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Christmas 2020 was set to be a big one, but just because the world’s upside down doesn’t mean it can’t be…

I’m not sure 2020 needs an introduction at this point; it’s been a turbulent year for most businesses (and people) – but has also allowed some real innovation to flourish. With the quite sudden imposition of lockdown, a huge amount of brick and mortar businesses have had to dramatically alter their way of operating – or baton the hatches and hope this all blows over. So how will Christmas look for business this year?

Usually, Christmas is one of the most lucrative periods for businesses (both offline and online) with people enjoying that merry cheer together through December, spending time with loved ones and purchasing gifts like crazy. But with social distancing measures still in place, new restrictions being sprouted left right and centre, and change uncertain, it may be easy to imagine the only businesses set to win are those who have moved online.

According to Retail Research, as much as people spend a lot at Christmas, they are now ‘more likely to enjoy entertainment and meals outside the home with neighbours, friends and work colleagues as part of a range of occasions around Christmas (as long as you leave by 10pm and are in a group of no more than six, mind). Which means the shift in spend from gift-giving to shared experiences is something that businesses now cater for and may have to work around in light of Covid-19.

 

Revenue depends on sector

As is usually the case with any dramatic social and economic change, some businesses come out better than others. Those who were quick to adopt a tech-first approach to their business, for the most part, ended up doing quite well. The agility given to them with instant order processing and fast communication lines meant that customer relationships were able to be maintained despite a lack of face-to-face interaction.

In a similar vein, traditional brick and mortar businesses who were able to adapt their modes of working have stayed very active. The Forest Road Brewing Co., for example, decided that if customers couldn’t come to their pub, they’d put their pub on wheels and go to the customers! Customers now book a time to have beer delivered to them. 

It’s a simple change, though not without its technical problems, but it really highlights how working methods could have changed for the better some time ago. The change to remote working, for example, has brought to light how well companies can function without their entire staff being in the same building every day.

Of course, some businesses have been able to operate at a more steady level just with social distancing measures in place. Retailers such as garden centres and DIY shops have been able to survive partly because of the generally older, non-tech-savvy, customer base, but also to a larger extent because it’s quite difficult to shop online-only for goods as variable as plants and DIY parts.

One thing’s for sure, and that’s that Christmas plans made last December have largely been thrown in the bin.

 

How to survive Christmas as a business…

The retailers that have managed to stay afloat despite not necessarily ‘going tech’ may have done so, but that’s not to say they couldn’t have taken much more in revenue had they made their online shops streamlined, full, and helpful.

DIY outlets such as B&Q have a vast stock, and while most of it is listed on their site, it’s not that easy to navigate and their search engine is only helpful if you already know what you’re looking for. They may have been able to stay open and capture the “browsing” crowd, but I’ll bet they’d increase their online sales if each product listing was more informative and if there was more to give a browsing customer a feel for how a product is going to work (or not) for their needs.

Garden centres, for example, may be able to continue relying on the insistent browsing of garden enthusiasts. But with Covid-19 still quite at large, they’d get considerably more online sales if their listings provided full, involved descriptions of their products. 

People browse because it’s easier to experience an item than to read about it. It’s easier to see if a piece of wood will work on your counter if you can see it. If all you have to go on is a white-background image of a blurry plank, you’re unlikely to buy it on faith.

Now, I’m using these retail outlets as an example because they have survived despite the lack of innovating.

If you’re a business worrying about survival into Christmas and the future, you need to innovate, get lean, get efficient. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but if, for example, staff are able to work from home, you’re able to save on office rent, you’re able to use space more productively, and you’re able to cut unnecessary travel expenses.

If your sales staff are fatigued from answering basic questions from unqualified leads, invest in a chatbot to get prospects the answers they want while freeing up your sales team to actively seek out more clients.

If you’re a retailer with a small physical footprint, you need to leverage your website. It may seem like a large undertaking when looked at in one go, but think about how much custom you’d be losing if you either had to physically close again and/or have to continue limiting customer numbers.

 

So what about non-retail businesses, such as hotels?

You have no hope.

No, I’m just kidding. The hotel and travel industry has been hit the hardest, for sure, but that doesn’t mean innovation is impossible. Think about crafting more individual experiences for guests and their families.

A lot of hospitality revolves around communal facilities: swimming pools, bars, restaurants. These are lovely when we don’t have to worry about infectious diseases, but they don’t have to be the only way to spend time. Likewise, just because a number of your rooms don’t have guests, doesn’t mean they need to continue being used as hotel rooms. You can offer empty rooms to be used for things as different as small pop-up restaurants or film & photography sets.

Even on a purely functional level, some people need to use hotels for essential business, and being able to do so in a ‘contactless’ way makes it a whole lot less stressful.

Not to mention that bars don’t need to be packed. If you can seat people and offer table service, it puts people at ease and lets them just enjoy their time without worrying about others. This is something that arguably should have been done a long time ago anyway. It’s astounding that it’s taken a pandemic for British pubs to start doing table service.

And yes, assuming climate change doesn’t keep speeding up, Christmas will be cold. That doesn’t mean you can’t make use of your outside space; invest in space heaters and awnings. It’s actually quite nice to be outside and warm when it’s cold!

 

But what will Christmas look like this year?

In short, probably quite different. In long, hopefully not very negatively different if businesses adapt and get ahead of the “what-if-we-need-to-stay-locked-down-forever” curve.

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