christmas
Consumer Insights
October 10, 2016

E-commerce marketing tips for the holiday season

Recognize the difference between how consumers shop in October versus December, and adapt marketing to weather conditions.

While most retailers kick off their holiday campaigns sometime between September and November, according to eTail’s 2016 Retail Holiday Readiness Report, changes in the consumer journey and shopping behavior mean that brands should take a more nuanced approach to the calendar.

One way to think about marketing is to acknowledge the meaningful differences among shoppers depending on when they begin holiday shopping. For example, Connexity found that early holiday shoppers, who represent the smallest group, are more likely to be female and the primary household shopper. They are also 60 percent more likely to do their shopping online, meaning marketers may consider shifting their channel marketing resources from online initiatives to offline campaigns as the holidays get closer.

Late holiday shoppers, the largest segment, tend to be younger males — and they’re 80 percent more likely to ignore sales and promotions in their rush to get their gift-buying chore done. Shifting your messaging towards ease, rather than discounts or promotions, can be a more effective strategy for reaching last-minute buyers.

Mobile moments offer testing opportunities

Today 56% of online retail searches are initiated on mobile devices, according to the latest mobile report from Connexity’s’ Hitwise. The growth of appeal of mobile can unlock new opportunities for merchants, according to some experts I spoke with.

“Mobile allows for micro shopping moments throughout the year, rather than having one freefall shopping season,” Sunny Lee, Director of Strategy for Organic told me.

She advises clients to begin offering deals and promotions early in the year in order to gauge what’s most appealing. These are not test campaigns; they’re full-fledged promotions designed to activate customers, running alongside campaigns designed to build awareness and brand equity. These early promotions, she says, “give us a barometer as to the types of promotions and offers we activate in the fourth quarter.”

Bend the rules to remain adaptable

Beyond the calendar, other data sources may cause marketers to “bend the rules” of the consumer journey, according to Rick Watrall, Chief Analytics Officer for Horizon Media. “It may not follow the normal path.”

Weather, for example, can change things a lot. Horizon finds there’s a notable uptick in online sales during snowy days, when people stay home rather than go out to shop. So, although a brand may plan to spread out its advertising budget evenly throughout the holiday period, it might make sense to dial up the spending when the weather outside is frightful.

If a retailer has a strong programmatic platform, Watrall says, it could build this data point into its automated campaign. And eventually, programmatic buying platforms may have the capacity to automatically ingest weather data and use it to optimize campaigns in real time. At this point, it still takes human art and science to make the hypothesis, test it and quantify the result, Watrall says. “It’s not something an algorithm automatically spits out,” he explains.

Curation, personalization and inspiration

E-commerce and brick-and-mortar giants may have huge selection and competitive pricing, but the holiday shopping mentality is different from consumers’ grab-and-go attitude the rest of the year, according to Julie Quick, Senior Vice President of Shoptology, a shopper-marketing agency.

“Online has proven to be a great place to procure, but not to inspire or create impulse purchases,” she says. In order to inspire shoppers, “Online retailers need to rethink their algorithms and how data gets used. Look not just at what sold together, but what could be bought together.”

Last year, the largest multichannel retailers put significant effort into merging data across channels. They capture emails at points-of-sale, for example, to associate a unique identifier with in-store purchases, according to Ken Madden, Shoptology’s head of engagement.

This year, many big brands will be using that capability big-time. “You will see those online and offline purchases getting connected to create a more robust dataset—and react to them,” he says.

Here’s an example of how this might look in action: If one customer buys potting soil in the store and gardening tools online, the most competitive retailers will know to target them with an article on spring planting with links to buy seeds and bulbs.

This year holiday e-commerce sales are predicted to reach record highs. In order to cut a bigger piece of the pie, marketers must continue innovating and adapting their data strategy to support shoppers across their purchase journey.