On the heels of Amazon Prime day and after record-setting year-end holiday sales in 2017, retailers will need to plan ahead for the critical 2018 holiday sales season to meet the high expectations of consumers who are demanding convenient, easy and seamless shopping experiences. This article is copyright 2018 The Best Customer Guide.

According to Alliance Data's "2018 Holiday Retail Outlook" white paper, authored by experts in Alliance Data's card services business, Epsilon, Conversant and LoyaltyOne, the retail outlook heading into holiday 2018 is positive, and 5,000 net new store openings are forecasted before the end of the year - on top of 4,000 net new store openings in 2017 - presenting more choices for consumers who are increasingly creating their own individual shopping journeys, whether in-store or online. Their decisions are made in the moment, and retailers need to stay one step ahead, anticipating what shoppers need across every channel.

Among the insights derived and eight key trends identified based on marketing and loyalty programs developed for the company's 2,000 global clients:

  • Put the customer experience first. As customers navigate their own shopping journeys, retailers should ensure they're providing the tools that meet their immediate needs. While shoppers want convenient choices when it comes to payment options, customer service and shipping, retailers shouldn't lose sight of the importance of well-trained in-store associates who can provide guidance on what to purchase.
  • Maximize mobile. With more than 90% of consumers now owning a smartphone, the mobile shopping experience is a critical component of any brand's holiday strategy. Consumers "hang out" on their smartphones, and shopping happens anytime and anywhere, whether waiting in line or commuting on a train. Smart retailers will deliver a streamlined experience that enables a purchase to be completed in quick moments with just a few steps, while also giving customers easy access to their accounts and rewards.
  • Drive multi-channel purchases. Customers approach the in-store holiday shopping experience with a far different mindset than the digital experience, but a holistic approach will help brands win more customers during the holidays and keep them engaged. Proprietary data shows that, during 2017, omnichannel shoppers made more than 3.2 more trips at a given retailer compared with single-channel shoppers.

The paper concludes that the holiday selling season is a key opportunity to introduce customers to a brand and deepen connections with existing customers, so retailers should ensure their loyalty programs provide meaningful rewards to create authentic connections.