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All Wrapped up 2019: The End of the Decade That Changed Retail Forever

All wrapped up 2019

You’ve likely read the big headlines throughout the holidays — here's why the 2019 shopping season was undoubtedly unique.

Life looked different when we started the last decade. Smart assistants didn’t exist, and self-driving cars were still a sci-fi fantasy. You had to book a taxi for a ride to the airport and food delivery was a perk that existed in only the biggest cities. Our mobile phones were still mostly for talk and text, and we couldn’t imagine that we’d be able to search for products using images, let alone our voice. But here we are. As we begin the new decade in an era where so many industries and services have become democratized, we’re taking this opportunity to reflect on the last holiday season of the previous decade.

The 2019 holiday shopping season was undoubtedly unique. Thanks to a later-than-average US Thanksgiving holiday, shoppers had six fewer days to complete their holiday purchases. Retailers raced to shoppers’ inboxes, encouraging early shoppers to snag great deals and beat the pitfalls of the late holiday season rush. No doubt, you’ve likely read the big headlines throughout the record-breaking holiday season. Below we’ve outlined all of the 2020 resolutions you should make based on the lessons of 2019.

Resolve to make every day a shopping event

Marketers were successful at drumming up early demand in advance of Cyber Week. And shoppers were paying attention. Digital traffic grew 13% on the week leading up to Cyber Week with shoppers eager to scope out the latest products and deals. But that didn’t mean that shoppers were ready to pull out their credit cards. Digital orders were up only 9% pre-Cyber Week. Shoppers were loud and clear — they are going to shop on their own terms.

Cyber Week 2019 was one for the record books, with global digital revenue growing 15% to $143B. Black Friday continued to be the number one global digital shopping day and, in the US, it continued to steal demand away from Cyber Monday. Across the globe, Thanksgiving Day emerged as a major shopping event — proving once again that shoppers are going to act when it’s best for them.

Cyber Monday continued its reign as the top digital discount day, but a new trend emerged this year. The second best day for scoring digital deals was not during Cyber Week. Brands and retailers kept the party going and extended the discounting to the Tuesday after Cyber Monday. Coincidentally, this Tuesday marked the halfway point for digital revenue spent across the entire season, three whole days earlier than last year.

Digital spending in the latter half of the season softened, as digital revenue dipped below last year in the week before Christmas. Undoubtedly, shoppers who had missed the shipping cutoff headed into the physical store to snag those last-minute purchases. Overall, the season saw global digital revenue grow 8% across the entire season, totaling $723B in sales. But one lesson that consumers gave us this year is that shopping is going to happen on their terms, whenever and however.

Resolve to get mobile

While this one may be at the top of all our personal resolutions lists, for brands and retailers it may be even more important. And no, we aren’t talking about hitting the gym. The year 2019 ended with mobile being the number one device driving digital traffic and orders. To put that into context, we began the decade with mobile driving very little (if any) digital traffic or orders. As we head into 2020, shoppers are more comfortable than ever shopping on the small screen. This holiday season, peak days, like Christmas Day, saw up to 80% of digital traffic and 65% of digital orders come through a mobile device. A mobile-first world is already here, and a mobile-first strategy is likely already an integral part of your digital strategy. In 2020, find ways to integrate the mobile experience into the physical for a true omnichannel shopping journey.

Resolve to get personal

As retail moves to the small screen (a.k.a., mobile), getting the right product in front of shoppers is becoming increasingly more challenging. With quicker and smaller shopping sessions, retailers have a narrow window to land the digital conversion. While the stakes are high, the benefits are higher: our survey found that shoppers’ favorite brands cater to their unique needs and truly understand who they are. Does getting to know your customer through heaps of data sound daunting? This is where artificial intelligence (AI) saves the day. AI is critical for brands and retailers who don’t want to waste any time and for shoppers who have to make tough gifting decisions. On peak days, 10% of digital orders contained products that were recommended to shoppers through AI. Even during the gifting season, AI is proving just how valuable it truly is for brands, retailers, and shoppers.

Resolve to break down the walls

Brands and retailers started the last decade operating within the confines of their own four walls. Back then, retailing was simple. Shoppers came, and brands and retailers were in control of the experience within their own stores (digital and physical). But today, the traditional retailing model has been turned upside down. In large part thanks to social media and the influencers who grew the platforms to what they are today, brands and retailers have far less control over the experiences their shoppers are having. In fact, nearly 1 in 10 online purchases are now made on emerging digital purchase points like voice and social media. We call these emerging digital touchpoints "shopping at the edge." With Gen Zers 3.5x more likely than Baby Boomers to purchase on emerging digital purchase points, shopping at the edge is poised to become the norm over time. In 2019, we saw the peak of commerce extending beyond brands’ and retailers’ properties. On peak days during the 2019 holiday shopping season, over 10% of mobile traffic and 7% of mobile orders came from a social referring channel.

But it’s not just the commerce experience that brands and retailers have to worry about. Every single touchpoint from marketing to service has the potential to happen off property. And one of the fastest-growing marketing channels? SMS. Messages sent to mobile phones grew by 134% during Cyber Week. The message from 2019 was clear: shoppers want to engage on their own terms. In the next decade, it will be critical to take yourself to your shoppers.

Resolve to bet on brick and mortar

Speaking of walls, this holiday season proved that the in-store experience is more important than ever. Brands and retailers offering click and collect (or buy online pick up in store – BOPIS) saw 56% more active shoppers in the last five days leading up to Christmas compared to those with stores not offering the perk. And the benefits didn’t end there, sites offering BOPIS captured 18% more revenue after the retail ground shipping cutoff. While the end of the store has been forecast for years, shoppers are telling us something much different. In fact, 81% of shoppers report that they prefer the physical store to make their purchases. So what’s the real story behind the store? Well, the answer lies beyond the products it sells. Shoppers crave experiences. Consumers, even those in younger generations, seek out stores that offer unique experiences. Fifty-one percent of Gen Z shoppers have attended a pop-up store, while 42% participated in a social event or demo inside a store. Brands and retailers offering a great in-store experience (or perk, like BOPIS) are reaping the rewards in customer loyalty. Shopping today is no longer transactional, it’s experiential. Getting this wrong has its consequences: 25% of shoppers have taken their business elsewhere as a direct result of a poor in-store experience.

Resolve to be nimble

If the last decade taught us anything, it’s that legacy retailing is over. Social media has allowed niche and digitally native players to gain audience share over some of the largest and well-known brands and retailers that have been mainstays in malls for decades. The democratization of retail over the last 10 years has put shoppers in the driver’s seat. Don’t be afraid to dust off the cobwebs of the 10’s (and even the 00’s) and get creative with how you engage your shoppers in the new decade. Think experience over product. Think sustainability over value. And be prepared to push yourself beyond the confines of your four walls.

Want more tools and technologies to build your brand? Create stronger relationships with every shopper interaction this holiday season (or any season). We’ve compiled our top tips and helpful how-tos that address your most common retail challenges all year long.

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