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A Christmas like no other - why Christmas 2020 could be a gift for independent retailers

Published 17/12/2020

Introduction

Nobody’s likely to look back on 2020 with undiluted joy. But among the troubles, the upheaval and the uncertainty, there have been some lovely rays of light. One example is how retailers – especially independent local shops and hospitality businesses – have adapted with incredible speed and creativity. At Opayo, we’ve been blown away by the many ways businesses have innovated in the face of adversity and built trust in tough times.

And now, as we head towards a festive season with a whole set of complications attached, question marks dangle like baubles on a tree. What will Christmas be like amid a confusion of restrictions and tiering? And how can businesses make a sparkling success of this crucial time of year in such unpredictable circumstances?

The very good news is that constantly changing lockdown rules have taught consumers to think ahead. They’re less spontaneous and more organised about shopping for necessities, open to bringing social plans online, and posting birthday cards and gifts early to mitigate for delays in the postal service. Add to this the fact that the press is publicly urging customers to shop early, and we predict that seasonal shopping will peak early this year.

Of course, Christmas 2020 will be unique – the prospect of families celebrating at a distance is bound to mean consumer behaviour will be different this year. But there’s reason to believe that in some ways it could still be special, too. So, to help you navigate the year’s most important shopping season, we've outlined five festive tips to help independent businesses prosper:

#1. Offer a cocktail of offline and online shopping

Shake up your business model and stir up new interest

With the pandemic still omnipresent and tiering allocations likely to be reviewed, we can’t predict the course of December. But what we do know is that it’s essential for independent retailers to consider having an ecommerce option as well as their physical store. This doesn't mean retailers who currently trade solely via bricks-and-mortar should be worried, though: you don’t need a massive overhaul to get online.

Something as a simple as taking orders via email could provide a quick solution for customers looking to shop from home. Of course, in areas where physical stores can stay open, the likelihood of visits from last-minute shoppers is high. Independent businesses that offer both online and offline purchase

#2: The gift of slow mail systems

Be ready to offer delivery and help 'save Christmas' for locals.

With far fewer people likely to travel around seeing family and friends this Christmas, many will be taking to the Post Office to send their gifts. And with Black Friday and Cyber Monday being so close to Christmas, the mail system is expected to be overwhelmed. We expect the last date for posting parcels to come further and further forward, so if your business will be sending packages through the mail system it’s important to be prepared.

There is a silver lining, though, because a logjam could present an exciting opportunity for small local businesses to 'save Christmas' for their customers. Offering local deliveries, or services such as click and collect, will be a great way to provide a reliable option for locals amidst a postal crisis.

#3: Ecommerce ye faithful

Embrace the uplift in online shopping

Historically, shoppers have used ecommerce predominantly to buy higher ticket items. But throughout 2020, we've seen increasing numbers of customers go online to purchase smaller and even ‘impulse’ items, across everything from handbags and clothes to cupcakes. We expect to see this behaviour continue throughout Christmas 2020 and beyond.

Head of Marketing and Product at Opayo, Martin Pitcock, says that around 50% of people are beginning to purchase goods online that they previously only ever bought in store. This increase in ecommerce brought £5bn in additional spending across the UK; during Q2 alone. The data shows that 1/3 of people in the UK are saying their behaviour has changed forever.

If you're a retailer relying solely on bricks-and-mortar footfall, it’s time to rethink your infrastructure and logistics to capture locals looking for goods online.

#4: Your time to shine online

Keep things simple and show off your store

Business owners can feel deterred from setting up a presence online because customers won't be able to see or feel their products in person. But Asher Budwig, Managing Director of Lola's Cupcakes, suggests that video content and excellent photography can really bring your offering to life. To illustrate his point, he suggests we imagine a shop selling fireworks. All you see is a box on a shelf, and you've got no idea what it does. But suppose the store shows the fireworks in action using video content; that's when a customer can really appreciate the product.

Keep things simple and give new things a go, and remember it's normal for problems to arise when trying something for the first time. To prevent any issues that could damage your brand, think of ways to engage with your local community. Brainstorm how you could demonstrate any changes via videos on social media explaining exactly how and when the process will change. Holding customers’ hands to guide them into new habits is essential when making fast changes to your business model. It will go a long way to building trust and loyalty long term.

#5: Christmas parties will happen online

Companies want to make the virtual Christmas “do” go with a swing

Workplaces will be finding a way to spread cheer among their staff this Christmas after a long and challenging year. Businesses will be on the lookout for items that can be delivered to staff ready for a virtual party including, food, drinks, games, decorations, gift vouchers and online experiences.

Look out for office Christmas Party Bundles that could feature your product, and let customers know if you’re an ideal choice for their Secret Santa gift. We’ll also see increased searches for corporate gifting options. It’s worth reminding customers that choosing locally sourced corporate gifts is a great way to support independent businesses.

Conclusion

We believe that this will be the year when Christmas shopping goes smaller, more local, and more online than ever. For further advice and insights from our panel of experts, watch our Roundtable discussion or read our report at Opayo.co.uk/tomorrowtogether. We wish the very best for a merry and successful festive season!