Here in the Northeast U.S., the spring flowers have just begun to bloom, but Salesforce Commerce Cloud is already working with retailers to kick their Christmas/Holiday readiness plans into high gear. In fact we recently hosted a Holiday Readiness webinar series that turned out to be one of our most well-attended virtual events ever.

Here’s a synopsis, with links to each session:

The keynote, presented by our Senior Director of Industry Strategy Insights Rick Kenney, and Jason Pawloski, Senior Director of Direct-to-Consumer Technology at Wolverine Worldwide, provided an in-depth look back at the 2016 holiday shopping season, including key insights and shopping trends, and investment opportunities that will directly impact your success for the 2017 holiday season.

Two examples: how should retailers shift priorities to deal with the fact that Black Friday (not Cyber Monday) is the new #1 digital shopping day? And how should they accommodate for the new rules of Cyber Week where shoppers “graze,” visiting sites more than twice as often before buying?

The virtual event also featured three breakout sessions, on Operations, Innovations and Unified Commerce.

Operations examined the impact that retailers’ operations have on peak season performance, including shipping practices, customer service engagement, return policies, and marketing campaigns. Topics include:

  • Supporting cross­-channel shopping with robust store locator pages
  • Using social media messaging apps for customer service
  • Meeting consumer expectations for holiday shipping including:
    • same-day delivery
    • real-time delivery windows on product detail pages
  • Reducing post ­holiday returns
  • Real-life examples of operational success including:
    • One retailer’s creative returns policy; In exchange for “keeping” the sale, ModCloth only pays for return shipping when shoppers make an exchange or agree to a store credit.

The Innovations session examined technology trends, retail innovations, and insights into Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. Topics include:

  • Digital shopping tools and innovative last minute gift promotions
    • Online gift builders
    • Video gift cards in mobile app
    • E-gifting
  • Mobile payment methods that increase conversion
    • Apple Pay was used for 2.6% of all orders across Commerce Cloud customers during holiday 2016
    • Mobile conversion for Apple users was 28% higher for those with Apple Pay than those without
  • Artificial intelligence and the power of predictive commerce
  • Real-life examples of innovative, unified shopping strategies

The Unified Commerce session featured speakers from Deloitte Digital, and examined the value of creating a single, seamless shopping experience across every channel, both online and in the store. Topics include:

  • Personalizing the customer journey as shoppers move across retail channels
  • The power of conversational commerce and targeted clienteling featuring a case study of men’s clothier Suitsupply
  • Chatbots and dynamic advertising that delivers holiday gift suggestions
  • Best practices for buy online, pick up in-store, with examples from Pier 1, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and PetSmart.

In addition, Deloitte shared research findings around consumer trends, market disruptions, and fragmentation observed during the 2016 holiday shopping season, and what brands should focus on to transform their retail environment and create a unified commerce experience.

A key takeaway: retail disrupters will be those that embrace a unified commerce platform supporting all customer touchpoints and channels, eliminating integration issues and supporting real-time visibility.

It might be tempting for retailers to take their foot off the gas after the peak selling season, or to prolong holiday readiness planning until the season is bearing down. But that would be a mistake. Early planning, marked by a constant state of readiness and innovation, is the key to success for the most important selling season of the year.