As we race headlong into the holiday season, the best gift that retailers could receive would be…a crystal ball. Having the ability to predict the future, to know how shoppers are going to behave would make retailers as excited as a child finding a full Santa sack at the end of their bed on Christmas morning. But of course, the future-forecasting crystal ball is still, like an over-ambitious letter to St Nick, just wishful thinking.

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The next best thing, however, for planning business growth, is research-based predictions, and last month, Retail Info Systems (RIS) brought retailers just that, in the form of their fourth annual guide to the peak selling season. * RIS has rounded up the key research carried out by expert consultants and curated it into an overview of the likely shape of this holiday shopping season.

We take a look at the RIS predictions and how you can use retail technology to implement actions based on them – positioning yourself to receive the gift of business growth and increased profits this holiday season.

RIS Annual Guide to peak selling season

RIS analysed data from a range of forecasts by retail industry experts, and summarised their key findings:

  • Shallower sales growth – whilst experts are predicting growth in holiday sales compared to last year, they’re seeing a shallower trajectory than in the past, due to inflation and the cost of living crisis. Retailers have to grow their share of a finite wallet, making promotions and customer experience an essential part of the retail mix.
  • An earlier start – no fewer than four separate surveys (by LTK **, Radial ***, Bazaarvoice **** and Celigo +) all found that shoppers are planning on starting their gift buying before Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Retailers have to be ready with promotions to attract these early birds, and harness their retail POS software to win their wallet.
  • Different spending patterns – researchers are seeing less general browsing and impulse buying from shoppers, but also a willingness to spend a bit more on essentials and special events. Retailers can make the most of this trend with promotions focussed on celebrations, festivities and events.
  • Customer experience – with less discretionary spend, customers are going to be even more influenced by good value, and by retailers who make the shopping experience easier and more engaging. Retailers therefore need to focus on ways to interact with shoppers in the store and online.
  • Inventory management – changed shopping patterns, with purchases spread more evenly over a longer time period mean that retailers must have flawless inventory management to ensure they have the right stock in the right place at the right time, minimising out-of-stocks and overstocks.
  • Returns – the forecast is that returns, as ever, will increase during holiday season, but that with smart, customer-focussed returns policies, they can act as a differentiator – the research found that customers value policies such offering Buy Online and Return in Store (BORIS), extended return windows and ‘curated exchanges’ instead of returns.

How retail technology helps retailers make the most of holiday season 2023
To act on this research, retailers need the help of a retail technology platform that offers:

  • Customer insights – sales tracking, customer data tracking, analytics and reporting to uncover the behaviours and preferences of your shoppers, so that you can use your retail POS software to develop personalised offers and promotions.

  • In-store engagement – providing associates with Mobile retail POS to provide customers with in-aisle, personalised service, recommendations and upselling, enhances their experience and your holiday season sales.

  • Rapid checkout in store – for many shoppers, the experience is all about efficiency. A state-of-the art, speedy, efficient retail POS system or self-checkout with contactless payments gets shoppers in and out of your store faster than Rudolph pulling Santa’s sleigh.
  • Omnichannel – a retail point of sale system that offers shoppers online/offline transactions such as Click and Collect, curbside pickup and Buy Online Return to Store (BORIS).

  • Promotions and marketing – giving you the ability to create personalised offers based on customer insights, which help you to increase your share of a finite disposable income.

  • Inventory management – full visibility to increase management control, ensure smooth and frictionless fulfilment and to support your customer-focussed returns policy.

Whilst no-one can exactly predict the future, there is a wealth of research to provide some invaluable insights. Armed with these, and with the retail technology to act on them, smart retailers can make sure they’re on the ‘nice’, not the ‘naughty’ list this holiday season.

How can retailers prepare for the increase in online shopping?

When trying to win the wallet share of online shoppers, providing a frictionless checkout is essential. Even when shoppers have selected their purchases, they can still abandon their cart (and many do) if the checkout process is too onerous. So retailers can ensure that their online store is well designed, easy to use and above all that checkout is swift, straightforward and free from nasty last-minute surprises like additional costs or long delivery wait times.

Hiring staff is a real issue, especially in the holiday season – can POS technology help?

Yes, there is a well-recognised and proven link investment in store technology and staff morale and motivation. Staff feel valued when they are given the tools they need to do the job, and do it well, such as mobile POS to help them engage with customers. Having the latest technology presents a retailer as a great place to work, attracting candidates and helping to enthuse and retain existing staff.

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