Ahead of #PrimeDay, Holiday Prep Advice for Retailers

As if there wasn't enough to stress about, retailers are anxiously awaiting the results of Amazon Prime Day: just how deep will discounts be and how will this event impact holiday sales?

While keeping a watch on Amazon is important (as it helps merchants understand consumer expectations and willingness to spend), retailers shouldn't let Amazon sidetrack the progress they need to make today, tomorrow, and in the weeks and months to come. As part of an upcoming article in the August issue of Website Magazine, our editors asked Michael Griffiths, vice president of marketing and communications for retail and global ecommerce at Pitney Bowes, to share holiday prep advice. We've included the insightful interview here:

What are some of the lessons from the 2016 holiday season that retailers should learn from for 2017?

Michael Griffiths, Pitney Bowes: If the 2016 holiday season was any indication, retailers will continue to see the rise in mobile and online transactions. This presents a completely new ball game for retailers, particularly for those that have traditionally relied on peak shopping holidays, like Black Friday to boost sales. Seamless and convenient interactions have become the new norm for customer experience. This holiday season, we expect that the key success differentiator will lie in retailers' ability to adapt and be nimble in the way they interact with their customers to ensure these heightened expectations are met. 

Furthermore, customers will expect seamless interactions with retailers, regardless of the channel - be it physical interactions within brick and mortar stores or online interactions across websites and mobile devices. This includes the way in which product data is used to inform recommendations and preferences. Similar to the in-store experience of engaging with a store clerk as a resource, enhancing website and mobile capabilities to boost personalization and empowering customers to feel confident in their purchases will also reduce high return rates, as seen in 2016. Most notably for retailers, the growth of global ecommerce has opened up opportunities for cross-border shopping capabilities. This has led peak sales (i.e during the holiday season) to take place around the globe. Ensuring seamless global capabilities across shipping and transactions, as well as customizing user-friendly sites relevant for each region will enable retailers to maximize success this holiday season.

What are some top customer expectations that retailers should be aware of when prepping for the 2017 Holiday season?

Griffiths, Pitney Bowes: Customers this season will be expecting expedited convenience which is dependent on availability, speed, and cost.  The proliferation of two-day free, same-day free or free delivery within just a couple of hours highlights this. The second aspect is seamless consumer experience inside the ecommerce world; simplicity and personalization for the consumer is very important. They want to be able to integrate their devices and shopping preferences with ease, while feeling like the offers and opportunities are relevant to their preferences. Integration and seamless transactions between mobile and Web experiences will be very important for the 2017 holiday season. Consumers still want to shop and buy brands that they love and the experience will be the true differentiator.

In terms of shipping, what improvements do retailers still have time to make to ensure there are no holiday hiccups?

Griffiths, Pitney Bowes: Often times, retailers see physical store footprints as a financial concern. But with retailers facing increased competition-particularly during the holiday season-they need to find ways to turn the store into something more as an enhanced way to get their products in the hands of their customers and enhance the overall customer experience. To maximize results, retailers should look for ways to unlock the potential in existing warehouse/inventory management systems and in-store analytics by optimizing their shipping processes for location, labor, and cost. By ensuring inventory is quickly sourced and most efficiently shipped to the right customer, either directly from stores, or from warehouses, retailers can gain a competitive advantage. At the heart of ensuring seamless holiday shipping processes is understanding where the inventory is and how best to ship it at all times. At the end of the day, data and business rules will dictate whether a retailer is able to deliver seamless processes. Ensuring data and inventory systems are in tip top shape and connected to the retailer's core systems will be critical. 

Even with paid or slower delivery, what can retailers do to ensure transparency with customers about where their packages are, when they are being delivered etc.?

Griffiths, Pitney Bowes: The two main concerns consumers have when it comes to shipping is whether their shipments are on time and will arrive as promised. The use of API technology can facilitate a range of complex inventory, shipping processes and optimization models to augment systems for retailers. APIs can help to better manage costs, track deliveries and ensure an improved end-to-end customer experience. Cloud-based solutions are also much faster to deploy than on-premise systems. Plus they're easier to connect to existing systems and can be implemented in a phased approach with limited production impact. This can remove the business concerns of interrupting everyday business operations.  Finally, these solutions can be updated with new capabilities and value on regular basis - offering investment protection and ever increasing value. 

Overall, with the help of complete, optimized shipping solutions and APIs, retailers can achieve fast fulfillment and shipping with the personalized touch today's consumers have come to expect.

Any final thoughts?

Griffiths, Pitney Bowes: In today's rapidly changing retail landscape, consumers are shopping more than ever, especially online - both domestic and cross-border - which presents a lot of exciting new opportunities for retailers. In the last five years we have seen a $550-billion-dollar growth in ecommerce alone, and it is clear that the expectations of shoppers, ease of access, and power of choice they have will continue to be a significant and fast-growing trend. Moreover, shopping is becoming increasingly borderless, especially during holiday seasons. Consumers now have the opportunity to explore and shop across borders, in countries all over the globe, and it is clear that consumers are looking for this kind of access, with over 80 percent of consumers purchasing something across borders over the last year. Furthermore, one third of consumers are shopping across borders at least once a month. They no longer see cross border as a deterrent from shopping and they are spending that money every month.  At the end of the day, global is simply how consumers show in today's digital world. Keep Reading:

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