Making the Most of the Holiday Season
Although consumer budgets continue to remain tight this year, online retailers have little reason to worry. Consumers, who previously thronged brick and mortar stores during the holiday season, are shifting their focus to online shopping. What is attracting these shoppers to online stores? In addition to the convenience of saying goodbye to the crowded stores catering to last-minute-shoppers, the availability of discounts is a big crowd-puller. According to the 2011 Holiday Shopper Survey:
- 79% of shoppers said saving money was one of the reasons they preferred shopping online.
- This, along with other reasons like saving time (77%), easily locating products (76%) etc have made online shopping a hot favorite this holiday season.
- 56% shoppers surveyed said that they planned to spend about the same on shopping this year (during the holidays) as they did in 2010.
The above statistics indicate that this is the perfect opportunity for online retailers to get their sales charts soaring. Marketers, who may not have had such a great year so far in terms of revenue, are looking forward to making up for this. Going by the Shop.org’s eHoliday survey, 68% digital marketers are expecting to see a +15% growth over last year. One of the crucial things that brands need to keep in mind is that, although people may not make immediate purchases, they are definitely doing their research online before deciding to buy; which is why we recommend marketers to be one step ahead.
- Planning Ahead
With the holiday season just around-the-corner, there is one thing that both consumers as well as online marketers are doing i.e. planning ahead. The fact that 61% consumers (2011 Holiday Shopper Survey) are planning to first check-out a product on the web before spending their hard-earned-money means brands have much planning to do. Before overwhelming consumers with irrelevant or one-too-many promotional messages, here are some things that brands need to check in their to-do list:
- Research Social Buzz Considering how lucrative the returns can be, the temptation to launch that Facebook campaign or upload the Christmas special promotional video on YouTube may be tough to pass up. However, diving into the vast and highly crowded world of online marketing without doing some background research may not be the best approach. Our advice? Make use of social media monitoring tools like Brand Monitor™ to a) monitor the buzz surrounding your brand and determine if you need to tweak your existing marketing strategy b) find out what social media channels are most popular with your target audience c) determine the demographic that is likely to buy your products and aim marketing messages accordingly and d) know what time of the day are your consumers most likely to engage with your brand.
- Start Early: The secret to a successful online holiday campaign is to start early instead of focusing on the holidays as they happen. Social media creates buzz for the product way ahead of the launch phase, thereby increasing demand. The Shop.org study indicates that 52.9% of retailers planned on starting their promotions by Halloween. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Free Shipping Day fast approaching, and Christmas not too far away, brands can entice shoppers by treating them to early deals, alerting them about special promotions and offering seasonal discounts. In our opinion, enticing customers with the prospect of avoiding the last minute rush is also a good way to stay ahead of the competition.
- Identify Your Competitors: This is where social media monitoring tools come to the rescue…yet again. Keeping a tab on competitor activity is a vital part of the planning process. This helps a) position yourself better to attract customers b) determine how you can design your holiday special promotional material to be different from or better than that of your competitors’ c) understand where you stand in a crowded, competitive environment. Monitoring competitor activity is also a great way to find the gaps and fill them in, giving consumers a good reason to choose your brand over others in the industry.
- Preparing for the ‘What-If’ Situations: For both marketers as well as consumers, the holiday season can be chaotic and sometimes stressful. Consumers, who are looking for last-minute deals or are facing problems accessing a coupon, have little patience with brands that are slow to respond and may end up looking for alternatives. Although many social media savvy brands today have a crisis communication plan in place, it would be a good idea to customize it for the holiday season. The holiday season for instance, brings with it a deluge of questions around return policies, complaints regarding shipping issues etc. Considering the tight deadlines that marketers have to work with during this time, it would be smart to plan ahead for certain ‘what-if’ situations that could arise and not risk being caught off-guard.
- The Must-Haves of Holiday Special Campaigns
Consider this; Forrester Research has predicted e-commerce sales to climb 15% in the holiday period this year. Despite the economy being in the recovery phase since 2008, shoppers, who tighten their purse strings throughout the year, don’t mind indulging during the holidays; and 2011 is going to be no different. Also, the otherwise cautious marketers are a little more indulgent in their investments. What makes shoppers indulge and how can online marketers design their strategies to make the most of consumers’ willingness to spend during the holidays? Let’s look at some must-haves of holiday special campaigns:
- Time-Sensitive Deals: The holiday season, for most marketers, significantly impacts their financial goals, making the last two months of the year a crucial time to announce those half-price sales and discounts. As for consumers, they are only too happy fill in their shopping carts. Timing those deals in accordance with the key dates is a good way to increase sales. Black Friday, for example, is synonymous with online shopping deals, with Green Monday, Cyber Monday and Free Shipping Day being the other hot favorites. According to ComScore’s 2010 Holiday Spending Data, e-commerce spending for the first 49 days of the November – December 2010 holiday season was up by 12% ($28.36 billion spent online) in comparison with the previous year. Thanksgiving Day particularly saw a 28% increase in online spending. These statistics further highlight the importance of time-sensitive deals and are a good reason why digital marketers should develop a specific marketing strategy for each day.
- Holiday-Special Social Media/Web Pages: Designing a creative Facebook or Twitter page for the holiday season is a good way to attract consumers and does wonders to brands’ visibility online. Best Buy’s Facebook page is a great example of what a holiday special webpage should look like. Besides focusing on the season-special offers, the festive images and colors used further add to the visual appeal.
- Throw in Some Benefits:
Besides discounts and special offers, if there’s something else that stressed-out shoppers would love during the holidays are added benefits like getting early access to sale prices, hassle-free delivery of purchases and free shipping. Although consumers are willing to pay the full price for the product that they ‘absolutely have to have’, they consider high shipping costs to be one of the deterrents that prevents them from making an online purchase. The 2011 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey shows that 45% consumers felt that high shipping costs is one of the top reasons why they wouldn’t shop online. Despite free shipping being an important driver of e-commerce, offering this benefit to all their shoppers all the time is impractical for online marketers. A wise approach, in our opinion, would be to a) offer free shipping on all orders, but for only limited periods or during the holidays or b) offer this service only to repeat customers and those who make purchases exceeding a certain amount.
- Get Creative:
It is no secret that creativity is a crucial deciding factor as far as the success of a campaign is concerned. With an overload of season special campaigns during the October-December period, a creative digital campaign stands out and gets the brand noticed. After posting unsatisfactory results over the last three quarters, retailer Gap is doing everything it can in the social media marketing ‘how to’ book to turn their fortunes around this holiday season. On checking out their recently launched ‘I want Candy’ campaign on Facebook and YouTube, we have every reason to believe that the company’s marketing team has been at their creative best. Launched to increase their Children wear business during the holidays, the USP of the campaign is music video featuring viral music sensation, Maria Aragon. This, along with exclusive offers ($5 off or 50% off one regularly priced item) for those who share videos with their friends, makes this campaign something to watch out for.
- The Role of Mobile
The modern consumer is almost always on-the-go and has little time to spend browsing through shopping lists over PC’s and even laptops. As far as visiting actual brick-and-mortar stores is concerned, they would rather make purchase decisions based on the information they can access on their mobiles or smartphones. For retailers, this means making their webpages mobile friendly in order to better meet the requirements of today’s shoppers. A recent PayPal survey of smartphone and tablet owners shows that holiday m-commerce could nearly crack the half-way mark this season, with 46% consumers planning to make holiday purchases via mobile devices this year. To know how the advent of the mobile age influences or has changed consumers’ shopping behavior during the holiday season and what can retailers do to benefit from this, brands have to first understand three aspects of m-commerce:
- What Are Consumers Looking for?
According to a 2011 Mojiva survey, consumers are using their mobile devices to look for:
- Product Information: 56% respondents want to do their homework via mobile before visiting actual stores or even buying online.
- Coupons/Sale Information: Coupons, special offers and information on sales is a driving factor for 56% mobile shoppers.
- Product reviews: For 53% respondents, what their friends have to say about a product or service on various social networking channels will greatly influence their holiday purchasing behavior.
- Store Information: 51% shoppers looked for the nearest store that sells their product via their smartphones and mobiles.
- Buying Products: 32% will actually buy the products through their mobile devices.
- How Can Marketers Help this Decision Making Process? From the Mojiva survey, it is clear that research is majorly what consumers will use their mobile devices for. With so little time and so much to shop, mobile devices are the perfect solution for time-strapped holiday shoppers. For marketers, it all comes down to making it convenient for them. Here’s what we suggest:
- Create mobile friendly websites for your brand(s) and include all the required information in an easy-to-navigate format. Smartphone users often scan the bar code to obtain product details see if it is actually discounted. Also tailor your marketing messages for the mobile channel by keeping in mind text-limitations, mobile capabilities and handset variations into account.
- Allow customers to download coupons via smartphones. Consumers sometimes do this when they are at the physical location.
- Provide a link to map directions. Consumers who are driving around will find it much more convenient to locate your store from their mobile devices by following the directions provided.
- Provide customer reviews to mobile users. This can immensely influence how they shop, especially during last-minute shopping excursions.
- What Are Consumers Looking for?
Despite being weighed down by financial constraints during the rest of the year, otherwise frugal consumers are loosening their purse strings when shopping during the holiday season. According to Matthew Shay, president-CEO of the National Retail Foundation, retailers are “optimistic that a combination of strong promotions and lean inventory levels will help them address consumer caution this holiday season.” The attraction of season-special offers and promotions is expected to be a major crowd puller during the October-December period this year. However, shoppers also recognize value beyond low prices, with a significant number looking for added benefits like free shipping and timely delivery of purchases.
With people starting to shop as early as Halloween, retailers are designing their holiday special online marketing strategies earlier than expected. Online shopping means saying goodbye to crowded shopping malls and long billing queues; therefore it is unsurprising to see consumers hitting the web much earlier than expected this year. For online marketers looking to keep up with the ever changing taste of consumers, the choice is between staying one step ahead and getting left behind. Keeping this in mind, marketers have increased focus on time-sensitive deals and creative social media campaigns. Although the coupon collectors and discounts seekers will continue their quest for the best deals, we expect to see a significant increase in the percentage of holiday shoppers who do their research online before making a purchase.
While the experienced online retailer knows that offers and deals almost always guarantee healthy revenues, the modern marketer’s attention is diverted to the next big thing in online marketing; m-commerce. With IBM expecting 15% of online shoppers in the US logging into a retailer’s website via their mobile devices this year, retailers are tweaking their digital marketing strategies to offer a smarter and a more convenient shopping experience to this fast-growing demographic. For social media marketers and online retailers, the last three months of the year hold a lot of promise and offer the opportunity to make up for slowing sales during the rest of the year. With a little smart planning and adequate preparation, this should be easily achievable.