prioritize:

1.Location-specific marketing: Leveraging historical in-store purchase information, retailers can notify consumers when a high-demand or favorite item is available at their nearest store.
2. Various pickup options: Shoppers no longer have to pick between in-store or home delivery. Highlight the new safety-conscious pickup options such as BOPIS or curbside pickup directly within-app.
3. Guiding in-store shoppers: Make their experience easier and safer by helping customers find desired items quickly by integrating store maps in the mobile app.
4. App exclusive deals: Entice customers to shop in-app first by pushing exclusive discounts and in-store promotions.

Shopping via mobile apps is also pandemic-friendly because it meets consumers where they are today: at home. Research shows that 79 percent of mcommerce shoppers prefer using retail apps from the comfort of their home, suggesting that customers respond to the seamless online shopping experiences mobile apps deliver.

According to a recent Google survey, over a third of U.S. shoppers aren't headed to the stores this year, and half of those surveyed responded the pandemic will affect how they shop this holiday season. Knowing the pandemic is reshaping holiday shopping, retailers are changing the traditional seasonal strategies to present a greater variety of shopping options and target mobile shoppers with robust brand-specific apps.

Audwin Cash is SVP Enterprise solutions, Atrius, at Acuity Brands.

Audwin Cash

Audwin works in partnership with executive teams and large companies to transform retail facilities with smart lighting to IoT technologies. Cash has spent over 15+ years in the building market, transforming spaces to further the success of his clients, people and solutions.

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