All over the world, it’s getting near the time of year for enjoying feasts, friends and fellowship … for giving thanks and giving gifts.

As the year’s biggest shopping season begins, this is a perfect time to remember what customers and industry leaders alike have told us they expect – insights from the sales floor to the C-suite that are helping retailers end 2017 on a high note with holiday shoppers.

Convenience is king

Getting people what they want as soon as they need it is vital to winning customer praise and loyalty. From rapid delivery to hassle-free returns, shoppers have made it clear that they expect speed and convenience.

As JDA discovered in this year’s second annual JDA Voice of the Store Manager Survey, those fulfillment options have more to offer than just making returns happen faster. Now more than ever, retailers are able to leverage fulfillment services like “Buy Online, Return In-Store” (BORIS) and “Buy Online, Pickup In-Store” (BOPIS) to increase foot traffic and create more sales opportunities.

What this means for retailers: Half of the shoppers we asked in our third annual JDA Consumer Survey said that they had used BOPIS in the past year, with ability to get a product sooner cited as the main reason shoppers chose that option (33 percent of respondents). And 80 percent of respondents told us they’d consider buying online and picking up in-store if retailers offered a discount or other incentive. Those discounts can add value to the shopping experience – not to mention increasing the chances of additional sales when those customers come to pick up their purchases and see something else they can’t live without.

In a recent interview, Jim Prewitt, vice president of retail industry strategy at JDA Software, said a focus on customer convenience at all stages is key to growing your brand’s customer base and gaining a competitive edge – just as a lack of convenience could turn shoppers away during the high-stress, high-stakes holiday shopping season.

In-store shopping is still preferred

While online retailers and digital channels get plenty of attention in this fast-moving digital world, the facts speak for themselves: Research shows that most retail customers prefer shopping in a store, with the ability to buy merchandise off the shelves.

This year’s JDA Consumer Survey showed that 54 percent of consumers prefer shopping in-store over any other channel – including websites, mobile or social media. While rapid fulfillment options are making instant gratification easier via e-commerce channels, it’s hard to top walking out of a store with a purchase in hand.

In fact, 75 percent of respondents said they preferred a fast, hassle-free trip to a store where the goods they want are in stock over getting a personalized shopping experience.

What this means for retailers: Advertising the year’s hottest gifts won’t help if those goods aren’t on the shelves. And if shoppers can’t learn that you have the perfect gift for the perfect price, they’re less likely to come through your doors.

This year’s successful retailers have invested in solutions that are giving them the right level of inventory visibility, alongside unified commerce solutions that allow them to offer customers the best possible experience. And at the brick-and-mortar store, success also means having enough trained staff on hand to make sure shopping trips are fun and convenient.

How the right fulfillment options can drive traffic

Brick-and-mortar and online retailers alike can benefit from giving customers the fulfillment options they crave, as JDA’s 2017 Consumer Survey showed.

Shoppers and retailers alike plan ahead for the returns that often follow holiday gift-giving, and our survey found that your customers also want to make returns as simple as possible. More than 30 percent of our respondents had used BORIS to avoid the potential frustration of returning an item online. And about one in five consumers we surveyed said they believed they’d get a replacement product or refund faster by returning in-store.

Meanwhile, retailers are more empowered than ever before to give customers the right fulfillment options. JDA’s 2017 CEO Viewpoint: The Transformation of Retail, found retail executives increasing their investment in BOPIS, with 51 percent of survey respondents saying they offer or plan to offer BOPIS in the next 12 months – up from 47 percent in 2016.

Sixty percent of store managers surveyed planned to hire the same amount of temporary labor for the 2017 holiday season as they did last year, according to our Voice of the Store Manager Survey; 24 percent planned to hire more workers.

What this means for retailers: When you commit to offering the fulfillment services customers want, you’re also committing to the necessary staff to meet those demands. But the focus of these seasonal staff could be changing to meet customer demand: According to the managers we surveyed, over 40 percent of holiday hires are for fulfillment roles at stores and warehouses, not customer-facing positions. Planning ahead for seasonal hiring means understanding how customers’ needs and expectations are evolving.

For more insights and resources to help you make the most of Holiday 2017, visit the JDA Knowledge Center where you can find retailer and consumer surveys, infographics, podcasts and more.