Gap and Levi's digital leaders: Holiday shopping will be unpredictable - Business Insider

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11/28/2020 4:34:00 PM

Digital leaders at Gap and Levi's say omnichannel offerings will be more important than ever as they gear up for an unpredictable holiday shopping season

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Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty ImagesThis story is available exclusively to Business Insider subscribers.Become an Insiderand start reading now.The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the traditional holiday shopping calendar. And, more shoppers are bound to make more of their purchases online than in the past. 

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Digital leaders at Gap Inc. and Levi Strauss & Co. say they've rolled out new omnichannel capabilities to make sure they're ready for how consumers want to shop this year. "We don't know exactly what to expect," Marc Rosen, executive vice president and president of Levi Strauss Americas, said to Business Insider. "What we do know is that we are going to be prepared for consumers no matter how they want to shop."

Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.This holiday shopping season is set to be unlike any before, serving as a fitting end to a year that has disrupted many industries, including retail. The theme of the season, at least according to Marc Rosen, executive vice president and president of Levi Strauss Americas, is unpredictability. headtopics.com

"We don't know exactly what to expect," he said to Business Insider. "What we do know is that we are going to be prepared for consumers no matter how they want to shop."Rosen was recently tapped to lead a new Digital Enterprise Office for Levi Strauss & Co., working with the company's technology, business, data, and artificial intelligence leaders to set a digital-first agenda for the future.

To get ready for the holiday season and keep up with the demand for online shopping that has exploded during the pandemic, Levi's has been boosting its omnichannel capabilities, expanding its buy-online-pickup-in-store, curbside pickup, and ship-from-store services, Rosen said. It's also building up its loyalty program and app. 

Marc Rosen is leading a new Digital Enterprise Office for Levi Strauss & Co.Levi's"We're looking for all different ways to connect and help the consumer find the product, because we know it's going to be very different, and different people are at different comfort levels for how they want to shop and how they want to be served this year," he said.

Read more: 3 business areas Levi's is prioritizing to help it grow sales after the pandemic created a reckoning for jeansJohn Strain, the chief technology and digital officer at Gap Inc., similarly emphasized how important omnichannel services will be this holiday season. The retailer, which owns Gap, Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic, and Intermix, reported in third-quarter earnings on November 25 that it saw a 61% increase in online net sales year-over-year. headtopics.com

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Like Levi's, Gap Inc. has expanded its pickup options, but executives acknowledge that some customers will still want to shop in stores. It has also launched virtual stylist services at Athleta and Intermix. "From an overall society perspective, we are getting to the point where omnichannel is almost an expectation," Strain told Business Insider. 

Both Rosen and Strain said that safety would be a top priority in stores. "In a lot of locations, we have capacity constraints in place," Rosen said. "And so what we're focused on is how do we make that the best, most efficient experience for consumers when they come."

He added that Levi's has rolled out the ability to allow customers to make an appointment to shop, as well as a virtual queuing tool that can alert shoppers via text when it's their turn to come inside. Strain said that Gap recently launched a doorbell feature, which shoppers can ring to let store associates know they've arrived at the store parking lot. Before the pandemic, the company largely looked at omnichannel services as an alternative to traditional fulfillment.

 "What we realized is it's actually an engagement opportunity, and it really does provide us the path to be able to support our customers in new ways, which I think is a tremendous opportunity going forward," Strain added. John Strain is the chief technology and digital officer at Gap Inc. headtopics.com

Gap Inc.A shifting calendarEven the traditional holiday shopping calendar has changed due to the pandemic. In a typical year, retailers launch their best deals on Thanksgiving orBlack Friday.But, many retailers have opted to get their holiday deals going earlier this year. Gap and Levi's, for example, began advertising their Black Friday sales well before Thanksgiving, though Levi's rebranded the shopping holiday "Indigo Friday" a few years ago, in a nod to its denim offerings. 

Rosen said the idea behind offering deals throughout the holiday season is that shoppers can choose to shop when and where works best for them. That means that Black Friday as a must-win shopping holiday will be less important overall."I do think the importance of that single day will be much less this year," Rosen said. "We think a lot of our business has probably already happened and started all the way from late October until now. We also think that it is going to continue into the season through December, because I think what consumers are going to know and trust to see differently this year is that that deal isn't just a single day or a single weekend deal."

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Strain added that the "entire season is so important" to Gap, but at the same time, the company wanted to make sure its sites were ready for a high volume of web traffic over the Black Friday weekend. He said the surge of online shopping that has happened due to the pandemic this year has helped the company prepare for the potentially big sales weekend. 

"We have had some monster days outside of the peak [time of year]," Strain said. "So actually the surge in volume that we have really witnessed all year long has been a great prep for us as well."NewsletterThe biggest stories in fast food, shopping, and more. Sign up for Insider Retail.

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