12 tips for retailers for improving the Xmas experience

Our thoughts on how retailers can improve the Christmas shopping experience through design.

It’s Christmas, so that calls for a novelty list of 12 items.

We’ve entered into the spirit of festivities and had a quick whip round to compile this list of top tips for retailers looking to create a cracking experience for customers this Christmas.

And don’t forget, the sales season will soon be upon us and it’s never too late to make improvements to the user experience.

1. A customer-friendly website is not just for Christmas! 

As you prepare for the sales season make sure your digital store is also fit for the onslaught of bargain hunters. UK consumers spent 17m hours browsing and shopping online on Boxing Day last year, which contributed to a total of 44.3m hours shopping online across Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Too many retailers still dump sale stock into the ‘Clearance‘ tab on their website and mobile store, and don’t provide the necessary sub-categorisation or filters to make searching for a bargain easy for customers.

This is the digital equivalent of putting all of your great sales items into one of those jumble filled baskets you see in some stores where the last remnants of sale items that no one has ever wanted get dumped. Shoppers want to be able to filter your sale items by type, size, price, discount and colour, to make the process of finding something right for them as painless as possible. Don’t force your customers to join the queues on the high street by offering an impenetrable digital Christmas sales experience. 

2. Make click and collect easier and faster than shopping in-store

45% of UK online consumers used click-and-collect for Christmas shopping according to Econsultancy. Make this easier and faster than shopping in store. Don’t force customers to bring a printout of their confirmation email with them to the store. Let them use their mobile.

Don’t force them to remember the date they received the confirmation email either. Be smarter and use the order ID or their surname. Finally, don’t make Click and Collect customers join the queue for the checkout. Provide them with a dedicated and relatively queue-free collection point, otherwise what’s the point?

3. Deliver swifter than Father Christmas and his reindeer

The very best online retailers have embraced mobile as a means of allowing customers to feel in control of deliveries. Communicate by mobile in the lead up to, and on the day of delivery to inspire confidence. Give accurate estimates of delivery time. Allow people to re-arrange by mobile/text if needed.

Event better if you can offer more evening and weekend slots, and small window delivery slots so that your customers don’t have to take a whole day or half day off work to wait in for your delivery guy to show up. 

Retailers can go one step further by making sure to let customers know exactly how long they’ve got to order their Christmas gifts to ensure they are delivered in time. Nothing like a bit of time pressure to help close the deal. eBay built an entire company around the ticking clock of the auction countdown. Also, be smart and use that delivery information as a marketing tool to inform your existing customers/database about exactly how much time they’ve got left to make the most of all those wonderful Christmas gifts you’re selling. 

4. Out of stock? Don’t leave me hanging

Mine would be ‘Out of stock’ items online. Nothing worse than finding something you like online and having the product page telling you it’s out of stock. I recommend either:

a) Giving customers the ability to select ‘Email me when back in store’ or,

b) Provide personalised and related searched items as alternatives such as ‘Customers also bought this’ or ‘Have you considered this’.

5. Create an in-store digital promotion crossover

Customers using a retailer’s app in-store should be able to unlock offers. Make it into a bit of a game/interactive piece. It is often chaos in store, so some augmented reality to direct me to the department I want would be cool. If I have seen items I want to buy on the website, I store them in a digital basket. When I arrive at the store, I am directed to the item to have a look/test it out… time saving. Almost like in-store Google Maps…. (Go to first floor, turn left, past Father Christmas, over the reindeer and on the second shelf on the right).

6. Sprinkle in a little delight

Why not surprise your customers with a small feature that emphasises the craftsmanship of your site/app and helps to communicate your brand? Animate your logo when a user taps on it. Make the loading screen interactive to entertain the user for a short while. Reward the user with something fun if your site or app has nothing more important to show (e.g. when their inbox is empty). Assuming performance or storage isn’t affected too much of course, why not brighten someone’s day a little bit? 

7. Make sure the technology works

Ahead of the busy sales period take a walk around the store and check the technology works. It’s all well and good implementing such in-store technology as iPads, beacons or contactless payments but badly implemented or – worse – broken technology will negatively impact your brand. Also make sure your staff understand how it works and are able to provide adequate support to customers. In our research into tapping technologies we found many examples of abandoned and unsupported technologies in store.

8. Treat online returns with the same care you treat purchases

Even the best online retailers rarely treat online returns with the same care they do purchases. ASOS allow customers to track purchases within at least 15 minutes of accuracy; but once a return is collected it falls into an abyss only to surface about a week or two later as a credit figure on your bank statement.

Put customers in control and avoid having to respond to panicked enquiries about whether you’ve received their return or not. Let customers track returns and give them peace of mind by telling them when the refund has been credited. 

9. Like Santa and his elves, you should know what’s on my Christmas list

In this age of smart data, retailers are better able to understand the preferences and ‘favourites’ of their customers. So there is no excuse for clogging inboxes with useless, generic emails. Customers are smart; they understand that you know quite a bit about them so have low tolerance of brands that are lazy in their approach.

Get it right. Make your communications personalised, tailored and relevant to customers. They want offers on the things they have been looking at and based on recent purchases. Retailers that take the time to do this will make it worthwhile for customers to take the time to read. Otherwise you simply risk an over-worked delete button.

10. Don’t fight show-rooming

Mobile is becoming a significantly more important part of the shopping experience. Our research conducted into the run up to Christmas last year showed over a quarter of UK shoppers ‘showroomed’(used their mobile in-store to compare the price of a product they were about to buy).

Don’t fight this. I want to go in to a store and feel Christmassy, but I also want the best deal so will browse on mobile then and there. I also don’t want to carry it home so will order click and collect. Saves me from dragging stuff around all day. However, it would be far better if I could scan an item with my phone, add it to my digital basket, pay on my phone, then collect later, to save me from having to manually search the site/app.

11. Be kind to your customer's devices

Dwindling battery life and sometimes limited mobile data can negatively impact on the mobile experience. Take a look at your apps and in-store technology and see if there are ways you can be more considerate of this. Consider using in-store Wi-Fi as part of the shopping experience to save customer data allowance, giving clear instructions and making it obvious that the service is free.

If they are low on battery when shopping on your app, maybe they don’t need the geolocation feature enabled automatically. Don’t prevent people from doing what they want but give them a heads-up and allow them to make their own mind up. 

12. Don’t make everything a list!

2014 was a breakthrough year for Buzzfeed and its clones, but we suspect that they will also precipitate ‘list fatigue’ and a media backlash that goes beyond a bit of teasing in Private Eye. The deeper principle will still hold true: present your content in a way that’s easy for the reader to scan and consume – but numbered lists are already looking like a parody of themselves.

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