5 Lessons Learned from a tough Golden Quarter: What Retailers Need to Know

By Matthew Furneaux, Director, Location Intelligence at GBG

2020 was unprecedented in so many ways, and retail was no different. Every facet of our lives was transformed by the COVID pandemic, including the way people hit the (digital) high street in the lead up to the holidays. The Golden Quarter – the peak sales period between Black Friday and the New Year – saw consumers shopping earlier, and almost exclusively online, particularly in light of fluctuating lockdown regulations in the UK.

Data is already indicating just how hard hit the sector was hit by 2020, yet, despite these challenges, we also know that last year was a catalyst in digital acceleration, driving retail forward a decade or more. Spikes in online shopping during lockdowns revolutionised consumer behaviour, sure, but it also had a significant impact on how businesses began responding to unpredictable demand.

As the sector takes stock on everything that 2020 brought and prepares for another year of digital-led retail, there are a few key lessons the industry must remember:

1 – Recognise the power of ‘Generation Zoom’

While it’s no surprise that younger generations favour online convenience over brick and mortar, COVID also forced older generations to head online as they were forced to stay home and have their groceries and other goods delivered. GBG’s Christmas Unwrapped report found that less than one in three Brits planned to do any of their Christmas shopping in-store, even once the November lockdown had lifted, including 70% of those aged 30-44 and 62% of those aged over-60. Furthermore, our State of Digital Identity 2020 report found that 47% of consumers opened a new online shopping account in 2020, indicating that consumers are investing in digital-first. Retailers will need to match this, and invest in an online experience for consumers of all ages.

2 – Prioritise delivery

Contactless was key in 2020, and the technologies normalising contactless deliveries have become of paramount importance to consumers. Last mile expert what3words makes it possible to ensure that packages reach their end destinations, anywhere. This has been a game changer with contactless deliveries, as drivers can now leave parcels in a designated spot for shielding or vulnerable consumers.

Timely delivery is equally important. Our research found that ‘availability anxiety’ is increasingly driving consumer shopping decisions, with 43% of people citing it as a key decision-making factor. Additionally, 80% of UK consumers were worried about late deliveries ahead of the Christmas holidays, driving them to shop earlier in the Golden Quarter period.

3 – Connect with consumers, on demand

Moving through January, businesses are being put to the test, with close to half (43%) of UK consumers saying they won’t buy from a retailer again who didn’t meet their expectations over the holiday period.

As we continue into digital acceleration, shoppers will only expand their options when it comes to purchase journeys – and retailers will need to meet this expectation. Voice activated, internet enabled devices at home, in-app shopping, and setting up auto-fill subscription orders mean that consumers have access to what they want, when they want it, and to keep them happy, retailers need to make this experience as seamless as possible.

4 – Optimise your tech

As mentioned above, it’s no secret that consumers prefer a smooth UX. Clumsy, cluttered checkout is no longer tolerated by shoppers, and anything that can improve this journey is welcome. Our Christmas Unwrapped report found that 44% of consumers said tech like auto-complete increases their trust when choosing retailers online. Implementing smart technologies to make shopping easy, such as auto-complete and reverse geolocation, helps ensure that checkout processes are simple and fast, so that parcels can reach any customer, anywhere, with no issues.

5 – Double up on fraud prevention

Fraudsters have taken advantage of the surge in online activity during the COVID pandemic, there’s no doubt. As large swathes of consumers head online, scammers increasingly targeted retail peaks like Black Friday to trick shoppers into sharing their payment and account details. Responding to these threats may seem easy, but when businesses need to balance a seamless UX with fraud prevention, things become significantly more complicated.

The good news, however, is that the customer expectation is clear: make my experience as easy and as safe as possible, and earn my trust.

To do that, retailers need to know their user base, and build their fraud and compliance solutions accordingly. Introducing ‘friendly friction’ is a great example of this – requiring users to input just enough manual information to give them sense of control while allowing for the most secure experience possible.

So, what can we take away from 2020? If anything, the industry needs to accept that digital-first is here to stay, and make moves to adapt to the digital high street. It will be increasingly imperative for retailers to set up shop to meet unpredictable demand, provide a seamless UX, and do it all without compromising safety and security. Implementing any one of these tips will mean happier customers, improved loyalty, and ultimately: trust.

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