Here’s Why October Is the Perfect Time to Pressure-Test Holiday Strategies

It comes as no surprise that this year, Halloween celebrations will look a little different. The Centers for Disease Control recently advised that many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses, so consumers are prioritizing a “safer-at-home” Halloween. 

While Americans may be staying closer to home, they are still ready and willing to open their wallets for the whimsical October holiday. NRF forecasts that Halloween-related spending will reach $8.05 billion in 2020, representing just a slight drop from $8.78 billion in 2019.

So with consumers still spending – and their evolving shopping preferences and behaviors becoming increasingly clear for Halloween and beyond – October presents a prime opportunity for retailers to pressure-test and refine their holiday 2020 strategies. 

Here are three considerations as we enter one of the most critical quarters in retail’s history.

Now Is the Time to Pull Demand Forward 

Typically, retailers have been unsuccessful in advancing consumers’ holiday shopping earlier than mid-November. 

But this year – understatement of the century – is unlike any other. Consumers are looking for comfort in everything they do, and nothing is more comforting than supporting holiday traditions (and comfort food — who knew that Halloween candy counts as a comfort food?). 

But consumers are also hearing that retailers may not have as much inventory or variety of inventory this holiday season, and that the holiday rush may turn out to be a long line outside a retailer constrained by social distancing and building occupancy health restrictions. 

Considering the need to generate cash, store occupancy limits that warrant stretching out in-store promotional events over a longer period, and Amazon’s decision to run Prime Day in mid-October, there are many reasons why retailers should pull demand forward. Hopefully, consumers will be more receptive to an earlier start than ever before.

To make good on this opportunity, retailers should plan to launch holiday promotions in October. Many retailers will lean heavily on bounce-back promotions designed to capture a greater share of wallet via a return visit, such as Buy Now, Get 15% Off in Two Weeks. 

Word on the street is that some retailers will begin their holiday promotions on “Orange Sunday” — the Sunday following Halloween.

Rethink the Foot Traffic Factor 

Capacity constraints will challenge retailers on many levels this holiday season — including limits to the number of shoppers that can be in a store at any one time. This summer, retailers found creative ways to work around social distancing requirements with tent and sidewalk sales, but as we head into the fall and winter months, weather in many parts of the country makes this option untenable. 

For retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence, consider customer journeys with a digital start and a store finish to lessen the reliance on organic store foot traffic and to meet holiday sales goals. 

Flexible fulfillment options such as buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) and buy online, pick up at curbside (BOPAC) will be key in working around capacity constraints. Not only do these options allow consumers to secure their items in a way they are most comfortable with, but they also help retailers to connect online and offline sales and move more inventory (in many cases, with improved margins). 

Some retailers are even devising strategies to replicate in-store cross-sell and upsell opportunities for BOPIS and BOPAC transactions by offering a collection of items that can easily be added to a customer’s order right at the pickup counter and curb. 

Get Ready for What Could Be the Biggest Cyber Monday Yet  

Gauging from recent e-commerce trends, some pundits think we may see double the Cyber Monday transaction volume this year. Retailers should start now to pressure-test their e-commerce infrastructure against a potential doubling of traffic. 

Another critical element is ensuring inventory management systems can keep up with the volume and pace of activity. If not, it’s possible that retailers will inadvertently sell inventory they don’t actually have, frustrating consumers. 

Retailers should also test their e-commerce checkout experience to ensure motivated buyers can complete their transactions with ease. E-commerce giants such as Amazon and Walmart have grown even bigger during the pandemic, setting the bar for ease of use. Consumers now expect this same streamlined user experience for cart/checkout when purchasing from any retailer, and retailers that make improvements in this area could see a direct correlation to sales.

Find the Silver Lining 

While Halloween 2020 will likely disappoint mall-based retailers that look forward to a surge of foot traffic from trick-or-treaters and their parents, all is not lost in the month of October. 

Retailers should utilize this month to galvanize resources and refine retail operations, systems, and processes to ensure they can fully capitalize on this year’s peak shopping period.

Nikki Baird is the vice president of Retail Innovation at Aptos, a retail enterprise solution provider.

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