Holiday Shopping Is Almost Upon Us: Here's How Retailers Will Keep Up

The biggest season for retail is expected to outperform last year's.
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Maria Bobila
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The biggest season for retail is expected to outperform last year's.
Holiday shoppers. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Holiday shoppers. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Even if you're still in the throes of planning your "Stranger Things" Halloween costume, the inevitable holiday shopping season is just around the corner. For some — two out of 10 consumers, to be exact — it's already started, and recent reports forecast that this year's holiday shopping will outperform 2015's in terms of sales numbers. According to The NPD Group, consumers will spend an average of $636 for the holidays, a 3 percent increase from last year. Overall holiday sales are estimated by eMarketer to total $885 billion over November and December, compared to last year's $857 billion.

Anticipation surrounding the special retail season is nothing new, and it's no secret that shoppers are smarter and more discerning than ever before. What's changing, however, is the way retailers plan to keep up with the demand both online and off.

Investing in Omnichannel

The NPD Group reports that 38 percent of an individual's holiday shopping will take place online, up from 33 percent last year. A new study from CBRE Group cites an eMarketer forecast that says online holiday sales will rise 17.2 percent this year, mainly due to traditional retailers that invest in an omnichannel presence. (Think: your typical brick-and-mortar with a strong social media following, ads across various online platforms and a user-friendly, shoppable app.) As Google puts it, mobile is "a door to the store," which means that consumers browsing online are likely to visit the shop IRL and make a purchase, sometimes within the same day. 

Upgrading E-commerce Efficiency

A recent report from Google further justifies the importance of the mobile shopper. Last year, they were especially active on the big shopping "holidays." Mobile conversion rates jumped 30 percent on Black Friday and 50 percent on Cyber Monday, compared to activity on Nov. 1 that year. In return, the CBRE Group has noticed retailers upgrading their e-commerce game, be it by providing free shipping (always a solid selling point) or aggressive delivery options, like pushing a cutoff date as far back as Dec. 21 for orders to arrive just in time for your family's gift exchange.

Earlier this month, Amazon announced the creation of more than 120,000 seasonal positions across its U.S.-based fulfillment centers, sortation centers and customer service sites — that's 20 percent more than last year's holiday staff — along with plans to transition a good portion of those new hires into full-time employees. For online retailers, holiday shopping is no joke.

Reducing Customer Returns

But with so many purchases for the holidays comes peak customer returns, so CBRE Group says retailers are making sure to minimize that, especially when it comes online shopping. New technology tools that focus on sizing have been introduced among e-commerce sites, such as Virtusize on Asos and True Fit on Nordstrom. Plus, in-store returns from online orders are becoming more acceptable, which helps save on shipping costs and brings more shoppers (and more potential purchases) to the store.

"Rogue Retailing"

Just because online shopping is gaining popularity doesn't mean the brick-and-mortar is doomed. Instead, Melina Cordero, CBRE's Head of Retail Research of the Americas, says to think "outside the traditional retail box," in a strategy otherwise known as "rogue retailing"; pop-up shops are a great example. Also, shopping concepts that champion newer, emerging brands, such as Nordstrom's "Pop-In@Nordstrom" and Westfield's fashion-focused pop-up market at its newest World Trade Center location. (Google also backs this up: Mobile searches for "unique gifts" grew more than 65 percent, while mobile searches for "cool gifts" grew 80 percent.)

"Retailers are innovating their store formats and revamping their e-commerce fulfillment systems," continues Cordero. "Owners are adding new and intriguing stores to their mix. It will add up to a very different and more efficient holiday shopping season."

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