Love it or hate it, you can’t deny shopping in the holiday season is big business. For retailers there’s more than 700 billion dollars up for grabs. In the rush to claim their share, we consistently see brands launching unique offerings and campaigns at this time of year.

To help you get ahead of the competition this holiday season, we’ve reviewed the best holiday shopping experiences on the market to outline the characteristics and offerings customers value most at this time of year.

The 2019 holiday shopping season has been deemed the “Human Holiday” in the Annual Holiday Shopping Survey from Accenture.

The report suggests it’s all about in-store shopping when it comes to the holidays, for four main reasons:

  • having face-to-face conversations
  • the ability to see and touch what they’re buying
  • getting in the holiday spirit
  • avoiding potential package theft

Online shopping will of course still be critical – and billions of dollars will be spent through digital channels. However, this shift back toward in-store experiences is evidence of the increasing value customers place on great retail experiences, as well as the critical importance of being able to understand and delight customers at every stage of the customer journey.

What makes a great holiday shopping experience?

Findings from YouGov show Americans like to get their holiday shopping done early. A handful of consumers (8%) will capitalize on the Black Friday / Cyber Monday deals to do their Christmas shopping, with the majority following in late November and early December (24%).

Meanwhile, there’s a brave 2% who leave shopping until Christmas Eve!

In contrast, Australians tend to leave their Christmas shopping a little later (mid-December) while Brits prefer to get it done in November.

Using these timelines, brands are able to plan and optimize their retail campaigns for maximum success. For example, if you know what the biggest shopping day is expected to be you can align your best deals with this, and ensure consumers are well informed of your offerings in advance.

But the retail shopping experience during the holidays is more than the best deals. After all, every brand competing for market share will be offering some type of sale.

The best retailers create impactful shopping experiences. Reviewing the best holiday shopping experiences out there, we’ve identified the type of experiences you need to offer these holidays to win the hearts and minds of customers:

Meet on your customer’s terms

Let’s face it, regardless of the experience, shopping in the holidays can be stressful. You need to navigate countless stores and crowds. You’re faced with multiple decisions. You might not know what to buy. And you need to keep gifts secret.

Brands that succeed in the holidays recognize this, and respond by making sure the experience they deliver is one of convenience. This might be extended opening hours through to creating designated in-store holiday departments, complementary wrapping, and offering gift receipts.

Reward your customers

The reality of today’s retail experience is that in the majority of instances, your competitors will be offering the same products and services as you at identical prices. As a result, you need to give customers a reason to shop with you beyond price.

Partnering with other organizations is a powerful way to stand apart from the competition. For example, you could offer discounts for partnering restaurants and retailers when a set amount is spent. Or you could join forces with loyalty programs to offer point incentives.

Play to your brand strengths

Knowing what your customers like about your brand or the shopping experience you deliver is a huge advantage during the holiday season. By playing to your strengths you can better entice customers to shop with you.

Part of the reason for this is the “familiarity” heuristic, which is a critical part of human decision making. When people are more familiar with a certain brand they are more likely to choose it again as we view it as less of a risk compared to choosing something new. Similarly, we like to be internally consistent – this means validating the choices we’ve made previously by making them again.

Give customers an experience they won’t forget

Provide customers with more than a basic retail interaction by getting in the holiday spirit. On the most basic level, this could be hanging festive decorations or tweaking your normal staff uniform to make it more festive – like t-shirts with festive slogans.

Take this a step further by inviting local groups, such as singers, to perform in-store. Alternatively, you could partner with charities to conduct fund-raising drives for the community. This gives customers a reason to visit your store, which increases the likelihood they will buy from you.

Leave customers wanting more

The element of surprise is one of the magical moments of the holiday season. Capitalizing on this — along with numerous other festive traditions — is a great way to delight customers.

This could involve having daily deals which are announced through social media posts. Ultimately, you need to build hype and create a sense of FOMO around the products and services you are offering.

Be in the giving spirit

Customers prefer to shop with brands that give back to the world around them – whether that’s donations to local charities, efforts to be more environmentally friendly, or looking after their workforce.

Finding ways to give back is a great way to show customers you care and that you value every interaction you’re involved in.

Having identified the traits of the best holiday shopping experiences, let’s have a look at some of the brands winning the festive season:

Starbucks: The taste of the Holidays

Whether it’s for the famous red cup, egg nog latte, or gingerbread coffee, no Christmas shopping experience is complete without a visit to Starbucks. By offering a seasonal menu for a limited time Starbucks is able to create a sense of FOMO. And what’s more, the seasonal flare is the perfect treat for shoppers looking to recover or recharge before hitting the stores again.

John Lewis & Partners: The must-watch ad

For many Brits the John Lewis ad signals the start of the holidays. Every year the major UK department store creates a multi-million dollar ad telling a heart-warming tale backed up with a soundtrack from one of the country’s biggest musical artists. News of the ad going live is covered extensively by media and across social channels. For John Lewis, it’s a worthwhile investment helping lift brand awareness at a time when customers are looking for an easy shopping experience.

David Jones: The family holiday show

Every year the Australian department store David Jones transforms its shop windows by adding a festive themed display. You’ll often see crowds of people stopped on the sidewalk to catch a look. In decking out its windows, David Jones is encouraging families to visit its stores and get in the spirit of Christmas – and increase the likelihood they’ll drop in to pick up some extra gifts.

Macy’s: The mobile holiday shopping assistant

Our technology and digital-driven world offers a huge number of ways for retailers to engage customers and rapidly resolve this queries. Macy’s is leading the way in digital this holiday season with its mobile app taking the stress out of holiday shopping. Customers can scan QR codes for quick pick-up of online purchases, use mobile payments at select stores, and be served tailored offers. What’s more, it includes store maps and personalized services.

Woolworths: The holiday collectables

Buying the food and drink for the festive season can often be a mammoth effort. In 2018 Australian supermarket Woolworths made the grocery shopping experience that little bit sweeter by launching a collectable set of Christmas-themed cardboard pop-out characters. Each customer would be given one when they spent a certain amount. Offering that little bit extra ensured customers chose Woolworths over its competitors, and provided a small momento to keep the kids entertained.

Nordstrom: The need to know what’s next campaign

Counting down the days to the holidays is one of the best things about the season. Nordstrom capitalized on this by posting its own video advent calendar, with a gift idea placed behind every door. If that wasn’t enough the department store recruited Celine Dion to bring some extra festive cheer by opening each video with a short musical number.

Alibaba: The ultimate holiday sale

Alibaba is the champion of holiday sales – the company is not only responsible for one of the biggest days of online sales, it created the holiday too! Singles Day is the anti-Valentines day, and in the world of e-commerce it’s bigger than Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Alibaba was able to achieve this by pinpointing an untapped sector to celebrate, and then drawing together its expansive partner network to create a massive day of online activity. Such is the momentum of the Day, we’re starting to see the holiday be embraced by retailers across the world.

Air Canada: The above and beyond offer

In 2014, Air Canada brought together a group of 200 Canadian expats living in London to gift them a free return flight home for the holidays. While an amazing gift for those lucky few, this experience was built around the insight Canadians feel like they’re home when they see the Air Canada logo. It’s a leading example of how you can use your brand drivers to create shopping experiences this holiday season.

Selfridges: The first to market

One of the most asked questions in the holidays is, “is it too early to put up your decorations?” If you were to ask the iconic British department store Selfridges the answer would be it’s never too early. The store prides itself on opening it’s Christmas store earlier and earlier every year – in 2019 Selfridges opened the store in July! Tapping into a cultural conversation Selfridges is able to generate column inches that boost brand awareness. It also means those that want to get their holiday shopping done early have a place to do so, and holiday-fanatics can visit to satisfy their festive cravings from early summer.

British Airways: The points hack

Loyalty programs are a great way to attract and retain customers. And the holiday season is a great opportunity to ramp up the rewards on offer. This year British Airways is giving customers the opportunity to increase the amount of points earned when shopping with certain brands through its online store. This added incentive is a great way to demonstrate to customers you value their business, all while giving them a reason to shop through you.

Walmart: The winning employee experience

One of the hottest retail trends in recent years is the preference to buy from brands that are purpose-driven, such as health and well-being or environmental issues. This year, Walmart is giving all employees that work the Thanksgiving Holiday a free meal and an extra 15% off their usual discount. It’s a simple action revealing the human side of Walmart. And as an added benefit, investing in the employee experience will translate to improved productivity and morale, which will ultimately lead to a better customer experience too.

Inspired by these breakthroughs? Unlock the insights to create your own these holidays.

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