From Monster Mash to Holiday Dash

If you’re like us at the Ketner Group, you were probably on edge throughout the entire month of October, constantly looking over your shoulder for frights, fears, ghouls, etc. The good news is that Halloween is now over, so we can relax and enjoy our trick-or-treating spoils, including candy corn, candy apples and nickels from the elderly woman around the corner.

Yet, as the spookiest time of the year ends, the retail industry is approaching the scary unknown: the holiday season. The biggest shopping time of the year says a lot about the health of the industry. How is the holiday season shaping up? And what can this year’s Halloween spending tell us about what to expect for the holidays?

Halloween Spending

Starting with perhaps the most important aspect of Halloween, HIS Markit forecasted candy sales to rise 4.1% from last year, reaching a impressive $4.1 billion. Additionally, NRF’s annual Halloween survey expected total spending on Halloween this year to reach $9.1 billion during the same time period, up from $8.4 billion last year.

This is promising news – if consumers are spending more on Halloween, then we can expect increased spending during the holiday season. In fact, NRF expects holiday retail sales to increase by up to 4% in 2017, totaling $682 billion, compared to $655.8 billion last year.

What to Expect from Consumers

After all the tricks and treats, consumers are now gearing up for the holidays in a big way. The NPD Group found that shoppers will start their shopping early this year. In fact, it will potentially be the first time that more U.S. consumers start shopping in the middle of the season (around Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday) than later (early December).

In terms of shopping destinations, 2017 could also be the first time that Americans spend more money online than in-store, according to Deloitte. Meanwhile, a study by IFTTT states that about 57% of shoppers will do the majority of their holiday spending at a mass retailer like Walmart or Amazon. Overall, it’s clear that customers will be shopping in droves through both online and offline channels.

How Retailers are Preparing

Big brands like Walmart and Amazon are already announcing their holiday sales (and even in-store parties) which means it’s officially time for retailers to prepare for the holidays. We’re seeing plenty of stores hire seasonal employees– an expected every year. However, are retailers investing in new technology to prepare for the mass influx of customers?

According to a survey conducted by Brightpearl, about 58% of retailer and wholesaler decision makers currently invest in technology to manage sales spikes. 35% of those surveyed are ‘very likely’ to adopt a new solution to help effectively streamline back-office and inventory processes. While these are promising strides, Brightpearl also estimates that poor technology decisions leading into the holidays could cost retailers more than $300,000 in lost profit. Brands need to be prepared with adequate technology that won’t fail during the holiday rush.

It appears that this holiday season could be a cheerful one for the retail industry. As such, it’s essential that brands are prepared to meet customer demands with efficient technology to stay ahead of the competition. Without doing so, the real frights will come in the form of lost customers and profits – a reality that is far spookier than any Halloween lore.

*Disclaimer: I don’t actually like candy corn

The State of the Retail Workforce

It seems like clockwork that every few months, weeks or even days we see people panicking about robots taking over the world. Being one of the eye-grabbing headlines out there, many publications are very willing to suggest that entire industries will be destroyed by technology (or maybe millennials). This fear of change, along with talk of the so-called “Retail Apocalypse” (which was appropriately debunked on our blog last month), has left some questioning the future of the retail worker.

However, there’s no need for associates to worry. The truth is that there’s still plenty of opportunity for them to thrive in today’s landscape—as long as retailers are investing in them.

Is eCommerce Making Associates Irrelevant?

As eCommerce continues to grow and evolve, many facets of retail are being disrupted every day. However, research shows that consumers still value in-store shopping and the presence of retail employees.

According to ChargeItSpot, 63% of consumers believe that store associates are “extremely important” when they shop, with an additional 29% calling associates “somewhat important” to the experience. Meanwhile, Shopify suggests that 78% of consumers prefer to shop in-store. Their research also states that consumers tend to spend more time shopping in-store than on a retail website and spend significantly more money in-person.

The industry isn’t shrinking either. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of retail sales workers is projected to grow 7% by 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

It’s clear that not every consumer prefers to shop online. While it’s true that shoppers demand an easy and frictionless shopping experience, sometimes forcing them to Amazon, there’s still opportunity for in-store associates to thrive – especially if they can enhance the shopping experience for customers.

Investing in the Workforce

With the demand for in-store associates still present, a large share of the responsibility falls on retailers to give associates the necessary tools to succeed. Yet, according to research from Cisco, just 6% of retailers’ investment priorities are focused on improving employee productivity. Fortunately, stores are realizing that this needs to change.

An investment in technology can arm workers with the resources necessary to truly offer the customer-centric experience that’s necessary to excel in retail today. Also, with successes, workers will be far more likely to stay with their employer— an important benefit considering the traditionally high turnover within the industry. In fact, a recent Salesfloor study found that 72% of hourly retail associates are more likely to stay with a retailer if they have the right technology and resources, and two-thirds said access to digital tools and technology is a must-have at a future retailer.

It’s easy to think that robots, AI and Amazon will steal the roles of the retail associates in the world. However, this simply isn’t true. With strategic investments in employees and technology, stores can assure that associates are as productive as possible, customers receive the stellar service they expect and the in-store shopping experience remains key to commerce.

Get to Know Our New Account Executive: Greg Earl

Hey everyone—my name is Greg Earl and I’m the new Account Executive at Ketner Group.

Prior to working with the fine people of Ketner Group, I was an Account Coordinator at Lois Paul and Partners (LPP) a technology and healthcare PR agency in Austin. There, I honed my skills in content development and social media for large clients like Kodak and Philips Healthcare, as well as smaller startups. Before that, I was an intern at Edelman where I focused on technology clients in the software and analytic spaces.

Originally from New Jersey, I came to Austin to attend the University of Texas, where I graduated in 2015 with a degree in public relations. While in school I held various PR internships, including one at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport where I fulfilled my dream of holding a giant pair of ribbon-cutting scissors.

Since my move to Austin, I’ve loved nearly every aspect of the city and state. However, sometimes I can’t help but get upset thinking about the toughest parts of the move: the lack of good pizza, White Castle, pork roll and bagels. However, I’m still glad to be an Austinite and I think I’m well-adjusted to the lifestyle. Despite my initial best efforts, I’ve fully accepted “y’all” into my vernacular (it’s too efficient not to use) and no matter how strong the urge is to GTL and Beat that Beat Up with DJ Pauly D at the Jersey Shore, I do my best to remain calm and go to a record store instead.

Outside of the office I spend my time enjoying the food, drinks, music and activities that Austin has to offer. I love visiting the breweries around town and responsibly trying every sour beer or stout possible. Eating is also an important extracurricular activity for me— when I’m not eating Cane’s, I’m hunting down the city’s best food and Austin’s greatest mozzarella sticks. I used to be proud to say that I’ve tried nearly every BBQ spot in the Austin area but with the recent release of the updated Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ Joints list, I realize I still have many more pilgrimages on the horizon.

Getting to know the team and the clients here at Ketner Group has already been extremely fun and rewarding. I’m looking forward to continuing the exciting work that has me ready to go to work each day with this great group of people.