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How retailers can prepare for an unprecedented holiday season

November is going to be one of the most intense sales periods for retailers to date. On top of Singles Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM), the pandemic is bringing forward shopping timelines for the Christmas and holiday period as well. A recent survey of Shopify Plus merchants found many retailers are getting marketing resources in place to manage this opportunistic period, with 68% planning to spend most of their BFCM budget on marketing.

However, with almost a third of merchants saying developing a marketing strategy (31%) and executing a marketing plan (29%) would be a main challenge, there’s a clear gap between marketers’ end goals and their confidence in reaching those goals. Retail marketers cannot afford to go into this year’s biggest sales season hoping for the best – data and agility will be your biggest weapons.

Follow, don’t lead, your customers

While many retailers are understandably just trying to keep their heads above water, one of the most worthwhile ways to spend resources right now will be in analysing customer behaviour. Compare customer transactions and interactions from the start of the year to throughout the pandemic, and also compare this year’s customer behaviours to those of 2019.

By understanding where customers have shifted to gather information that impacts their purchasing decisions, retailers can rebuild their marketing plans with confidence, instead of making more guesses than necessary in an already uncertain economy.


For example, Peter Sheppard, like many retailers, saw a significant shift in customer behaviour towards their online platforms during the pandemic. They could quickly see that their relatively traditional customer demographic, who had historically preferred coming into stores to make purchases, were wanting to continue shopping online, but were struggling with how to navigate what for them was a new world of online shopping.

In response, the team started offering phone and video chat appointments with store staff, and developed a range of how-to guides and content helping customers more easily make purchases online. The result has been increased conversion rates and, of course, maintained rapport and loyalty among their customer base.

Going into the November sales period, retailers will need to echo this customer-led approach to delivering what customers realistically need and are looking for in times of social distancing and economic hardship.

Embrace the back-up plan – Plan for constant change

The pandemic has highlighted which retailers were ready to adapt to change and the shift to ecommerce, and which had been hesitating to change for years, leaving them even further behind competitors when consumers brought behaviours forecasted for 2030 into the current year. Though ‘agile’ has become a somewhat overused term, it’s never been more important for retailers to be able to shift their entire business in a quick and efficient manner. This means having a back-up plan in place for when things go unexpectedly, and being prepared to action this back-up plan as needed.

Aje is another Australian retailer that moved quickly during the pandemic. Though their online and mobile platforms weren’t optimised for a sudden growth in traffic, they were open to change and exploring new ways of delivering online retail options for their customers who were now expecting and demanding digital-first experiences. Rather than resting on their laurels, Aje took a proactive approach to overhauling their online and mobile websites. This led to a 135 per cent increase in conversion rates and is also now enabling the business to more aggressively expand overseas.

Just as we’ve seen in recent months, the November sales season will undoubtedly present more shifts in consumer behaviour for retailers to navigate. Retailers will need to look to merchants that have successfully shown agility during the pandemic and apply these learnings to capitalise on the opportunities ahead.

As the pressure is mounting on the shoulders of retailers, it’s important to recognise that this is not the time to pretend to have all the answers. In fact, taking a measured and data-driven approach to trialling new ideas, while also being prepared for those ideas to fail will be a smarter approach than sticking to outdated business plans based on a fear that change is upon us. Change is most certainly here, and retailers that tackle it head-on will come out on top this November.

By Shopify Plus APAC Director Shaun Broughton, B&T


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