Holiday Countdown 2016: Trends to Watch

With back-to-school season upon us, it’s officially time for major retailers to begin preparing for the holidays. For some, this means hiring seasonal staff; for others, it may mean improving training or tweaking fulfillment processes. To help you prepare, StellaService has aggregated some of the biggest trends we’ve seen so far in 2016 that are bound to have an impact on holiday performance.

Live Chat Increases in Popularity

As we’ve covered previously, live chat has grown tremendously as a support channel over the last several months. Just 81% of the Stella Index now offers email, whereas 90% now offer live chat. Of the companies who do offer chat, StellaService analysts have also noted an increase in consistent chat availability and speedier response times than in previous years.

Retailers hoping to make an impact with shoppers this holiday season should not only ensure they’re offering this immediate-gratification channel, but should also ensure it’s adequately staffed with well-trained agents.

Same Day Shipments Enable Later Cutoff Dates

While the most popular cutoff date for guaranteed Christmas delivery last year was December 21st, five Stella Index retailers were still accepting guaranteed orders as late as December 23rd. In order for retailers to be able to accommodate such late ordering windows, they must be able to fulfill quickly, ideally sending shipments the same day that the order is received. In J.C. Penney’s Q2 Earnings call, Mike Robbins, EVP Supply Chain said:

“One requirement of a 2-day network is to fulfill and ship orders the same day they are received. We have added shifts and updated our processes and today we fulfill all dot-com orders the same day they are placed.”

J.C. Penney is a great example of a retailer whose investment in reducing fulfillment time has paid dividends: according to Stella data as of the time of this article, the retailer indeed takes an average of less than 1 day to fulfill. With shoppers having become conditioned to quick shipping through expedited delivery services like Amazon Prime, the traditional crowd of last-minute gift givers has grown even larger, and retailers who can’t keep up with late demand will miss out.

Omni Options Are Expected

Allowing harried shoppers the option to buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) or buy online, return in-store (BORIS) provides them with the option to make transactions quickly and fit shops into their busy holiday schedules. Allowing pickup or returns in stores can also help retailers save on last minute expedited shipping costs, not to mention the incremental revenue generated by the estimated 70% of shoppers who make additional purchases once inside the stores.