Challenges and Opportunities for Holiday Sales

Thanks to impacts from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the continued rising influence of ecommerce on consumer behaviors, this holiday season will bring a new set of challenges and opportunities to footwear retailers and vendors. In-store safety, the ecommerce experience, contactless pick-up/checkout and extended payment options are now paramount. Moreover, embracing new concepts, technologies and ways of conducting business are seen as necessary to spark buying interest and overall sales in a season that could bring supply chain shortages, delivery delays and “ho-hum” results.

“The result will be the most competitive and digitally-dominant holiday season we’ve seen,” wrote Marshal Cohen, NPD’s retail analyst in a recent blog post. “Retailers big and small, online and offline, will all be jostling to get the consumer’s attention and dollars.”

Faced with the prospect of a huge fall-off in year-over-year holiday sales, retailers are aiming to kick-off the season before the shine is off the Halloween pumpkin and shortly after an extended Back-To-School season ends and Amazon’s annual Prime Week commences in mid-October. Some 68 percent of consumers intend to begin shopping by Cyber Monday (Nov. 30), according to Klarna, as big box retailers begin introducing paced out holiday promotions in October to engage customers and ensure logistics providers are able to meet delivery expectations.

Due to an anticipated rise in packages—bolstered by the pandemic and rising digital purchases—during the holiday season, “last-mile delivery services” (the couriers that bring packages to the consumer’s door) are projected to run out of capacity. COVID-related surcharges by the likes of Federal Express and UPS are projected to hit $4.5 billion and impact retail margins. Retailers should consider redirecting some of their shipping capacity to crowdsourcing companies such as Uber, Lyft and Instacart, or possibly create “a store associate delivery network” for deliveries within a specified radius of key store locations, suggests Retail Touchpoint analysts.

Deloitte is forecasting overall U.S holiday (Nov. to Jan.) sales to rise 1-1.5 percent year-over-year in 2020, including a 25-35 percent increase in ecommerce sales. Those figures pale against the firm’s 2019 prognosis of 4.5-5 percent growth bolstered by record-low unemployment rates and ongoing monthly job creation.

“Retailers big and small, online and offline, will all be jostling to get the consumer’s attention and dollars.” — Marshal Cohen, NPD Retail Analyst

“Everything has changed, and retailers are having to re-invent themselves,” said Marie Driscoll, managing director of luxury and fashion for Coresight Research. “The deals will start in October, and retailers will re-up week after week — they’ll have one limited-edition on week one, and week two it’ll be something else so they can get consumers to keep buying.”

That approach may not apply to all shoe brands, many of whom cancelled or modified fourth quarter orders earlier this year when the global pandemic surfaced. Orders for fringe fashion and low sales volume styles were slashed or eliminated altogether. Genesco-owned Journeys, which recently confirmed it has been “inventory chase mode” since its stores re-opened, will focus on core footwear styles in the comfort and casual segments this holiday.

Caleres CEO Diane Sullivan, meanwhile, recently told Wall Street analysts that footwear development and supply chains are “tightening up” as disciplined footwear retailers develop strategies to operate their businesses with less total inventory heading into 2021.

NPD’s Cohen thinks merchandise categories that didn’t see much sales activity earlier this year, including fashion apparel and accessories, could shine during the holiday season due to pent-up demand for them and “a general desire for something different.”

Research firm psfk, in a recent webinar on Holiday 2020 sales and strategies, reported that 32 percent of U.S. consumers will spend less during the season and 60 percent will pull away from in-store shopping. Extended payment option programs, including a “Buy Now, Pay Later” from Affirm, will be promoted to entice cash- or credit-strapped consumers to make that holiday season purchase they are considering.

Mid-September research from Coresight suggests there is a gradual declining trend in U.S. consumers avoiding shopping centers, malls and stores and indications of more “willingness” from these same consumers to return to “regular activities” sooner than they previously expected, including returning to brick-and-mortar retail. The same report also found rising in-store apparel and footwear sales during the first two weeks of September as apparel purchased online dropped to 32 percent of respondents from 37 percent during the month’s first week.

Retail Focus Points
  • In-store safety
  • E-comm strategy
  • Contactless pickup/checkout
  • Extended payment options
  • Embracing new concepts & ideas

Regardless, consumers for all types of products, including footwear and apparel, are demanding new options to improve their omnichannel shopping experiences. These include in-app purchasing, home delivery, curbside pick-up availability, shopping ability on social media sites and BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-up In-Store). Interestingly, rising consumer adoption of BOPIS is increasingly important to retailers who face rising shipping costs and possible back-end supply chain challenges due to likely holiday capacity constraints at UPS, Federal Express and the U.S. Postal Service. Some retailers intend to use a combination of physical stores and distribution centers to fulfill online orders this holiday season and more will provide customers with real-time access to all inventory when ordering online or in-store. An estimated 55 percent of  consumers will utilize curbside pickup more this holiday season than in 2019, according to PowerReviews Holiday Consumer Survey, not only due to the pandemic but for convenience.

“Physical retail will always be important, but it’s changing,” Ophelia Chen, founder of Bobblehaus, is quoted by psfk. “Part of the reason department stores have struggled is because a lot of them just put product out on the shelf and hope it sells. That’s not the future of physical retail. It’s about personalization and building connections with consumers.”

To that end, brands are implementing new programs and technologies to meet those objectives. Depending on their respective success, some of these may be adopted by additional brands and retailers in the months ahead.

In-Store Examples

Psfk cited some examples in its recently published Holidays 2020 Toolkit. Among them: Fashion label Tres Bien is offering a virtual storefront experience through Zoom. A Tres Bien associate, located in-store, meet customers on Zoom to offer a tour of the store sales floor, highlighting key products.

In the area of live commerce, Shopify has created a live channel through its partnership with livestream platform Spin Live that allows merchants to sell products directly through live videos that are created by leading influencers. Retailers and brands have the ability sync product information, inventory and fulfilment to the video content, providing consumers direct access to the merchandise without leaving the livestream.

While lululemon provides its customers access to its in-store associates through appointments, livestreams and social channels, mobile app Teleport invites members to create video shots of themselves wearing accessories and apparel that they love and earn a commission by selling them to viewers.

In the athletic footwear arena, both Nike and Adidas have zeroed in on fit scans and digital drops respectively with customers in China and worldwide. And tech start-up FIT:Match has developed a 3-D experience for kiosks in Brookfield-owned malls that allow shoppers to find their correct apparel size at different retailers via a one-minute body scan.

The Nike Pulse concept store in Guangzhou, China uses Nike Fit technology to assist customers in learning about products and the size of their feet and body. Once obtained through scanning, the data can be stored within a Swoosh member’s profile where it be accessed in-store and online. CONFIRMED, an Adidas app, connects Three Stripes’ fans with exclusive access to product drops and content from a community of designers and influencers with safe, easy access to purchase limited-edition merchandise.

As the Holiday season approaches, look for a continued evolution of the shopping experience as brands and retailers adapt to the current moment’s challenges… and opportunities.

See More of the September / October 2020 Issue

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