This will be a Christmas of unpredictability. Australian retail turnover fell 0.1 per cent in July 2019, seasonally adjusted, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Retail Trade figures. This is in spite of the promise of sizeable tax cuts during the beginning of the new financial year, which was hoped would boost retail spend.

The downturn could imply one of two things that will have different impacts on the upcoming holiday period: people are saving up for a big spend this Christmas, or have tightened their purse strings altogether to prioritise saving over spending.

Either way, it’s now been almost two years since Amazon launched in Australia, and Morgan Stanley noted after a bit of a slow start, the global giant is now starting to undercut some local retailers.

What remains certain is that convenience is king, and customers will favour any retailer that removes the stress and frustration too frequently associated with the Christmas shopping period. In fact, a survey by Relationships Australia found 65 per cent of Australians say Christmas shopping is a stressful experience.

Success of global brands such as Amazon, which prioritises delivery freedom and intelligent recommendation engines, is a testament to how shoppers are choosing the convenience of online over the hustle and bustle of bricks and mortar shopping at Christmas.

According to dunnhumby’s recent Australian Grocer Retailer Preference Index, convenience beat out quality and even price when it came to Australian customers’ top shopping priorities.

But this doesn’t mean it’s game over for local brands or in-store retailers. By prioritising convenience strategies, there are many ways to keep customers engaged and coming back for more over the busy Christmas period. It’s all about making communications seamless and easy to understand, personalising offers, and using customer data to advantage the shoppers themselves.

Concentrate on what can change now

With just a few months to go from the big day itself, strategies such as pricing and promotions, which are typically planned very far in advance, could be too late to prioritise. So looking forward, retailers are better off, at this stage, focusing on convenience-related strategies, which will set them up for success for future Christmas shopping periods.

By concentrating on what can be more readily adopted (such as personalisation of marketing communications or improving the variety of delivery options), retailers can realise even more benefits through thinking long term. This upcoming Christmas is a prime opportunity to capture as much intelligent customer data as possible, to create insights which can be leveraged to build out more targeted strategies for next year.

The key thing to remember is: it’s never too late to start. Even if there’s not enough time to pivot on strategy, the data retailers capture this year will go a long way to preparing for next year.

Top tips for retailers to increase convenience for stressed out customers

When it comes to Christmas shopping, we all know there is nothing worse than ordering too late and not receiving deliveries on time, or opening communications about an offer only to go in store and find it is no longer available.

There are a few crucial tactics retailers can prioritise to put convenience first for the customer this Christmas:

  • Engaging customers early locks in their business with you. Through personalisation of communications, reminders for key items, and providing relevant offers based on their past purchases, customers will know they can rely on your brand to give them what they need in an easy and convenient way over Christmas. This will assist them with planning their shopping in advance – with the benefit that your retail brand will form a part of their plans.
  • Arranging an increased lead time on deliveries, and being very clear across digital communications about cut-off times for delivery dates, will help customers have more options in how they choose to shop over Christmas. With many Australian customers used to interacting with overseas brands such as ASOS or Book Depository, they will expect the same level of clarity around deliveries when interacting with local brands.
  • Consider staffing and layout options. How can retailers have staff strategically placed across the shop floor to help customers find what they’re looking for? Even store layouts can be built intelligently using customer data around preference and intuition, and there are many technology-enabled initiatives which can push the boundaries in creating new and memorable experiences for shoppers. It also opens doors to create ‘one-stop-shop’ environments so customers don’t have to hop between retailers.

Don’t be fooled into thinking customers are only after cheap prices this Christmas season. The Australian Grocer Retailer Preference Index proves convenience is shoppers’ number one priority year round, so it stands to reason that in the highly stressful time of Christmas, convenience will maintain its top spot.

To drive sustainable growth for your business, it’s vital to keep the customer at the centre of all strategies, prioritising ease and convenience for them at every turn. This will keep them coming back for more, and create positive associations between them and your brand during what is otherwise a hectic time. By investing in convenience strategies now, retailers also have the best chance of setting themselves up for future success in Christmases to come.

Kylie Gleeson-Long is Managing Director ANZ for dunnhumby