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It’s hard to believe it’s that time of year again – time to break out the holiday decorations, blast holiday music, make your gift shopping list and check it twice. While holiday shopping always adds pressure to retail stores, a global pandemic and new wave of COVID-19 cases will surely create additional challenges for both shoppers and retailers this year. According to IDC, 79% of consumers are very concerned about COVID-19 – concerns which are only growing as the year comes to a close. However, with additional communication channels and automation, there are improvements that retailers can make to keep up the holiday spirit and ease the minds of their employees and customers.

 

Provide holiday updates through self-service & notifications

Hours of operation, capacity limits, available stock, and other key shopping factors are consistently changing based on local restrictions and business capabilities. Most likely, your customers will have questions before heading out to visit your store. Add self-service options to your call-in menu so you can automate answers to as many questions as possible.

 

Providing special hours for at-risk populations? Let your customers know when they call about hours of operation.

 

Will you be closed on certain holidays or have shorter business hours? Send out an automated voice or text notification to your customer list so they can make a plan to visit whenever is best and most comfortable for them.

 

These two simple updates will deflect calls from your in-store employees who will already have their hands full.

 

What is one of the things customers love the most about the holidays? The discounts, of course! Connect your outbound communications with your CRM and offer loyal customers discounts through SMS or email. Even better, encourage customers to order ahead and notify them of discounts being made for customers who order online or pre-order to decrease their time spent in your store without losing their business. To put the bow on top, employ analytics to measure when and how customers are contacting you to better serve them. If customers are calling at certain times or on specific days you can better staff your call center and prepare your agents for an influx of calls. Some customers might prefer to contact you through SMS or social media. Use this information to reengage with them using the medium they prefer to best catch their attention.

 

Streamline ordering and pick up

Making the shopping experience go as quickly and smoothly as possible can help customers feel more comfortable. If you don’t have an online ordering system, you can allow customers to text an 800 number outlining which items they would like to buy. Let them know they will be added to a queue and text them back when their items are ready for pick-up.

 

Fulfillment efforts and product pipelines have been greatly disrupted by the pandemic. Customers often arrive at stores only to find that the item they’re looking for is sold out (toilet paper, anyone?!) Provide your customers with the option to be notified when certain products are restocked. This will help avoid multiple frustration-filled visits by customers and allow you to prepare for an influx of shoppers after notifications are sent.

 

Ease the strain of managing seasonal employees

Adding to your workforce to manage the holiday season? Increasing your number of employees while already being stretched for resources can easily become unmanageable. Connect your communications with your workforce management tool so employees can call in for their schedule. Additionally, let them call in sick through an automated hotline so they don’t take up a manager’s time calling a store directly.

 

Most employers require their staff to answer a COVID-19 questionnaire before they come into work each day. Why not allow employees to do this through an automated SMS or voice survey? They’ll avoid coming to the office and putting other employees at risk if they fail the questionnaire.

 

Automating these processes may sound like a heavy lift but with omni-channel automation and AI platforms like Atmosphere® CPaaS, it’s actually quite easy. We provide templates in our drag and drop visual designer, Atmosphere SmartFlows®, to jumpstart your new communications strategy and help spark ideas for ways to improve customer experience. While Atmosphere® CPaaS is built to require minimal (if any) coding, our Managed Solutions team can build solutions for you to take the pressure off your internal resources. If your small business been impacted by the pandemic, our  Small Business Recovery Program provides guidance and $1,000 credit in SMS services to get you up and running, no commitment required. For more ideas on how retail stores can engage customers, check out this page.

 

From your friends at IntelePeer, we hope you and your family stay safe and healthy this holiday season!