Rob Almond is the CEO of NEST, the pioneer of Integrated Facilities Management (IFM) in North America since 1994. Follow NEST on LinkedIn.
It takes upwards of eight months or more to plan and execute the two-month sprint that is the November and December holiday shopping season. Preparation is key for the retail industry, and in 2021 the best strategies include infrastructure and management teams that allow for agility. Facility managers and retailers alike need to adjust to trends and unforeseen events on a week-by-week, and sometimes even minute-by-minute, basis.
Especially as the pandemic and more frequent extreme weather events continue to impact us, the 2021 holiday shopping season could be the most unpredictable one yet. Based on my experience working in facilities management and helping retail clients adjust their operations, I have compiled a list of five key areas and trends to watch in the retail industry during its busiest season:
1. Retail Experience For All Stakeholders
The emphasis put on the customer experience will never go away. Customer service, customer feedback and meeting customers’ expectations continue to be a focus for retailers. Now, with an ongoing labor shortage, employers are prioritizing an improved employee experience as well.
As of July 31, 2021, job openings rose to over 10 million according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to enticing new personnel with benefits like signing bonuses and employee perks, it’s critically important that employers foster a culture where current staff feel appreciated.
2. Early Shopping
Most consumers are aware of the supply chain challenges impacting many industries due to the pandemic. From shortages in automobile microchips to back-ordered parts for HVAC units, consumers are expecting delays across the board. These trends will impact shopping patterns and likely lead consumers to shop earlier in the upcoming holiday season. We already experienced this behavioral trend last year as November 2020 saw an 8% increase in holiday shopping spending versus 2019, while the December comparison was roughly flat according to the National Retail Federation.
3. Erosion Of Black Friday
Related to early shopping, last year, we saw retailers start to roll out Black Friday deals as early as October due to concerns over large crowds during the height of the pandemic. With the success in the sales numbers and the continuing evolution of consumer behavior, this trend will likely continue in 2021. It will also allow retailers to be more flexible with employees’ hours during the Thanksgiving holiday and on Black Friday itself.
This year’s Black Friday foot traffic is still a question mark as the pandemic continues to cause concerns in different parts of the country. While retailers should prepare for larger crowds on Friday, Nov. 26, also look for an increase in foot traffic spread over the entire holiday season.
4. Curbside And Pickup-In-Store Here to Stay
A significant reason why brick-and-mortar will remain a vital part of the retail ecosystem is the growing trend of curbside pickup and buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS). The physical store is important in the ever-growing strategy to specialize in omnichannel commerce. Click-and-collect retail sales jumped from $36.48 billion in 2019 to $58.52 billion in 2020, a statistic surely accelerated by the pandemic. Look for that number to continue rising during the 2021 holiday shopping season as we adjust for Covid safety procedures and make sure to accommodate the shopping habits that consumers have developed over the last 18 months.
5. Cleanliness Remains A Top Priority
Over the course of the pandemic, consumers and employees have assumed a higher level of cleanliness throughout the in-store experience. Achieving a high customer satisfaction score in these areas is important to maintain loyalty to a brand. An integrated approach to facilities management can help position a retailer for success and should include advanced technology to increase speed and efficiency, cost savings strategies based on analytics and economies of scale, and national partnerships with the trades.
As we near the 2021 holiday shopping season, there may be shifts in Covid-19 numbers as well as further fluctuations in areas such as supply chains, weather and labor, but retail has proven to be a resilient industry. Many brands are opening new stores, foot traffic shows signs of improvement and retail sales are overall maintaining growth. I believe the lessons learned from the past 18 months and business’ ability to expeditiously adjust to outside forces will position the retail industry for another successful holiday shopping season.