At a time of year when consumers are still caught up in end-of-summer barbecues and back-to-school shopping, retailers are getting caught up in the rush of holiday planning. Holiday sales can account for 20% to 40% of a retailer’s total annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation, and a successful holiday can turn around a bad year or make a good year even better.
But the holiday season presents challenges as well as opportunities. And that’s especially true in today’s omnichannel environment where retailers must ensure that online sites as well physical stores can handle the holiday rush. Never has the path to purchase been more complicated, with consumer interaction now involving social media, mobile devices, email and traditional media.
Retailers must ensure that areas, such as customer service, staffing, online personalization and marketing, are up to speed and are supported by technology robust enough to keep things running no matter how big holiday crowds get. In addition, leading-edge solutions like mobile, social and digital gift cards can open new channels and help retailers reach holiday shoppers through as many touchpoints as possible.
In this month’s tech section, CSA offers an in-depth look at how leading retailers are integrating IT into their holiday plans, and also provides expert advice on the best ways to use mobile and social platforms, as well as digital gift cards, to help make the holidays happy for everyone — wherever and however they may choose to shop.
Nine West Chats up Customers
For retailers looking to provide an optimal customer experience to harried holiday shoppers, live chat is more than a nice extra.
“Customer expectations today make live chat a necessity; more and more customers are demanding this channel to interact with brands since it’s a convenient and efficient means of getting assistance online,” said Milton Pappas, president of e-commerce for White Plains, New York-based Nine West Group, which operates 183 Nine West stores, 78 Easy Spirit stores and 88 JNY stores in the United States.
Shortly before the 2013 holiday period, Nine West integrated the LiveEngage customer service platform from LivePerson into its Demandware Commerce platform.
“Through LiveEngage, we are able to provide customers with very relevant answers and recommendations based on shopping cart information or product page info,” said Pappas. “The customer doesn’t have to explain in detail the exact product they are looking at because of the benefit of digital versus voice. Also, if customers identify themselves, agents can leverage historical data to provide even more personalized recommendations.”
Since Nine West launched so close to last year’s holiday season, the retailer used chat as a supporting channel for customer service, rather than a primary channel. Nine West still saw an increase in sales and a significant amount of call deflection. For the 2014 holiday season, Nine West plans to bolster its use of chat, supported by LiveEngage and Demandware Commerce.
“We want to ramp up heavily on chat,” explained Pappas. “It’s less costly than other channels, and we are able to handle multiple interactions at the same time. We also want to proactively engage customers to drive sales. With intelligent targeting capabilities, we can be creative in the types of promotions we might offer to customers, e.g., leveraging location-based or page-based analytics.”
Pappas also had a plan to make chat a very direct means of increasing sales.
“We’re also excited to launch PCI forms embedded in chat so customers can seamlessly make a purchase while speaking to a customer service rep,” he added.
Emerging Retail Markets: Chile and China Tops for Expansion
Chile is the top destination for emerging market retail expansion, followed by China, where retail sales totaled a whopping $3.7 trillion in 2013, according to the 2014 A.T. Kearney Global Retail Development Index.
With Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico also in the index of top emerging economies ready for retail expansion, Latin America continues to show strength as a regional retail growth market. Sub-Saharan Africa is also expanding into another exciting regional retail opportunity, the study found.
Although there were some notable retail contractions in the past year — Wal-Mart pruned its portfolio in China and Brazil, and Tesco took a more cautious approach to China — most global retailers are continuing their push into developing markets.
“Global retailers have learned from past mistakes and have become much more adept and successful with their emerging market expansion strategies. E-commerce is also helping with global expansion as retailers are able to test a market and build their brand through e-commerce before they expand with brick-and-mortar stores,” said Hana Ben-Shabat, A.T. Kearney partner and co-author of the GRDI, which ranks the top 30 developing countries for retail investment worldwide.
The Index analyzes 25 macroeconomic and retail-specific variables that help retailers devise successful global strategies to identify emerging market investment opportunities.
Highlights of the study include:
• Latin America: Latin America keeps its dominating position in the GRDI, with three countries in the top five positions, as an expanding middle class offers lucrative opportunities.
The diverse retail ecosystem includes Brazil’s (#5) huge market; Chile’s (#1) sophisticated mid-sized market; and “small gems,” such as Uruguay (#3), where high consumption levels are attractive to luxury brands.
• Asia: The region saw several improvements in the rankings, led by China (#2), which rebounded into second place. Even with less-bullish economic growth, China remains impossible for retailers to ignore. Retail sales in the world’s most populous country increased 13% in 2013 (to $3.7 trillion), and consumer confidence rose.
The top 10 emerging markets in the Kantar survey are: