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The holiday season is a period of great intensity and excitement for retailers. Not only does it make up a disproportionate amount of yearly revenue, the season also represents an emotional experience for many shoppers. This makes it a significant opportunity for retailers to leave lasting impressions and forge strong customer relationships.

This year there is much for retailers to be grateful for, as despite rising tariffs, trade tensions and global economic slowdown, we can still expect a record number of consumers to part with their hard-earned money.

According to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail projections, online sales are poised to grow in the range of 14% to 18% compared with 2018 (). If this forecasting proves correct, that would constitute an even more impressive growth than the 11.2% jump in online holiday sales that the consulting firm has estimated.

In light of this impressive outlook, we’ve decided to break down what retailers can really expect from the holiday season and how can they best take advantage of these trends.

Capturing revenue during a shorter holiday period

Digital spending during November and December is expected to reach $143.7 billion in 2019. According to Rod Sides, vice chairman, Deloitte U.S. retail and distribution sector leader:  “Based on a growth in consumer disposable income and spending indicators, retailers, across channels, should expect a strong holiday season in 2019”.

CyberWeek – which includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday – is forecast to drive 20% of all online holiday sales this year. If we take a look at projections from Adobe (source), we notice Cyber Monday sales are expected to hit $9.4 billion, up nearly 19% from last year while Black Friday sales online are expected to be $7.5 billion, up 20.3%. Thanksgiving Day sales on the internet are forecast to surge 19.5%, to $4.4 billion.

Despite this positive outlook for Cyberweek and the holiday season overall, the main challenge facing retailers is that this holiday season includes six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared to last year. This means that seasonal retailers are going to have to fight harder within a shorter timeframe to capture this rich market and achieve those shopping cart payments. In fact, those six lost days from the 2018 holiday season could theoretically leave nearly $1 billion in sales on the table. This will lead retailers to start discounts and sales operations earlier than in past seasons and focus on new loyalty programme perks such as optimised delivery options or even in-store events.

In light of the challenge presented by this shorter holiday season, we’ve decided to provide some tips on how retailers can prepare for this influx of holiday traffic and really boost sales within this shorter timeframe…

A conscious experience with fast delivery

Shoppers prioritise experiences over buying “stuff.” Whatever the selling channel is, marketing copy and imagery should help shoppers understand how the product will create a positive or healthful experience. Indeed, according to Euromonitor (source), 60% of Millennials and more than half of Gen X and Gen Z link their choices back to improving the world they live in. Also, global consumers would rather buy fewer, higher-quality goods as opposed to living in a throw-away culture.

In order to appeal to holiday shoppers considering every purchase with care, the buying funnel must highlight a company or a product’s sustainability practices and give greater play to products with a conscious angle. For instance, a customer might need to learn more about the materials and ingredients in the products and the retailer can easily provide that information on product pages, along with fair trade practices and materials sourcing pages. It’s important to highlight the benefits of the product in the ad copy and imagery.

But that is not all. A fast and on-time delivery is also key to finalising the sale process. Indeed, in Convey’s survey (source), 56.2% of consumers said displaying the estimated delivery date in the shopping cart can convince them to complete orders while 28.6% of shoppers saying they’d be more likely to buy if the order would arrive within a week.

No matter if it’s standard, two-day, or overnight shipping, shoppers expect to receive their orders when promised. Furthermore, because holiday shopping brings out the procrastinator in many shoppers, retailers must make sure the delivery systems can handle the time-sensitive demands or they risk facing negative customer feedback and losing their trust.

In the case that shipping is delayed, 98.3% of Convey’s survey respondents stated that they would want a notification – up more than 10% from last year – highlighting the importance of mobile optimisation. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that merchants analyse their customers’ feedback during this peak period to avoid negative responses and the mistrust that could harm the prospects of future custom.

“We’ve seen retailers continue to improve customer experience, invest in the fundamentals and leverage relationships with innovative startups to boost engagement and efficiency. But, convenience is the new retail currency; retailers who offer seamless experiences, have products available and can deliver items more quickly than ever are most likely to win this holiday season.” said Rod Sides, Deloitte LLP.

Mobile shopping and notifications

Another factor to consider is the way customers will buy their holiday gifts: catalogues, in store, website or mobile. In 2018 Forrester’s retail study found smartphones will be used in more than one-third of total U.S. retail sales at some point in the retail buying process (including product and price research as well as purchases) this year. (source)

The increasing prevalence of smartphones enables clear communication throught the shopping experience, which is key to a positive experience. Indeed, a clear communication during the buying cycle gives the customer realistic expectations, building trust and satisfaction. This can be in the form of push notifications, which offer a communication channel that is direct but also personalised, making them perfect to engage with customers who are drawn into ads. In order to send the perfectly targeted push notification, it is important to define specific segments including interest and needs but also gender or device type.

Push notifications do not cease to be a useful communication channel after a specific shopping experience either. In fact , push notifications could be used in a number of additional ways, such as a one-time notification to promote an exclusive offer or a product or an automated notification based on the user activity. Retailers should keep in mind that a good push notification is also a notification that will lead the customer to a specific page, whether it’s a product page or their abandoned cart.

Another particularly appealing element of mobile marketing is the ability to have app-exclusive offers and events. By positioning an app as the hub for exclusive content, the retailer will drive not only downloads, but also engagement and conversions.

Shopping experience and data-oriented content

For an even more seamless experience, data collected during the shopper’s online experience can be used to adapt web content to each customer to induce further purchases and, in instances where the shopping experience has been abandoned, prompt the customer to return to the site. 

The easiest feature to implement is exclusive discounts or special offers on a product if a shopping cart has been abandoned, which can be sent via push notifications. But there are many more that can be implemented – for instance, the “similar products” banner at the bottom of a page or a link to the perfect associated product. This approach helps a shopper navigate a mobile site with ease as the user doesn’t have to conduct new searches for products, potentially boosting the number of products in the cart.

What about videos? When a shopper is on a product page, swiping through a product image carousel, the final image could be a video. The content starts with a swipe, and generally shows a model wearing the clothes and walking in them to demonstrate their fit – in fashion, this process goes a long way. The same applies for the increasingly common “truefit” information on product detail pages, which usually uses consumer data to inform which size is most likely to fit. This feature enhances the mobile experience and helps move the user through the buying journey.

Online shopping and social media

While investments like catalogues and store displays are generally a necessary part of successful holiday marketing, retailers can give them added value by connecting them back to their mobile website.  Indeed, with the help of social media, a proper link between the retailer to its audience can be established and the product promotion can become even more effective on visual platforms.

Statistics show that consumers love to have the ability to shop directly from images of products – as with Instagram Shopping, Snapchat or even Pinterest. When an app user views that image, they’ll see links to those exact products, without needing to expend extra time tapping and searching for the item that initially caught their eye. Considering that 42 percent of Millennials are partial to shoppable photos, favouring mobile over desktop for online shopping (source), and 25 percent of shoppers will use shoppable photos this holiday season, this option is worth considering.

It is a tactic that is especially effective since social media tends to be accessed on mobile devices – the potential customer is just a few taps away from getting their hands on those great deals in the holiday sales season.