Amazon: The e-tailer who stole Christmas

The first Christmas TV ad aired in the UK on November 1st precisely. Thank you, Argos. So, whether you love or loathe it, it’s officially time to start Christmas shopping. If like many, you inevitably get to the 23rd December each and every year and realise you’ve forgotten to get that distant relative you only ever see at Christmas time, a gift, you’ll be in mutual appreciation of the joy (read convenience) of eCommerce.

The experience of Christmas shopping is for many people one that has been previously surrounded by dread. Whilst the thought of a festive day out choosing gifts for loved ones, marvelling at magnificently dressed windows from the department stores’ star players – Selfridges and Harrods I’m looking at you – the reality is often quite different. Traipsing reluctantly through hordes of flustered shoppers, navigating your way precariously through giant bauble-laden trees and swerving over-enthusiastic carol singers used to be your only option. Now, with one click you can purchase that pair of novelty socks from the comfort of your own home, and have it arrive directly to your door the very next day. The same day even, for a price. Gift wrapped if you want.

Whilst there is something entirely satisfying about getting all your festive shopping done without leaving the house, are we perhaps missing out on a bit of that festive magic as we stare square-eyed at our screens?

It was Victorian Britain that commercialised Christmas; a nation of manufacturers, industrialists and shopkeepers, it was not long before the Victorians realised that Christmas, with its emphasis on generosity and hospitality, could be exploited for commercial gain. This only intensified with the growth of the department store culture in the late 1800s, and as the number of department stores grew, fuelled by the increasing resources of a growing middle class, our obsession with Christmas shopping snowballed. A culture of expectation and anticipation grew and each year, shoppers eagerly awaited the theatrical displays, grottos and subsequent child-like cheer that signalled the run up to the holidays.

But now, with not so much as a desire but a need from retailers to maximise profits, festivities have been creeping earlier and earlier as the on and offline worlds battle for consumers’ cash. Changing behaviour means that consumers are less bothered by the fancy festive atmosphere and instead, are putting value for money and convenience above tradition. This is further driven by the likes of Amazon, who is known for its bonanza Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales at the end of November – anticipated to be the biggest ever in 2019, and encourages customers to get all of their Christmas shopping done in one go, with one click, for a significant discount. Cue a stampede of retailers following suit.

The run up to Christmas is a crucial time for the retail sector and in a year where UK shoppers have been more cautious than ever, retailers need to pull out all of the stops to entice customers over their physical and virtual thresholds in the ‘golden quarter’.

But with more shoppers moving online to do the bulk of their purchasing, online giants – like Amazon, aka the digital-age department store, have stolen some of the Christmas cheer of yesterday. The reality is that Amazon’s fulfilment offer and customer experience still keeps them ahead. So, whilst the likes of John Lewis and Argos have our hearts this Christmas, Amazon has our cash.

How can online-retailers incorporate the festive experience into their digital strategies? And if they manage it, how can physical stores even attempt to keep up?

It comes down to each retailer doing what they do best, but rather than remaining separate in two competing worlds, brands must ensure a seamless omnichannel experience; segmented experiences when it comes to offline and online sales make for very poor CX by today’s standards. The days of relying on an enticing window display to attract festive shoppers are simply ghosts of Christmas past. Consumers are more educated on the products they want to buy and they want better value; they demand a smooth interaction with a brand, where all channels are as one. They want to know if a product is in stock before physically going to a store, want ease of transaction, to order online and collect the next day, demand a straightforward, more flexible returns process and want personalised offers designed to directly meet their shopping needs. Take the rise of click & collect, never more relevant than in the holiday season, making it easier for people to shop last minute – eliminating many of the previous pain points associated with this busy shopping period. This will likely result in an increase of later Christmas sales after the regular shipping deadlines of mid-December. Mobile commerce is also not to be overlooked in its importance. Consumers can now shop on the move, further stretching the sales window and making them less reliant on physical stores. With these new channels driving retail growth, the very nature of Christmas shopping is in the process of being reinvented. 

How brands interact with their customers over the busiest period of the retail year is crucial– they need to not only sell to customers but offer ways to solve their holiday problems – personalise offerings to tell shoppers what they want, then make it easy for them to get it.

Retailers that offer true omnichannel and digital-led experiences this holiday season will set themselves apart from those that don’t, ultimately winning sales.