In order to thrive, retailers should pay attention to mobile, the retail store itself, location targeting and other key developments.
During this past holiday season, online shoppers set records on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shelling out more than $5 billion. That's up 22 percent from the same period in 2012, according to IBM's 2013 Black Friday Report, which tracks data from 800 U.S. retail websites.
From the growing importance of mobile to changing expectations about free shipping returns, here are key developments in retail.
Continued increases in online sales is predicted in the 2013 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study from ComScore. Just a couple of examples:
- Seven out of 10 online shoppers cite online access as their preferred path to retailers.
- One in 10 e-commerce dollars are now spent via mobile devices.
In this article, David Sisco, UPS retail segment marketing director, shares his insight and advice on seven key retail trends that will shape 2014 and upcoming years.
1. Mobile access. One-third of activity on Cyber Monday came through mobile devices, up from just 4 percent three years ago, according to the IBM report. "It is critical for retailers to adapt their websites to accommodate smartphones and tablet users," Sisco says. "Since consumers are going to be shopping on smaller screens, navigation and ease of use is essential."
2. Location targeting. "Most mobile devices are location-enabled, and that's a great opportunity for retailers to tailor promotions to those who are nearby or already in their store," Sisco says. How it works: A retailer who has its consumer's purchasing history can push coupons or other offers to the device using GPS or Wi-Fi technology – while the customer is in the store. Or, the retailer can send tailored coupons for locations near the customer.
3. More productive social media. According to the UPS/ComScore study, 77 percent of online consumers use Facebook. Twitter ranked second. "Facebook and Twitter both let you target specific subsets of customers based on their online habits. Retailers can leverage that to tailor advertising or custom messages specifically to those consumers," Sisco says. "Retailers can get much more specific and target more effectively with social media than they have been able to in the past."
4. Ship to store. In the UPS/ComScore study, 51 percent of online shoppers had purchases shipped to a nearby store, and 38 percent said that while there, they purchased more. “The most commonly cited reason for choosing ship to store was to qualify for free shipping,” Sisco says. “This is a great example of how retailers can leverage free shipping promotions to drive foot traffic to their stores.”
5. Free shipping developments. "What we see in 2014 is more retailers looking to increase average cart size by increasing the threshold levels for free shipping," Sisco says. It's top of mind for consumers, but remains a struggle for retailers. "We'll see more testing to see what works best. You might test on certain products or a subset of customers," Sisco says. "Perhaps those who are loyal customers get free shipping while first-time buyers get free shipping only on certain items."
6. The scoop on free returns. "Like free shipping, free returns is slowly becoming the norm, and small retailers need to evaluate their returns policy in order to compete effectively," Sisco says. The key: Look at what your larger competitors are doing. "If a large competitor has a restrictive returns policy, that represents an opportunity for you to set yourself apart." In the UPS/ComScore study, 66 percent of consumers look at the returns policy before they buy online. "That tells me returns are becoming a differentiator," Sisco says.
7. Virtual window shopping. "Consumers often browse online using mobile devices, find what they want, identify the nearest store where they can buy it, and go to that store," Sisco says. The upside for brick-and-mortar retailers is increased store traffic and in-store sales. The downside is that retailers need full and accurate visibility into their inventory to ensure that what the consumer wants is available in the specific store they visit. "As smartphones and tablets become more prevalent, this is a trend that will continue – and definitely one to watch."
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