Although most retailers have already placed the bulk—if not all—of their orders for the holidays, several are making smaller bets up front and analyzing early sales results to determine if they want to shore up their investment on certain items or colors. Two retailers using this strategy are Gap-owned Old Navy and L Brands' Victoria's Secret.
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For those who have already finalized their merchandising decisions, there's still some wiggle room in terms of where they'll flow that product to best capitalize on sales trends and cut down on delivery costs, said Rod Sides, U.S. consulting leader for retail and distribution at Deloitte.
"They can look at trends by geography [to determine] where a certain trend shows promise," he said.
Retailers are also using the fall selling season as a means to test processes that enable shoppers to buy merchandise online and pick it up in store.
Kohl's, which completed the rollout of this capability during the second quarter, said it will begin marketing the feature in the fall as it looks to shore up the percentage of online orders that are fulfilled in this manner. Currently, online orders that are picked up in store account for only about 2 to 3 percent of its digital purchases.
Though there has been significant buzz related to in-store pickup across the industry, HRC Advisory President Farla Efros said many retailers didn't realize how quickly consumers would come to expect these capabilities. As a result, they remain "quite behind."
"It's really about having the right infrastructure to be able to support the consumer demand," she said.
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Another way retailers are responding to consumers' shifting demands is through social media. Efros said that during the back-to-school shopping season, companies put a greater social emphasis on wants-versus-needs-based items, in an attempt to capitalize on consumers' renewed confidence.
That doesn't mean deals are no longer important. Barr said retailers are also playing with their promotional strategies to see the types and timing of deals that best resonate with shoppers.
"One of the main levers that they can pull is to try to have that initial touchpoint with the consumer," he said. "They have a limited amount of spend, [so] they're trying to capture that earlier."