Five insights to help retailers make the 2021 shopping season a success

South Africans love a great deal and have quickly embraced global shopping holidays like Black Friday. In fact, what started out as just weekend and one-day sales have grown into full-blown mega-events as Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales have extended and now merged with our traditional Festive Season to create a three-month shopping extravaganza.

For retailers, this growth in super-shopper days has opened up big sales opportunities. But after twenty months of uncertainty and never-before experienced trading conditions, it’s not surprising that many retailers may be feeling desperately uncertain about what to expect this year.

The DPO South Africa team put our heads together and came up with five questions which we put to digital marketing expert and director at SiteMeUp, Michael Richards. These five insight bites will help shed some light for our local retailers on what to expect and how to prepare for this year’s retail holiday season.

Question 1: What non-tech challenges do you think the 2021 holiday season holds for online retailers?

Michael: We see slow delivery as a real concern for most online merchants. Online shopping has already experienced a dramatic increase since the onset of Covid and the additional pressure on big sale days, such as Black Friday, will place a strain on courier companies trying to keep up with demand. This will likely have a ripple effect on the logistics chain and merchants must be very clear in their communication to customers. The smart move would be to warn about potential delivery delays and encourage them to get their orders in early where possible. We always recommend rapid, clear communication during these busy times and it is even more important when there are uncertainties added to the mix. This will result in a better customer experience and fewer complaints. Most shoppers are very understanding, just keep them in the loop.

Question 2: How has consumer behaviour changed and what will they be looking for this shopping season?

Michael: Customers are researching hard this year. Increased time spent on websites as well as a boost in page views show us that local shoppers have become more strategic. This is why merchants should seriously consider an omnichannel approach to marketing, making sure they can be easily found on the various marketing channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and of course Google. As part of their research, shoppers will look to their peers for honest reviews. As for top-selling products, we can expect to see tech in the mix along with household goods, toys, DIY and outdoor activities. These choices have been boosted by extended time spent at home. Local travel should also see a big boost as we look for ways to get out of the house as lockdowns lift.

Question 3: What are the tech and marketing challenges merchants may have to deal with this year?

Michael: The imminent end of third-party cookies has been a challenge for digital companies, ourselves included. Early studies have shown that international users are taking the time to customise cookie settings when going onto a website and choosing to opt-out of tracking and marketing cookies. This creates a challenge when it comes to remarketing –  where we show adverts to users who have visited certain pages of your website and remind them of what you have to offer. Overall the new POPIA regulation is good for personal privacy, which has undoubtedly made digital marketing more complex.

I do feel that if you focus on harvesting first-party data through your signup and purchase processes, then you can still succeed. We are advising merchants to invest in a Customer Relationship Management system to store this information securely as this will provide the merchant with an opportunity to send personalised messages, via email, SMS or WhatsApp, all of which will still prove to be very effective. Another effective option, although it has been around for years, is a loyalty programme. Almost all retailers are now offering loyalty rewards, and providing this online to your users can result in returning customers. This helps your business turn a first-time customer into a repeat customer, leaving remaining marketing spend to attract new customers rather than spending money on attracting the same customers over and over.

Question 4: What are your top three predictions for this season?

Michael: I think we can expect to see new records for online sales. Tech products on big sale days will remain the best sellers. We can expect to see a dramatic jump in the sales of homeware, beauty and personal care products, and outdoor products compared to last year.

Question 5: How can merchants make the 2021 shopping season their best yet?

Michael: All the changes in the last year, including the POPIA regulations and the increased shopper sophistication, mean retailers need to action plans sooner rather than later. Campaigns and product promotions should already be recurring. For example, merchants need to consider what information they can capture from the users to provide a more personal approach when communicating via newsletter or WhatsApp.

Marketing is not always about a specific campaign. It should focus on building a community and increasing marketing reach to send further campaigns and messaging to a larger audience that is already familiar with and trusts your brand. If you have an opportunity to provide your customers with a loyalty programme, then this is highly recommended. Last but not least, always ensure you have a very clear message when communicating with your customers online. Managing expectations and clearly stating what they can expect is key to creating a happy customer.