With Christmas markets and Santa’s Grottos cancelled in many cities, it may seem as though traditional Christmas preparations are losing much of their sparkle and cheer this year. As a consequence, savvy retailers are looking for new ways to engage with shoppers online throughout the crucial Christmas trading season.

John Lewis certainly deserves praise for finding new ways to connect with shoppers and to bring the Christmas spirit to them, with initiatives including over 100 virtual festive customer events, a virtual Christmas shop and an AR Christmas tree allowing shoppers to put up a decorated Christmas tree in their home in seconds using the retailer’s app.

While similar initiatives may not be feasible for most retailers, brands looking to improve the online experience shouldn’t make assumptions about shoppers’ preferences, as they likely have changed significantly since last year. To help eCommerce businesses understand the trends that will be driving purchases this Christmas, we conducted a survey of 2,000 UK consumers. Read on to hear straight from consumers’ mouths how they are planning to shop in 2020.

Where shoppers are planning to buy gifts

Most consumers seem happy to continue maintaining the behaviours they adopted during lockdown and do the majority of their Christmas shopping online in order to prioritise convenience, health and safety. Good news is that despite Amazon’s increased sales during the introduction of the stay home rules in spring, the eCommerce giant isn’t expected to grow its revenues significantly this festive season. Just 1 per cent of consumers are planning on buying gifts primarily from Amazon compared to last year. Online marketplaces, such as Ebay and Etsy, and online retailers, however, are likely to benefit from an increased number of online gift shoppers – with 3 per cent more shoppers opting to purchase from these sites this year.

This means online retailers and brands need to be prepared to welcome more shoppers than ever before this festive season. Marketing and eCommerce teams need to have strategies in place to provide a relevant and seamless experience at every stage of the customer journey. The existing customer base should be targeted with tailored campaigns based on preferences and behaviour to stand out from the promotional onslaught that most consumers will experience during the shopping event. Additionally, organisations need to provide new customers with a relevant experience from the moment they land on the website. Leveraging contextual data, such as the shopper’s location, social proof tactics and displaying relevant products based on the shopper’s predicted price affinity will help reduce bounce rate and turn them into purchasers.

The factors that will drive purchase decisions

Despite the pandemic’s dent on the economy, consumers are intending to spend this festive season. 38 per cent are planning to spend about the same amount and one in four are stating that they intend to spend more this Christmas compared to last.

And while most shoppers are planning to do their festive purchasing online mainly, there are several factors that retailers can leverage to encourage more people to do so this year, with delivery and returns being key factors for eCommerce brands and retailers to consider. Providing delivery for free (41 per cent), making it fast (35 per cent) as well as offering clear and simple returns policies (24 per cent) are influential purchase decision drivers for consumers.

The tactics that will create a great customer experience

The study also revealed some of the potential friction and pain points for those shopping online this Christmas. In terms of marketing, consumers expect a tailored experience. Almost half only want to see deals for products that are relevant to them. 45 per cent even state that they are put off by marketing tactics around the festive event, demonstrating the detrimental effect that repetitive, one-size-fits-all campaigns can have on shoppers. 22 per cent find both receiving emails promoting products that are out of stock and repetitive sale messages frustrating.

Retailers looking to make this virtual Christmas a true success should be using customer data and real-time stock information to deliver a highly personalised experience. By understanding the preferences of each individual customer, such as their preferred product categories or purchasing patterns, retailers can help shoppers find the product that’s right for them quickly – no matter if the consumer is interacting with an email, the website or other channels. The use of dynamic content will ensure that offers are always up to date in terms of pricing or availability. This will result in higher conversion rates and ultimately revenue growth.

Christmas presents a prime opportunity to reengage customers and acquire new ones. Although many festive shopping traditions have been put on hold for now, the same great experience can be created online. Providing an engaging and smooth customer experience will put online retailers and brands in a strong position to secure sales and long-term loyalty this festive season and beyond.

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