How to Prepare for an Unprecedented Holiday Season

Consumers have changed buying habits during the pandemic with access to malls and retail stores still restricted to limited hours and capacity. Retailers are adopting technology at breakneck speed to keep up with the shift to online shopping especially as the holiday shopping season approaches.

Quiq recently hosted a webinar titled “How to Prepare for an Unprecedented Holiday Season” to discuss this abnormal year and the uncommon retail environment merchants have had to adjust to. Kim Essensa from Stio, and Devlin O’Neil, formally with Lululemon, voiced the concerns expressed by so many retailers and shared how they’ve implemented digital solutions into their processes to help curb some of the business disruption.

Here are a few of the ways technology has helped these retailers handle current changes and prepare for the upcoming holiday shopping season:

  • Integrating business messaging into existing CRM system to give customers better access to the brand and also make agents more productive,
  • Hiring, training, and motivating remote, full-time and part-time workers,
  • Sending proactive 2-way outbound text messages that alert consumers to their order status and allow them to reply back with any issues, and
  • Using bots to capture information on returns to expedite processing.

Read on to learn more about these and other changes retailers are making to prepare for an unprecedented holiday season. Sit tight as we share actionable insights from our two customer experience leaders and recent industry research.

The Drive to Online Will Remain Strong for Holiday 2020

Shopping this holiday shopping season will likely be a lot different than what we’ve witnessed in the past. Instead of long, serpentine lines on Black Friday, retailers are getting ready for a surge of online orders and curbside pickups.

People wearing gloves delivering curbside groceries into a car trunk

“Retailers should ensure digital strategies remain agile to meet customers where and when they feel comfortable.”

Google (How the pandemic may affect holiday shopping)

Google reports that a third of U.S. shoppers who normally shop in store for Black Friday say they won’t this year. And half of U.S. shoppers say the pandemic will affect how they’ll shop for the holidays this season.

Research tells us that In spite of many retailers having reopened their physical locations,  the online shopping activity remains strong and is expected to maintain throughout the holiday season., a website with a network of over 6,200 retailers and brand sites, reports that, in June, clients realized a 75% increase in page views year over year and an order count up 57% for the same time period. Those numbers are significantly higher than the January pre-pandemic growth of 11% for pageviews and 2% for order counts .

During our time with Devlin O’Neill, he recommended that businesses have a plan for multiple possible scenarios this holiday season — best case, worse case, and business as usual, just as Lululemon did. Devlin also states that no matter the case, one thing remained a consistent assumption and that was the continued growth of ecommerce.

It’s clear that online shopping and digital engagement are taking center stage this holiday season. Next, let’s take a look at areas where both Lululemon and Stio used technology, namely messaging and bots, to make an immediate impact for their companies.

Where Messaging and Bots Will Have The Biggest Impact

Chatbots are enjoying a surge in retail due to the widespread popularity of messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Live Chat, and rich messaging services like Apple Business Chat, and Google Business Messages.

These channels have changed the digital experience by making the shopping experience a two-way interaction instead of just a flat transaction through conversational commerce. Simple, convenient purchases are completed within the messaging conversation and are instant, real-time, and available across multiple channels like text, live chat, or even in a company’s own app .

The introduction of chatbots has made all of these benefits available 24/7. Pre-sales service and post-sales support are the two main areas companies use messaging and bots and where you’ll see the biggest impact this holiday season.

Take a look at the difference messaging and bots make:

  • Making seasonal and full-time work more productive

As customers continue to do more of their shopping online, retailers are also seeing huge increases in the number of interactions with their contact center. While the holidays normally cause a spike in requests, this holiday season will likely see an unprecedented increase in customer inquiries.

Hiring seasonal and part-time employees is the traditional way to handle that increase. Stio’s Customer Experience Manager, Kim Essensa states that a big focus of hiring seasonal staff should be shortening the training time as much as possible to get them up and running as quickly as possible.

In the webinar Kim states “One thing that appealed to us about a product like Quiq is just how simple it is for an agent to learn and kind of get off the ground and get productive quickly without a lot of training required.” But human agents aren’t the only option.

With the help of chatbots, customers will be able to self-serve within seconds in most cases. From routine issues, such as I forgot my password to more complex requests such as initiating a return, chatbots can link customers and backend systems and data to resolve those issues automatically.

  • Real-time Notifications

Customers have an expectation of what holiday shopping is like with extended wait times and retailers selling out of an item. Another area where you’ll see a big impact, with messaging and bots in retail, is notifying customers of any unexpected delays or stock-outs.

For example, Kim from Stio knows that their warehouse is great and products are shipping out correctly and on time. She knows she’s not alone though when she says the company gets nervous once the delivery is in the carriers’ hands. Many of the delivery times have been delayed due to the pandemic. That picture only gets worse as weather and increased delivery volumes make it even more challenging.

Consumers today expect retailers to provide information in real-time. Alerts, such as a shipping or delivery confirmation, are what consumers are looking for. With valuable merchandise sitting vulnerably on their front porch, consumers are more aware than ever of the security real-time notifications provide.

  • Expediting the Return Process

After the holidays, retailers are usually flooded with returns and exchanges. This holiday season the return process will look a lot different for many retailers who are adjusting the return window to ease customers’ concerns of getting their money back after buying online.

Retailers, especially those in apparel, should expect to see returns and exchanges at a higher rate than previous years since online purchases experience higher return rates than in-store purchases. According to research and consulting firm 1010data, shoppers typically return about 17% of all clothing purchases, making it one of the most-returned categories of goods.

Devlin states that returns represent some of the longest interactions with customers at Lululemon. Prior to implementing messaging and bots, the company was processing each return manually. Lululemon now uses bots to capture more information about what kind of return it, capture pictures, etc.  Devlin suggests looking for ways in the return process to take interaction time away from the returns process and use it to help customers with more valued conversations.

Get Started With Bots Before The 2020 Holiday Season

If you’re looking for inspiration for other ways you can use messaging and bots this holiday season, there are already plenty of companies using chatbots to better serve their customers.

You can read some of the case studies we have from companies such as Office Depot, Stio, and Tailored Brands. You can also watch the webinar replay of How to Prepare for an Unprecedented Holiday Season”.

Getting started with messaging and bots before the holiday shopping season can be done now. In fact, Quiq has helped companies get up and running with bots in less than 24 hours. Contact one of our conversation experts to schedule your custom demo today to help you weather this holiday season.

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