jimmy choo display
Neiman Marcus is tapping immersive content by turning its fall campaign into a shoppable, digital story hub that takes viewers behind the scenes of designer collections. — Neiman Marcus

Marketers are faced with the tricky task of summoning the holiday spirit — and sales — amid a global pandemic.

While there’s no playbook for churning business during the biggest selling season of the year in an unprecedented health crisis, COVID-informed holiday retail strategies are taking shape — from livestreamed events to personalized virtual appointments with sales associates — reflecting a bid to capture some of the kinetic energy of in-store shopping, according to business intelligence firm PSFK.

“What’s key this year is how retailers are thinking about instilling both efficiency and safety into the shopping experience” for a seamless and customized consumer journey that’s fun and exciting too, said Scott Lachut, president of research and strategy, during PSFK’s holiday outlook webinar. It’s about “mobile, online, social and in-store shopping, and how all those channels fit together to create an improved experience for consumers.”

Contactless engagement becomes priority number one

A hefty 60% of shoppers expect to curtail store visits this holiday season, just as 66% plan to shop online, Lachut said. Indeed, consumer adoption of buy online, pick up in store and curbside pickup of online orders surged amid COVID-19 due to fear of contagion. That’s poised to spike during the holidays, as shoppers seek low-contact and contactless buying solutions, as well as a “quick in and out” experience, he said.

Replacing Black Friday doorbusters with ‘digital drops’

Marketers will look to replace the experiential nature of holiday shopping — like doorbuster-hungry consumers scurrying packed stores for that must-have item — with contactless “shoppable moments,” PSFK speakers said. “Those 3 a.m. doorbuster lines on Black Friday are not necessarily safe in the current environment,” Lachut said.

Adidas, for one, is hoping to evoke that heady nab-the-limited-edition-deal-while-you-can rush in a digital context, as shoppers line up virtually to score exclusive access to its “product drops” via its CONFIRMED app, which also captures valuable consumer preference and behavior data for the streetwear brand.

What’s key this year is how retailers are thinking about instilling both efficiency and safety into the shopping experience.

Scott Lachut, president of research and strategy, PSFK

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Livestreamed events and shoppable content take flight

Retailing as theater: It’s a term the iconic former CEO of Bloomingdale’s Marvin Traub used in the department store’s heyday, when its model furniture rooms brought storytelling to merchandising.

In what could be viewed as a digital-economy twist on that tradition, retailers are now stoking sales with livestreamed events and shoppable content.

Live shopping streams combine entertainment, consumer education and shopper interactivity to recreate the energy of in-store retail events digitally.

While live commerce is commonplace in China, it’s only recently grown “exponentially” in the U.S. amid COVID-19, Lachut said.

Livestream startup Spin Live hopes to ride that trend, with a stated mission to redefine window shopping for the digital age and make online shopping less boring. In August, the company partnered with Shopify — which powers e-commerce for merchants ranging from Allbirds to Staples — so that brands and their influencers can sell products via live, shoppable videos.

Meanwhile, Neiman Marcus is tapping immersive content to fuel sales, turning its fall campaign into a shoppable, digital story hub that takes viewers behind the scenes of designer collections.

On the platform, consumers can “interact with different stories that can then take them directly to make a purchase,” said PSFK strategist Lauren Lyons. It’s about “putting product in context to move from inspiration to purchase.”

 screen shows showing spin live
Livestream startup Spin Live recently partnered with Shopify so that brands and their influencers can sell products via live, shoppable videos. — Spin Live

‘Social browsing’ goes digital in group shopping spaces

The social interaction and emotional connections that come from shopping stores with friends and family is largely lost in a virtual environment. Online “social browsing” looks to capture some of that experience, Lachut said.

To that end, retailers and brands are leveraging social media and tech platforms to create interactive, group shopping spaces. These digital micro-communities are where consumers can chat about products and tap peer-to-peer advice that’s meant to “both entertain and increase the level of confidence a consumer has in making a purchase,” Lachut said.

Members of mobile app Teleport, for example, create video shorts of themselves sporting clothing and accessories they like, and then sell them to viewers to earn a cut of the sale.

Getting personal with appointment-only shopping

As the pandemic has imperiled the appeal of in-person shopping, retailers are building digital platforms whereby consumers schedule one-on-one appointments with store associates, offering a personalized experience “that can add a lot to how service is delivered,” said Lyons.

Lululemon’s omni-sweat and omni-educator virtual concierge programs, for example, connect users of its fee-based membership program to in-store associates via appointments, live streams and social channels.

All told, “this translates into added value to the consumer,” Lyons said.

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Published October 07, 2020