As Online Holiday Sales Momentum Eases, Better Customer Engagement Needed

Arthur Zaczkiewicz

The latest holiday season sales data from Verizon show online traffic “remains strong,” but is trending below the same period last year in regard to the day-to-day changes — which means this year’s overall online sales momentum is decelerating.

The company’s Retail Sales Index showed average daily e-commerce traffic volume to U.S.-based retailers “was up 7.5 percent on Saturday [Dec. 1], but down 39 percent on Sunday [Dec. 2] from these same days last year.”

The deceleration doesn’t mean consumers are done buying — they’re just holding off until closer to Christmas as well as looking for better deals. For retailers, this period offers a chance to grab market share and boost sales, online and in stores. Retail experts at Verizon see conversions occurring when brands deploy improved customer engagement.

In its index report, Verizon noted that “without Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales” and a few weeks until Christmas, “consumers aren’t as motivated.” Authors of the report also said retailers and brands “who offer great deals now can stand out, compared to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when consumers expect everyone to have major sales.”

Michele Dupre, group vice president of retail, hospitality and distribution at Verizon Enterprise Solutions, said consumers are using this period to “peruse brick-and-mortar stores for gift ideas that they will buy closer to Christmas (when there is an expectation of better sales).”

Dupre said this is a “great opportunity for retailers to stand out with special promotions and sales. Knowing how to engage with your customers, digitally and in person, can really make a difference this time of the season.”

Key to that engagement is trust. “Trust is an integral part of a brand strategy and without it, it can be detrimental to the bottom line,” Dupre explained. “Consumers’ trust is built on the retailer delivering on what they promised and consistently exceeding their expectations — whether it is in the price, delivery, condition of the product, engagement with employees — if a retailer doesn’t deliver the risk losing trust is a high probability.”

Trust transcends the basic transactional aspects of shopping. “In addition to building trust on a great customer experience, a consumer puts a ton of trust in a retailer and ensuring that the personal information that they shared with the retailer is never compromised and exploited,” Dupre said. “Things can go very wrong if this trust is broken. Retailers need to ensure that they have proper security measures in place to protect data, achieve and maintain [Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards] compliance and detect fraud quickly.”

On that last note, retailers have a lot of work to do. “The PCI risk is real as the Verizon 2017 Payment Security reported that only 50 percent of retail companies are fully compliant with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards, the industry standard designed to help businesses that take card payments reduce fraud,” Dupre added.

Regarding the overall shopping experience and seeding long-term customer value, Dupre said a frictionless experience across channels is needed. “Creating a seamless experience between in-store and online is important in creating a meaningful brand experience,” she said. “Making the online experience work in tandem with the physical store and vice versa creates a more cohesive brand identity rather than the perception of this is X and this is X.com.”

At this point in the evolution of e-commerce and digital convergence, Dupre sees physical spaces taking on new roles. “Physical stores host events for limited-run merchandise or showcase new technology whereas the digital experience can alert shoppers to special sales or offers based on their past purchases, possible interest, or even geo-location (if they opt in, of course),” she explained. “Of course, that also means brands need to have a digital customer experience that meets the expectations they have for their in-store associates.”

Dupre said online abandonment can be triggered by poor network connections or a lousy checkout system. “The real win, however, comes when a customer can walk into a store looking for something or with a question and an associate can look up any information, see their past orders, or help them make a purchase, right on the sales floor in a completely seamless manner,” Dupre said.

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