A blog series on Shopper Marketing.

By Cyndi Pybrun

I don’t know about you, but I was so busy this holiday season that I found it challenging to find time to do some thoughtful gift shopping.  All sorts of commitments kept getting in the way of my exodus to a great shopping destination for a leisurely afternoon of browsing and buying for my loved ones.  There didn’t even seem to be hope for my beloved dog of almost 13 years, of scoring a Dentabone or a toy in his stocking!  What was really holding me back?  I LOVE shopping, especially for others, especially for my boys.

When I thought about it, all my commitments were just an excuse.  There were other barriers.  First, the thought of lining up to even get into, for example, Yorkdale, is a daunting task.  Then there is the challenge of finding a parking spot.  Then you need to arrive alive from the parking lot into the mall (can be quite the feat during the holiday season).  Then the thought of facing throngs of shoppers and knee deep line-ups at the cash literally ‘did me in’.  So, did my loved ones get coal?  NO!  I turned to online shopping ….. in my jammies, with a glass of wine, and my dog curled up beside me by the fireplace.

Online shopping is most enticing.  Apart from the convenience of it all, the selection, ease, time and money savings, lack of stress and ‘free’ shipping were what collectively won me over.  Not to mention, on many sites, gift wrapping options.  It was kinda fun and enjoyable.  Judging from the posted numbers, foot traffic in malls was down this holiday season.  Is e-commerce to blame?

Statistics Canada states that Canada’s retailers suffered a weak final month during last year’s holiday shopping season, with December retail sales edging down 0.2 %.   Stores that usually cater to holiday gift-givers were among the worst performers.  Sales at department stores were down 1.5 per cent for a fourth consecutive month and sporting goods, hobby, book and music store saw sales drop for the first time in five months, down 3.4 per cent in December.

No doubt, pressures from low cost e-commerce rivals had an impact, as did cross-border shopping and I think the early activity of Black Friday and CyberMonday.   Sorry for the US statistic, but on-line sales currently represent about 7% of the retail pie and swell to about 16% over the holiday season according to the National Retail Federation in the US.  So what’s a retailer to do?

The in-store shopping experience can be augmented with many digital and promotional tactics – some ideas include:

  • A comprehensive, easy to navigate store website complete with holiday gifting suggestions
  • An engaging website with expert and consumer reviews
  • Free Wi-Fi to encourage shoppers to use store’s own mobile app ready to compare and contrast prices while shopping
  • Buy on-line but pick it up in-store (this gets shopper in the store and provides the opportunity for additional and/or impulse purchases)
  • Promotions or coupons that can be redeemed in-store only
  • Price matching
  • Location-based mobile discounts
  • Limited time flash sales in-store such as The Bay’s  holiday ‘Shazam’ or Banana Republic’s 3 hours only (11 am-2 pm)– 40% off full priced items in store
  • Exclusive merchandise in-store that cannot be found on-line
  • Arming sales associates with smartphones, tablets, and apps that allow them to re-price items, check inventory for customers and speed up transactions by conducting them wherever they are in the store.
  • Touchscreens and tablets in stores to make consumers aware of all their products and offer recommendations.

The bricks and mortar or physical store is beginning to behave as a web-like kiosk with mobile checkouts.  The trick is to combine technology with the human touch that only a well-trained salesperson can provide.

So did e-commerce ‘win’ the holiday season?  Maybe not, but it sure shook up the bricks & mortar world.