In most years, this is the week that is typically a bit of a lull. The first wave of shoppers – Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday, Cyber Monday – has crested; the final wave doesn't begin in earnest until this coming weekend.
But this year IS different. Shoppers began shopping in earnest much earlier. And they use the internet to do their browsing, and then have an array of choices for receiving their purchases, from delivery to curbside pickup to in-store pickup.
So, what better time than this to revisit your returns policy?!
Yes, returns (and exchanges.) That longtime bugaboo of retailers is a potential competitive edge.
Last year, 13.3% of Holiday sales were returned, representing $101 billion of merchandise! And with Holiday sales this year expected to increase 7% to 9%, there is no reason to expect return rates to decline. Indeed, "81% of retailers expect to receive most holiday returns in January and 39% plan to hire more staff to handle the rush."*
So, now is the time. Dust off and update your returns policy. (Be sure it reflects the presence of BORIS: Buy Online Return In Store.)
Then, be prepared and staffed to make the return experience a good one for everyone.
Keep in mind, most customers are apprehensive about making returns in person. They do not want conflict, confrontations, or insistent questioning.
Therein lies your upside opportunity! Positive word-of-mouth recognition is far more likely to come from an easy, respectful experience when returning or exchanging merchandise, than even from the initial shopping experience.
What an effective way to differentiate your stores, and to win over customer loyalty. In fact, why not offer a 15% discount coupon to return to the store in January? What better way to get many happy returns...of the customers!
Knock their socks off. They'll yak about their surprise to lots of folks. It's the best advertising available.
* A Day in the Life of the Return Counter. Carrie Cassidy, Appriss Retail.
Some thoughts from Nordstrom leadership that are spot on!
That's what Nordstrom President and Chief Brand Officer Pete Nordstrom told Puget Sound Business Journal columnist Patti Payne on April 23, 2020.
And what he succinctly stated is exactly the challenge – and opportunity – that is confronting all retail owners.
In order to answer whether you should re-open once you can, you first must be very confident in WHAT kind of retail operation you will be re-opening.
The only certainty of the aftermath of the pandemic is that everything will be different. Given that, what better time to re-imagine your business?
The constant challenge for retailers is to anticipate what their customers really want. And this year, there seem to be plenty of choices available.
It is all part of the on-going challenge of retail; the art and craft of being a merchant.
Then there are the customers who are reacting to the constant drumbeat of news about supply chain issues, merchandise shortages, and looming price increases by starting their shopping early.
Adding to this stampede, some major chains were launching their Black Friday specials before Halloween!
Throughout the pandemics, many independent retailers successfully shed their "technology laggards" label, as they pivoted to embrace an array of digital tools.
Yet going forward, it is well to keep in mind what really matters to the customers. And it may not be more technology.
A recent survey* of more than 2,000 customers provides some interesting insights as to who shops where, why, when and how. It especially highlighted the differences between "large stores" and "smaller stores" (or as we view them, "specialty stores.")
Hmm. This suggests to us that shoppers essentially are treating large stores the same way they treat the internet:
"Of course I want it today. If I wanted it tomorrow, I would have come in tomorrow."
That's what we call "retail time." Retailers are comfortable with that pace; they enjoy the variety; they welcome the need to change and adjust.
But, instead of just keeping life interesting, 2020 seems to have gone overboard in bringing changes and disruption to us all. The triple pandemic of the virus, the economy, and the civil unrest. And oh yes, it's also an election year. Enough already, right?
We think the most challenging part of this is the effect on our sense of time.
As we follow economic indicators that particularly affect retailers, our primary focus always is consumer confidence. And the reports coming out this week give us pause.
The highly transmissible Delta variant and the vaccine hesitancy of many have changed the momentum. Covid fatigue is back. This affects consumers.
And with it, more challenges for retailers. Decisions and policies may be needed regarding vaccinations, both for your staff and your shoppers. Meanwhile, consumers are likely taking another pause. Will schools reopen? Will offices reopen?
So, what's a retailer to do? What you always do: deal with it!
By now, you have your year-end financials for 2021. Remember, it always comes with a Balance Sheet!
Whether sales are up, down, or sideways, the financial strength – and staying power – of every business is shown on its Balance Sheet. And revealed by its Balance Sheet ratios.
Still less than $1 a day! 👀