For shoppers, the festive season has already begun – Here’s how retailers need to respond

Summer isn’t officially over yet, but that’s not stopping shoppers from starting their holiday shopping earlier than ever.

Inflation is driving 37 percent of customers to buy holiday gifts earlier this year, according to a June Salesforce survey. And big business is responding: Just before Labor Day, Walmart released its annual top games list a month earlier than last year, Worthy mentionted. Sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, Amazon will hold a second Prime Day event, which it calls “Prime Fall” in a note obtained by CNBC.

While customers typically do most of their holiday shopping closer to Black Friday and Cyber ​​Monday, that may not be the case this year, says Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School. Not only is inflation causing shoppers to fear that prices may rise closer to the December holidays, but lingering supply chain issues are raising concerns about adequately stocking shelves over the next three months, he says: “Everyone has different incentives to to shop early.”

Therefore, it is in the interest of a business to secure customers can do their holiday shopping early. This means that the gift items will be available as soon as possible. “I would set up now, but be careful not to put in the Christmas trees,” says Mark Cohen. Even if customers have already started their holiday shopping, they are likely to be irritated by such an overt, early push into the holiday season.

And as for the prices? It’s not the time to push sales and markdowns, says Mark Cohen, but it’s a good idea to sell inventory early because selling later will likely be more expensive due to inflation. In addition, adds Marshal Cohen, chief retail consultant at global market research firm NPD Group, you want to reach customers before they have hit their budget. For this reason, he adds, promoting opt-out options may be a good idea for some businesses.

You’ll also want to take a look at any existing return policies you offer, says NPD’s Cohen: If you have a 30-day return policy, consider extending it to cover gift returns after the holidays. “The ease of returns is something very important,” he says.

For small businesses, staying competitive with giants like Amazon and Walmart will remain as challenging as ever — but they can keep up, as long as they play to their strengths. This means maintaining strong customer service, keeping inventory levels high and understanding customer wants. “Now is not the time to breathe a sigh of relief and not start your vacation hiring,” says Columbia’s Cohen. “It’s not a good idea to step back and say ‘things are back to normal.’

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