What can independents learn from large retailers this Christmas?

26 August 2020, 08:15 AM
  • How to learn from the big brands whilst tapping into consumer trends to create your own formula for success
What can independents learn from large retailers this Christmas?

It may be the subject of much scrutiny by retailers and consumers alike, but Amazon has become the world’s biggest online marketplace for a reason. Much in the same way that the multiples find their way into nearly every market town and city centre across the country, Amazon has secured its spot in many a user’s shopping browser. But as consumer loyalty to big brands falters amidst coronavirus, there are increasing opportunities for independent retailers to a up new customers and secure more sales from loyal, returning ones.

The festive season – yes, even during a pandemic – is a huge time of year for retailers. When it comes to the big multiples like Sainsbury’s and M&S as well as e-commerce platforms like Amazon, there’s a lot to be learned from their strategies, both good and bad.

So what strategy are the large retailers likely to take this Christmas?

“Indulgent festive food and drink has been their priority in past years, and I feel pretty confident that will be the route they take in 2020, especially as people will inevitably be encouraged to spoil themselves after what has been a very difficult year for everyone,” Maria Whitehead, co-owner of Hawkshead Relish, tells us. “However, many consumers have shifted their shopping habits and are making more use of smaller, local, independent retailers for their weekly shop, a trend that the multiples will be well aware of, alongside the increasing demand for vegan products, which inevitably they will also seek to push within their pre-existing and emerging ranges.”

Convenience is key
Over the years, convenience has trumped cost, and cost has trumped quality. It’s meant that large retailers, whose business models run off the concept of offering speedy delivery and value for money, have been hugely successful. But consumer habits are changing: we’re witnessing a surge in demand for trust, transparency and provenance; consumers are eager to support local businesses, and are willing to spend more on products that are traceable, sustainable and high-quality.

So while indie retailers certainly won’t be looking to adopt the Amazon or Tesco business model any time soon, that’s not to say there aren’t any takeaways to be had. And this Christmas, online shopping will no doubt be front and centre.

“If a customer needs something quickly, then Amazon has made it possible both in terms of speed and reliability,” says Sanjay Aggarwal, co-founder of family-owned artisanal spice and tea company, Spice Kitchen. “By witnessing the popularity of Amazon and, in particular, the incredible delivery times, we have learned just how important this element of online shopping is for customers.

“My sense is that small businesses can really learn from Amazon in terms of ensuring that we offer similar speed and responsiveness in relation to the online shopping experience. This is especially important given recent changes relating to COVID-19 and how we are currently shopping, but also of course in the lead-up to the festive season. Christmas this year is likely to be carried out online, and now is the time to be preparing for this.

Sanjay continued: “Similarly, Amazon has made the experience of shopping online easy from the user experience side of things: their search function is amazing, meaning that it’s quick and easy to find anything and everything. I would definitely suggest that small businesses look at how Amazon does things, and use this as a template for their own online store.”

In previous years, the multiples and large online retailers would have taken the lion’s share of online shoppers who wanted the convenience of their Christmas dinner delivered to their doorstep. However, this year could see smaller retailers securing more sales online as consumers look to support their local communities and businesses.

For independents that have worked hard to increase their online presence over the last few months, now is the perfect time to build on this ahead of the festive season, keeping in mind the needs of your consumers.

“Without a doubt, online sales will be huge this year right across the board,” Maria says. “Everything will be available, including all Christmas foods, but demand will be high, and as a result, securing online delivery slots with the large multiple retailers will be just as difficult as it was during lockdown. This is where local independents can capitalise, especially if they expand their ranges to ensure essentials are available too, from tin foil to gravy granules.

“Many independents have built up a loyal online following throughout lockdown, and to ensure that these customers continue to buy from them, they will need to make sure that their shopping needs are met, especially in relation to boxed delivery and click-and-collect – both areas that the supermarkets and large online retailers are already well-versed in doing. Despite that, both can easily be rolled out by smaller stores and farm shops, who can compete effectively on a local footing. They can further grow sales by increasing the range of products they offer, so that their customers can buy other essentials online at the same time as well.”

Plan ahead
As a consumer, one benefit of doing the Christmas shop at a large retailer has always been the sheer volume of products on offer. With a lengthy list of ingredients needed, consumers are likely to be able to buy everything they need in one fell swoop. But if lockdown is anything to go by, independent retailers are more than willing and able to offer customers a convenient shopping experience by providing the essentials as well as high-quality, specialist produce – and that’s certainly likely to form a key part of indie retailers’ strategies this Christmas.

While Christmas may be a few months away, it’s never too early to start creating a plan to get the ball rolling. When it comes to the main focuses this year, Maria notes that having a one-stop-shop, developing ready-made packs with popular products, and promoting your offers as early as possible, will all be key.

“This year, I think people will want to start buying and preparing very early,” Maria says. “In my view, there is likely to be a surge in demand for products across the board, especially in light of further localised lockdowns and the stark possibility of another significant lockdown either regionally or nationally. With that in mind, I believe many will be planning their purchases already, so my advice to independent retailers is to get planning done as soon as possible, get your products online and get your promotional campaigns worked out so that you can get ahead of the game.”

It’s no secret that Christmas 2020 will look different to previous years, but if recent consumer trends are anything to go by, there are significant opportunities for independent retailers to capitalise on changing habits, and use larger retailers’ models to tailor their own successful Christmas strategy.

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