Last Christmas? 2021 festive season is ‘make or break’ for UK retailers

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Following a fallow year, Christmas 2021 is make or break according to 83% of UK marketers, warns a new study from Sitecore, the global leader in digital experience management software.

Despite this, shocking results reveal only a quarter of marketers are prepared for the Golden Quarter – even though shoppers (20%) are already browsing for gifts.

The study of 400 UK marketers highlights that almost half of those with stores (45%) believe this holiday season will be the last chance to prove the value of their physical presence – signalling increased concerns about the future of the high street.

As brands hope for a ‘mega Christmas’ to see them through to 2022, Sitecore is advising marketers to capitalise on earlybird shoppers – and fast. Over a quarter (28%) of consumers are planning to holiday-shop before the end of summer. The most common reasons are: to take advantage of sale prices (46%), spread the costs (44%) and avoid the crowds (42%).

In Black Friday’s home territory – the USA – 17% fewer marketers are offering promotions compared to last year. On this side of the pond, many UK marketers are planning promotions this Black Friday (68%), but its popularity may wane as a third (33%) believe that Black Friday is synonymous with mass consumerism and is becoming outdated. The risks of large crowds was a further red flag for 36% of marketers.

In addition to this, half (49%) of marketers admit online discounting has become more competitive than ever in the last 12 months – showing the clear need to create seamless and personalised customer experiences, rather than slashing prices, to stand out from the crowd. Given the majority (74%) of marketers admit digital marketing has taken a back seat in favour of investment in other areas this year, swift action is required, with 93% of marketers believing digital marketing is now business-critical for surviving the holiday season.

Paige O’Neill, CMO, Sitecore, comments: “These findings point to a dramatic shake-up on the horizon for both the UK’s highstreet and ecommerce landscape. It’s now or never for those brands looking to thrive, or even just survive, this festive season, with the onus on them to deliver the most compelling and engaging digital experiences possible. The next few weeks will be critical for realising these plans and taking advantage of technology in the critical run-up to the holidays.”

With shoppers having already started their Christmas shopping, marketers are now left playing catch-up, rolling out plans to revolutionise the Christmas shopping experience, boost sales and ultimately keep the business moving forward. These plans include:

  • Trialling subscription-based engagement (71%) – to connect with customers in a hyper-personalised way
  • Optimising the supply chain through AI (62%) – making sure we don’t see another year of late deliveries
  • Introducing new virtual services for trying on clothes and visiting stores (61%) – providing excellent experiences for those shopping from home
  • Improving customer service through AI services like chatbots (57%) – to further engage with customers at home
  • Selling directly to consumers via their websites for the first time (29%) – helping engage customers directly and build brand loyalty
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