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Beating inflation: 5 tips for retailers heading into the holidays

Budget concerns and inflation shock are causing noticeable shifts in consumer behavior, a head-spinning turnabout since the pandemic days of 2020. We went from not having access to enough goods to now not having the right goods at the right price points. Heading into the holiday season, retailers will need to look sharp and be able to deliver value to the increasingly cost-conscious consumer — with frictionless product discovery and digital shopping experiences, relevant inventory, and personalization.

Those are a few of the insights gleaned from a recent eMarketer webcast on how retailers can better combat the effects of inflation, with pragmatic recommendations from experts including Amy Eschliman, managing director of retail solutions strategy and industry engagement at Google Cloud; Alexis Hoopes, vice president and head of e-commerce and direct-to-consumer (DTC) at Mattel Inc; and Elissa Quinby, head of retail insights at Quantum Metric. We’d like to share five key takeaways that retailers can adopt.

1. Be prepared for earlier holiday planning. Budget-conscious buyers are planning their purchases earlier than ever. According to our partner Quantum Metric’s latest Retail Benchmarks research, 40% of U.S. consumers and 30% in the UK have already started their holiday shopping1. At Mattel, Alexis noted, “We’ve learned to be nimble and early for our consumers, and to have products available for them when they’re ready to shop.” With higher prices, she added, “Consumers are preplanning and researching more, viewing product detail pages multiple times to check a higher-price item before adding it to their basket.”

Quantum Metric’s same research also shows that while average cart values grew between January to July 2022 — larger than they were at the same time last year1 — consumers were shopping less frequently. Because of higher prices, 37% of shoppers are now pre-planning and purchasing items all at once to help keep to their budget1. Amy observed. “That means retailers need to make it super easy for customers to find what they want to avoid shopping-cart abandonment.”

Retailers who make it easier for shoppers to find the right products, by providing Google-quality search and recommendations, can help reduce cart abandonment and increase conversions.

2. Get a handle on out-of-stock issues. While many of the supply-chain issues that surfaced during the pandemic have cleared up, inventory continues to be a challenge in retail. During the 2021 holiday season, Google/Ipsos research shows that consumers saw a 253% increase in “out of stock” messages versus pre-pandemic2. Elissa further pointed out that a great majority of both U.S. and UK consumers experience out-of-stock issues several times a month. It’s a fluid situation, however, with retailers facing bloated inventory as consumer demands quickly pivot from, for example, branded goods to generic or white-label items. “In the next six months or so, you really need to make sure you have the right inventory to meet consumer demands,” she advised.

The need for end-to-end visibility and the ability to act in real-time across the supply chain has never been more pressing. Google Cloud and our partners are tackling the top supply chain issues head on with solutions that enable end-to-end visibility, analytics and alert-driven event management as well as AI solutions and automation to streamline processes like procurement, fulfillment, and delivery.

3. Introduce value: communicate the quality of the product and the experience. While rising prices are paramount for many shoppers, it’s a common misconception that consumers are making purchase decisions based solely on price. Alexis remarked, “In e-commerce, we talk about price, product, service, and experience. Price is only one of the pillars for consumers. At Mattel, we are fully focused on product and experience. What makes this special? How do we connect directly in new ways to the consumer? Create ‘wow’ moments and deeper connections. When we think about value for our consumers, it’s the strength of the products that will drive the purchase.”  

Elissa also noted that while consumers are doing a lot of comparison shopping, it’s really about value, whether a high-quality product or a high-quality experience. Quantum Metric’s Continuous Product Design solution, which is built with BigQuery, ingests data across multiple digital touchpoints, including from mobile and web applications, and connects customer signals to every stage of the product lifecycle to help deliver the products and experiences that customers actually want.

4. Ensure consistent experiences across channels. Today, consumers crave the cross-channel shopping experience. “The channel experience has gone from online to in-store to now everywhere,” Amy commented. “We call it ubiquitous digital shopping.” Elissa added that 75% of consumers do most of their shopping digitally. However, mobile drives 67% of digital traffic, but just 49% of sales.1 “Recent trends in traffic and conversion rates by device show that we can expect the most traffic for the big sale days on mobile,” she said. “People are looking for discovery and awareness, maybe even adding items to the cart as a placeholder or reminder. But they prefer to complete a sale on a desktop. It will be critical for retailers to offer a consistent experience, especially on major sale days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.” Elissa also advised wrapping up any experiments with product and site design early, making sure to understand the customer experience holistically across the organization and prioritizing efforts to eliminate friction.

Consumers now expect to be able to shop wherever and whenever best fits their needs, whether in a store, on your website, through your app, or from within a social media ad, and have it be a consistently good experience no matter how they first entered or exited your commerce site. Google’s 2022 Retail Marketing Guide provides useful insights and tips on how to grow your online and in-app sales. 

5. Personalize touchpoints to build loyalty. Connecting with your customer base and making sure they understand the value of your offering is essential. Alexis noted that the key is to keep your messages fresh as the holiday shopping season expands, providing new messages as they keep coming back to your store. “We need to engage them by helping them find what they are looking for at the right time,” she said. “Recognize that they are doing more planning and wish-list building early, then buying last-minute gifts at lower prices towards the end. Make sure those are front and center.”

Alexis also pointed out that today, consumers are providing more data points with the products they view or the items sitting in their carts. “What’s so great about e-commerce is that we can use all of this to create more personalized, direct messages targeted to those consumers,” she commented.

Amy recommended continuing to focus on conversion with product discovery and personalization, harnessing customer data to drive insights and action. “Any company’s biggest asset is their data. Using it in as many ways possible and activating it across the company is incredibly important,” she remarked. “Take advantage of your first-party data to activate everything from marketing campaigns to a more efficient supply chain. For every customer who comes to one of your digital properties, make sure your product discovery is as easy as possible. Pay attention to your recommendations, driving personalization to make that experience as unique and fruitful for the customer as possible.”

Achieving these objectives requires a modern cloud data warehouse and activation of a customer data platform. Retailers can explore how Google Cloud’s advanced data capabilitiesand our ecosystem of partners can power a customer data platform that supports more personalized marketing, shopping experience, and customer service.

While these are our key takeaways, we invite you to register to watch theon-demand webinar, “5 Ways Retailers Can Combat the Effects of Inflation,” for even more insights.

1. Quantum Metric Retail Benchmarks, “Adjusting for Inflation.” The report is based on aggregated browsing behavior from January to July 2022, paired with a survey of 3,400 consumers in the U.S. and UK. 
2. Google/Ipsos, Holiday Shopping Study, Oct 2021 – Jan 2022, Online survey, US, n=7,253, Americans 18+ who conducted holiday shopping activities in past two days

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