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Market Voice 12 Oct 2021 - 4 min read

How to handle the holiday's commerce surge without crashing CX: Lessons from Cotton On, Mecca and Barbeques Galore

By Jo Gaines - Area Vice President, Digital 360 - Salesforce Australia | Partner Content

As we gear up for what could be the busiest online shopping Christmas in Australian history, there is still time to prepare.

This Christmas will be like no other for brands and retailers. Cashed-up consumers create huge demand while customer experience expectations have soared. All amid a stretched supply chain and rising prices. Here’s how to ensure Christmas cheer and avoid Christmas chaos.

It’s fair to say there's more than a few Australians eyeing their holiday shopping much like Arnie’s frazzled father trying to buy an elusive Turbo Man in Jingle All The Way.

Who can blame them? Turn on the news and it's filled with stories of stretched supply chains, consumer price increases and shipping delays impacting commerce.

Salesforce research predicts global online sales will grow seven per cent year-over-year following the historic 2020 holiday shopping season. Consumer prices are projected to rise up to 20 per cent this holiday season. Higher demand and costs in a pandemic world where customers expect the very best experience from every company they shop with.

It’s a true pressure cooker for brands big and small. As we gear up for what could be the busiest online shopping Christmas in Australian history, there is still time to prepare. Here’s what’s top of mind when I speak to customers ahead of this holiday season.

Customer expectations in the new age of commerce

Customers have been primed to expect the very best by digital shopping experiences launched during the pandemic. A plethora of engaging experiences emerged rapidly, met consumer demand and delivered customers choice in how and where they transact.

Retail has traditionally been very focused on bringing shoppers to owned properties, like the website or store. Consumer behaviour has meant leading brands are shifting to embedding commerce where shoppers spend their time, such as social media. Called shopping at the edge, enabling customers to engage and transact on third party channels is crucial to offering customers the flexibility, choice and seamless experience they’re looking for.

In fact, 80 per cent of consumers surveyed by Salesforce indicate that the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. Customers want choice in how they purchase and receive their goods, connected experiences that show they are known and loyalty programs which provide a real value exchange.

Cotton On Group is a great example of a brand reaping the rewards of putting the customer at the centre of everything. After improving its website experience, customers can now seamlessly shop across seven brands and add all purchases to the same basket. This has resulted in an increase in conversion, with greater sales from the same amount of traffic.

Marketers must focus on buy now, to avoid regret later

Marketers will play an important role for brands this year as they encourage customers to shop earlier and closer to home to ensure gifts arrive in time for holiday celebrations.

Campaigns that cut through will speak clearly about delivery timeframes, alternative collection methods and encouragement to order early. Special discounts or new member benefits for customers that respond will drive responses.

Regardless of store open status, brands can still deliver personalised 1:1 experiences online to a much wider and diverse audience. Our research found 61 per cent of brands embraced virtual shopping and stylist appointments to replace in-store experiences otherwise unavailable.

For example, Mecca embraced digital to bring the magic of its in-store experience and employees direct to customers at home during the pandemic’s first wave. Content is personalised for members of its Beauty Loop Loyalty Program, with Mecca reaching its customers with the right messages at the right time. Employees Zoomed customers to provide advice and recommendations and Mecca live streamed its Beauty Lab amongst other engaging content.

Click and collect is a necessity and an opportunity

Salesforce research found 83 per cent of shoppers expect flexible fulfillment options. What was a nice-to-have is now a must-have. Especially with New South Wales and Victoria moving through lockdown restriction phases and stretched delivery services.

To get click and collect up and running quickly, look for out-of-the-box capabilities that enable brands to offer store inventory online while giving employees the tools they need to streamline and optimise retail fulfillment while avoiding margin loss.

Click and collect is also an opportunity to increase sales. For example, using artificial intelligence powered recommendations to suggest complementary products when a shopper is notified their goods are ready for pick-up. Also consider adding digital screens to showcase available merchandise curbside and special offers for customers who have embraced click and collect.

Self-service key to managing the holiday surge

Our research recently found 78 per cent of customers increased their use of self-service options during the pandemic. Key to reducing the impact of a surge of enquiries on staff is effective self-service through comprehensive FAQ, community pages and chatbots.

Ensure your commerce and service channels are connected. Use your data to forecast demand so that you can prepare your service team, including holiday hires for the coming surge. Train them using modular, easy to use learning tools like myTrailhead to get them up to speed to manage service across digital channels – whether that’s text, email, or chat. Consider training employees from other business units so they’re ready to go should you need the additional support.

Success anywhere for employees

Operational success during peak periods relies on fast, transparent and easily accessed communications. Breaking down silos and making it easier for employees to connect to colleagues in a distributed workforce is absolutely critical.

Technologies like Slack allow brands to unlock the power of a distributed workforce by enabling more transparent and flexible collaboration between teams, customers and partners. Whether in lockdown or in the next phase when stores reopen and employees return to offices, all companies will need to run a digital headquarters.

It’s sure to be a hectic sprint to the end of 2021. Barbeques Galore CEO Angus McDonald had some wise words when he said it’s the simple ideas which are often the best ideas to improve performance or outcomes. Brands that invest in digital and their people will be best placed to navigate the surge – without getting burnt.

Wishing you all the best with the holiday rush and hope you all can enjoy a well deserved break afterwards!


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