By Alex Thomson, Vice President of EMEA at Quantum Metric
It’s that time of year again; retailers are busy preparing their websites for the onslaught of traffic due in the most lucrative time of the year. The Golden Quarter is the peak sales period from Black Friday into Cyber Monday weekend at the end of November, hotly followed by Christmas and the December sales. The importance of this period can’t be underestimated, particularly in 2021 on the back of retailers being shut for such long periods during various lockdowns. As we return to a more “normal” period of retail behaviour, indications are strong that the bounce-back could be like no other. With sales volumes set to rocket over this period, retailers must ensure they don’t get caught out by a continued increase in traffic to digital stores.
The pandemic drove digital retail forward and produced a huge surge in online shopping, as lockdowns reset consumer attitudes to online shopping from convenience to necessity. In fact, our summer survey on 2021 shopping behaviours found that mobile shoppers plan to spend 9.46% more than their in-store counterparts this Christmas. But as consumers continue to demand more from e-commerce and increase the volume at which they use it, so too do retailers need to keep pace. Shoppers are increasingly expecting a seamless purchase journey – and retailers need to act now to ensure they provide a consistent experience even during busy periods.
Our survey found that this year, as whole UK consumers are planning on spending much more on Christmas than they were pre-pandemic, driven by a perception that this Christmas is “more important”. This research forecasts that shoppers plan to spend an average of £489 each on gifts alone, an increase of 64% over the 2020 year, a potential national economic boost of up to £31.9Bn. There have been big jumps in major purchase indexes too, with shoppers seemingly ready to spend regardless of price point. A study by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) details how saving ratios rose from 7% of disposable incomes in the last quarter of 2019 to 9.5% in quarter one of 2020 during a national lockdown.
UK consumers are estimated to have saved around £200bn in the various lockdowns, while 54% of those savers are ready to spend it on Black Friday and Christmas and some 42% say that Black Friday shopping will be their main source of this year’s Christmas gifts according to a recent survey by Future plc.
A big driver for spending this year will be down to the fact that we all missed out in many ways last year. Whether it be a family holiday, seeing loved ones or a high street Christmas shopping trip. Those choosing to part with their cash will be expecting a top-notch experience from brands and retailers. Increasingly, the experience consumers have when shopping guides their loyalty and buying decisions.
As the majority of retailers use late summer/early Autumn to implement code freezes to reduce the risk of new site-killing code bugs, they open themselves up to a potentially bigger problem: being unable to update their sites in line with customer behaviour during the busy holiday shopping season. The traditional freeze is an understandable step, and it’s become so ingrained as part of digital retail operations, it’s difficult to see how that might change, but it’s far from agile. It’s almost a full quarter of the year when live improvements simply don’t happen. There needs to be a way to minimise this potential disruption and keep customers knowing the service they’re receiving is getting better every visit. Beyond this, the opportunity to continue safely and confidently making iterative improvements is only something that will appeal, as one customer said just the other day, “giving me an extra month would be like a dream.”
Delivering a high-quality online customer experience was complex enough before the pandemic, but the additional virtual footfall has only piled on the pressure. Many retailers had trouble meeting the surge in demand over the last 18 months, which caused limited delivery availability and delays in some areas. Furthermore, a whole new level of competition online means retailers must impress quickly or risk losing customers to rivals. A recent study by Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work found that retail executives plan to hike their investment in technology by 50% between now and 2023. This investment is necessary if they wish to close the gap with the digital elite.
It may be contrary to traditional code-freezes but adopting an agile, iterative approach to product development is essential across the retail sector. Attention is the new currency and the ability to be agile is the killer advantage retailers can implement to keep up with evolving trends, gain the attention of demanding shoppers and produce sales. Ultimately, in an age where customer attention span last seconds, brand engagement is key.