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February 22, 2018updated 21 Feb 2018 4:15pm

Flexible payments: Defying the early-year sales slump in style

By Luke Griffiths

The months following Christmas bring an inevitable sales slump as resolutions are made, budgets are drawn up and consumers tighten the purse strings following the festive spending frenzy. As a result, it is now more important than ever that retailers provide customers with a seamless experience from start to finish, writes Klarna UK’s Luke Griffiths.

The holiday season is a potential goldmine for retailers, with Mintel estimating that retail sales will have amounted to £44.6bn ($62.8bn) by the end of 2017. But with the holiday rush over, what can retailers do to prepare for the squeeze in spending that invariably follows?

Prioritise your flexible payment offerings

The boom in e-commerce means that gone are the days of nine-to-five shopping – instead, people can visit their favourite shops at any time and from any place.

But greater convenience also means that consumers demand a seamless, swift and straightforward shopping experience, and merchants must make sure every stage of the online journey – from browsing, to point of purchase and delivery – is built with the customer in mind.

Giving shoppers flexible payment options – such as allowing them to pay after delivery, or stagger payments interest-free – will make consumers looking to take advantage of the sales more likely to shop with a particular merchant.

Invest in user experience

Every stage of the online shopping journey needs to be built with the customer in mind. While it is important to pique consumer interest in a product, closing a sale is crucial – so guiding customers through checkout must be as seamless and smooth as possible, all year round.

Klarna recently carried out a survey of 2,000 consumers, exploring consumers’ attitudes towards the shopping journey during the Christmas frenzy. Surveyed at the busiest time of the year, the results are indicative of the consumer journey throughout the rest of the year too.

The findings revealed that one in 10 respondents have abandoned their online basket in frustration when the process is too complex, suggesting there is still work to be done to smooth the purchase process online. To accomplish this, retailers must take a holistic view of the customer journey to encompass every touch point, keeping the customer in mind at each stage, no matter the device they are using to shop.

Avoiding clunky functionality is crucial: the more steps customers need to complete to check out, the more likely it is that they will get fed up and turn to a competitor with a mobile-optimised and frictionless online platform. Merchants can vastly improve user experience by introducing features such as one-click payments or digital wallets to help customers check out quickly and securely.

Plan for returns and exchanges

With the rise of e-commerce, online returns and exchanges have become big business for UK retailers today.

These are typically at their highest rates after the holidays, when consumers inundate shops with refund and exchange requests on unwanted presents – with one study predicting retailers will face up to £2.5bn worth of returns.

Returns were once an unwelcome cost of doing business, but today they are an important competitive differentiator for merchants, which must optimise their processes or risk being left behind by their competition.

Understandably, retailers might think twice about making returns cheaper and easier. Ultimately, it is an additional cost for them to bear – but it is a price well worth paying. Our research revealed that over half (57%) of people surveyed have been stuck with unwanted gifts they could not return in the past, a point of frustration and concern. Building a positive returns experience means consumers will spend more, safe in the knowledge that if something is not right, they can take it back.

While the first few months of the new year can be a quiet time for retailers, preparing correctly for this slump can help give your sales a boost. Consolidating your payments, design and returns processes will give you a commercial edge year-round – but there is no better time to focus and test these than during the quieter months.

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