In the year of social distancing, how do retailers contend with events like Black Friday? Over the last few decades, a retail tradition has formed in the U.S. Starting late after their Thanksgiving holiday dinner, or early the next morning, consumers line up at nearby retailers.
They have one goal in mind — being there early enough to grab Christmas holiday gifts at deep discounts. Top finds include electronics, home goods, apparel, and entertainment media. For early risers and all-night campers, the rewards are worth trudging through large crowds and even longer checkout lines.
This becomes an obvious problem in 2020 — thanks to COVID-19. How are retailers preparing for their typical holiday rush while a global pandemic rages on?
One approach is to take the deep discounts given on Black Friday and spread them across the entire month of November. Where as in years prior, we saw major retailers pushing their discounts into the Thanksgiving holiday itself, this year we see the opposite. Many top retailers are closing stores altogether on Thanksgiving, including Best Buy, Target, and Walmart.
Black Friday, however, is still on the calendar for these retailers. By offering Cyber November as an alternative, consumers are encouraged to shop safely, by pairing social distancing with e-commerce.
While 2020 has been a challenge for retailers, the industry appears to be on a rebound. August imports reached a record high at 2.1 million twenty-foot equivalent units, according to the Global Port Tracker Report, released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
"After staying at home this spring, consumers are buying again and retail supply chains are working overtime to keep up with demand," said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy.
According to Gold, this year is unpredictable for retailers. Nevertheless, they see the better option as preparing for a busy holiday season with well-stocked shelves than being caught unprepared.
"[Retailers] are also stocking up earlier than usual because they know many consumers will shop early this year," said Gold. The reason? Avoiding large crowds of shoppers and curtailing shipping delays. Step into any major retailer in October, and you would most likely see Christmas decor already set up next to the Halloween aisle.
The industry is now asking itself what effect Cyber November will have on retail fulfillment and distribution during the holiday season.
It is undeniable that the coronavirus pandemic already transformed the retail landscape. Black Friday is simply another change we must contend with. According to a survey by Shopkick, these are the upcoming shopping plans of U.S. consumers for Black Friday:
The amount of consumers relying on e-commerce sites for their holiday shopping instead of in-store visits has increased from 51% in 2019 to 67% this year. With continued uncertainty due to the pandemic, as well as the threat of exposure, many consumers are rejecting crowded, long-lined stores.
With 44% of consumers planning to buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) option, it is clear that this convenience has become a standard during the pandemic. BOPIS is likely to become a permanent omnichannel option for many retailers.
There are some customers who plan to complete their shopping before Black Friday — 34% to be exact. Only 17% are waiting until Black Friday for their purchases.
According to Dave Fisch, general manager of Shopkick, there is a rising concern about the impact the coronavirus pandemic could have on consumer shopping habits — especially with the holiday season fast approaching.
The data makes it clear — Holiday shoppers are looking at this season in an all-new light. These changes mean retailers can't offer the same consumer experiences that have become tradition.
"Brands and retailers must step up their omnichannel and e-commerce capabilities to be successful through the end of the year and beyond," said Fisch.
Heavy e-commerce traffic should be expected this holiday season. Between 2010 and 2019, total holiday e-commerce retail sales increased from 4.6% to 11.5%, according to Statista.
So what should we expect for the year of pandemics and social distancing? Retailers should expect a 25-35% increase in 2020 holiday e-commerce sales when compared to the previous year, according to Deloitte.
Deloitte's retail and distribution team projects Black Friday and Cyber November spending to generate between $1,147 billion and $1,152 billion in sales.
"For retailers, this holiday season will continue to push the boundaries on the importance of online, convenience, and the criticalness of safe and speedy fulfillment," says Rod Sides, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and U.S. retail and distribution sector leader.
Fulfillment and distribution planning will be the crucial step in preparing for a successful Cyber November and Black Friday. Retailers should focus their efforts on making the most of the customer experience.
To accommodate order spikes and processing, your e-commerce sites require adequate IT infrastructure and support. Make sure you stress test your online store for speed and performance before the holidays.
Every one-second delay in page load times can reduce conversions by 7%, according to Vend. Imagine this delay affecting thousands of your online customers.
Customer experience matters from the loading screen through to order fulfillment, which includes accuracy.
Retailers always want to provide the ideal customer experience — even more so during Black Friday. With an omnichannel distribution strategy, you have access to a variety of channels for order fulfillment and distribution, while meeting consumer expectations.
Fufilling Cyber November e-commerce orders requires that your warehouse is optimized for efficiency. That means you need a capable warehouse management system (WMS) on your side. With a WMS like WAMAS®, your warehouse is enabled to scale its system from 1,500 items per hour to 30,000 — avoiding costly bottlenecks.
Pairing your WMS with automated storage and retrieval systems and automated guided vehicles enables efficient retail goods storage as monthly imports arrive. As orders come in, the automated system brings items to goods-to-person workstations.
A smart omnichannel distribution strategy means you can fulfill e-commerce orders at a warehouse or at a retail location. By using a retail store as a fulfillment center, you can provide more avenues for customers to receive their orders.
With real-time knowledge of your inventory data, retailers can implement a strategic omnichannel distribution where they can reroute product from mid-transport trucks to other stores with lower product stock.
As consumers spend more in November for holiday shopping, expectations for free or discounted shipping rise. The competitive nature of holiday shopping drives this even more.
It is important to have a shipping strategy for both traditional Black Friday and Cyber November, according to Easyship — or you could lose sales. Filling online shopping carts are easy as a single click on most sites, but retailers can expect abandoned carts and lacking profits if the checkout page results in additional fees, high shipping rates, and long delivery dates.
With a transparent approach to shipping rates and options, you can prevent sticker shock as your customers click through.