It’s that time of year again when winter is upon us and the last-minute shopping is about to begin, but this holiday season, like the rest of 2020, is not quite the same. As pandemic precautions continue to restrict business and social activities across the country, the last-minute mall shop is as daunting as ever, but for different reasons.
During Covid-19, malls and shopping centers have been facing a crisis of consumer confidence, despite the reopening of malls with safety precautions in place. Last year, 64% of consumers visited malls to do their holiday shopping, but according to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers, just 45% of shoppers planned to do so this season, in large part because of pandemic-related concerns.
As crunch time approaches, however, a majority of consumers prefer to make their remaining holiday purchases in person or from a retailer located closer to home, where they can support local businesses and avoid shipping delays.
To accommodate pandemic regulations and ease customer concerns, shopping centers and mall-based retailers have adapted to provide an environment where customers can safely fulfill their holiday shopping needs, and enjoy a little holiday cheer in the process.
Simplifying the shopping process
Despite encouragement from online and physical retailers for consumers to shop early this holiday season, it appears that a majority of shoppers are still making most of their purchases in the first three weeks of December. For that last holiday push, retailers have made changes to their stores to help move customers through their sales journeys more efficiently, deviating from the standard practice of trying to boost sales by increasing customers’ time spent in-store.
Some retailers have moved popular gift items, like pajamas, socks, and scarves, closer to the front entrance and less popular products further back so that people can find what they’re looking for more quickly. Others, like Carter’s, have simplified sales pricing to show the exact price instead of a percentage markdown to make it easier to stay on budget.
Off-brand retailers, like Ross and Nordstrom Rack, which rely on a ‘treasure-hunting’ style of shopping, are using transparent bins and giving online previews of merchandise to make it easier quicker for customers to find what they’re looking for.
Offering omnichannel services and pricing so that customers have flexible options for on- and offline purchases, delivery, curbside or in-store pickup in addition to in-person shopping is creating a smoother, less panicked holiday shopping experience for sales associates and consumers alike.
Managing capacity with virtual waitlists
With layouts that are designed around shared indoor spaces, enclosed malls face particular challenges when it comes to mitigating the risk of Covid-19, and both individual retailers and the malls themselves have implemented methods to manage capacity more efficiently. Virtual waitlists let customers add their name to an online queue in order to avoid lineups, in-store crowds, and over-burdened sales associates.
Large retailers like Best Buy, Lululemon, and Target, as well as smaller boutiques and independent retailers, have embraced the service to avoid lineups and overcrowding, letting shoppers check online for lineups and also encouraging shoppers to visit other stores while they wait to be notified for their turn to enter.
Distancing with Santa
Visiting Santa at the mall is a holiday tradition for many families, so shopping centers and department stores are making changes to make sure that the kids don’t miss out this year because of Covid-19.
Instead of long lines to sit on Santa’s knee, kids can make an appointment to see Santa, behind his desk at a safe distance at Bellevue Square in Washington, or at the Paradise Valley Mall in Phoenix. Kids and parents fill out an information form ahead of time, so Santa has inside knowledge of the child’s wishlist to make the visit extra special.
Communicating safety protocols
For a majority of consumers, getting the best price is still the number one factor when choosing where to shop, but in an October survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers, 36% of consumers said that safety was now their number one reason for choosing one retailer over another. In another recent survey by Deloitte, 48% of shoppers preferred to shop in stores located outside of malls, but they would be encouraged to shop at malls with stringent safety precautions in place.
Health and safety have become a selling point during the Covid-19 pandemic, and according to the NRF, 65% of retailers had plans to increase safety protocols especially for holiday shopping. Transparent, well-communicated safety efforts on the part of shopping centers, malls, and individual retailers can help build trust with customers well before they set foot inside.
Holiday shoppers want to know what to expect and what is expected of them during their visit, such as whether there are mask requirements and temperature checks, how physical distancing and store capacity will be managed, and whether there are contactless payment options.
Klēn provides a unique, AI-driven platform that helps retailers reassure customers by highlighting their adherence to CDC recommendations and compliance with all local, state and industry regulations regarding Covid-19. The Klēn app also lets customers provide feedback directly to the retailer about their experiences, expectations, and suggestions so that businesses can efficiently address any health and safety concerns.