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The Holiday Shopping Season Starts … Right Now?

Shoppers are getting a much earlier start on the holidays. Here's how retailers can make the most of this opportunity.

Person holding holiday shopping season bags
This year's holiday shopping season may begin much earlier. [Chelsea Victoria/Stocksy]

A holiday shopping season that starts in October — or earlier? Hear us out.

Last year, between shipping delays and a rescheduled Amazon Prime Day, the 2020 holiday calendar changed radically. Cyber Week lost some share of spending as consumers turned out early to avoid shipping delays that had started as far back as March. The result of the extended holiday was that 2020 became the biggest digital shopping season to date. Consumers spent $1.1 trillion online worldwide and $236 billion in the U.S., compared to $723 billion worldwide and $165 billion in the U.S. the previous year.

This year, we anticipate that shoppers will continue to enjoy a longer season, actively choosing to avoid likely challenges during the thick of the holidays, like delays and out-of-stock inventory. The end result: We’re predicting that the upcoming holiday shopping season will begin an entire month earlier than the traditional start date of Thanksgiving.

Here’s how retailers can meet the demands of a longer peak-season timeline.

Make every channel a holiday shopping channel

Imagine a shopper scrolls through Instagram one day and sees a sponsored post that sparks inspiration for a gift for a friend. They click on the post to see product details and are redirected to the brand’s mobile app, which is already on their phone. They place the order using a mobile wallet option, but change their mind on the delivery location after the order is confirmed. They then connect with an agent through Instagram to update the delivery info, and tack on gift wrapping and a special message.

Scenarios like this will play out thousands of times during the holiday season. That’s because customers today use an average of nine channels to browse inventory, seek advice, and make purchases, with a noted increase in messenger apps, social media, and text messaging.

No matter where or how often shoppers interact with your brand, each experience needs to be consistent. The key is to connect the entire shopping experience to your commerce platform with application programming interfaces (APIs). Secure APIs integrate third-party platforms like Pinterest to your core commerce platform so that someone can easily shift from searching for craft ideas to shopping your holiday sale.

Turn social into a one-stop holiday shop

Social channels are offering fun, personality-driven shopping experiences that you can’t find at the local mall. Retailers can convert followers into shoppers with exclusive offers that build loyalty, such as early access to holiday sales, brand collaboration sneak peeks, and first looks at new products. With your customer data, you can personalize these offers with brands and products you know will grab their attention.

Use your channels to promote fun, unique events at physical locations to attract first-time local customers and drive brand loyalty throughout the rest of the season. Repurpose user-generated content to drive additional engagement – and of course, get ahead of any bad reviews by monitoring social channels closely.

Last but not least, don’t forget to take advantage of embedded commerce capabilities readily available on social channels. Better yet, change up your product selection on different platforms. Style-conscious shoppers may be more inclined to use Instagram Shop without ever leaving the app, for example, while foodies may love Pinterest for recipes and entertaining ideas.

Make the most of mobile holiday shopping

As the physical store and digital channels continue to converge into a unified shopper experience, we anticipate sustained spikes during peak mobile days like Cyber Week, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

Cultivate a one-on-one relationship with shoppers that shines during those sustained spikes. Convenience is central to these programs: 71% of consumers said it’s more important than the brand.

Show consumers you’re working hard to make things easy for them. Augment mobile programs with apps, text messaging, and push notifications. Connect marketing and service channels so if a shopper responds to a promotional message with a question about their order, an agent can easily resolve the case in the same conversation.

But be forewarned: Mobile cart abandonment is high. In fact, it reached 88% in the third quarter of 2020. Reduce cart abandonment rates by making sure your site is mobile-optimized:

  • Follow site search best practices to surface the most relevant results
  • Keep the add-to-cart button sticky to increase orders
  • Use the right graphics, fit to size on mobile
  • Implement one-tap ordering.

Give digital ads and emails new life

With new privacy laws requiring companies like Google to phase out tracking tools like website cookies, digital advertising is getting a new life. Retailers can use artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze shopper data and create personalized ads based on product browsing history. These ads will boost performance and drive more shoppers to your site — while respecting local regulations.

Email also is resurging as a key revenue driver amid these regulatory changes. Make sure to infuse dynamic content that varies based on the subscriber’s product and category preferences or loyalty program status. Paying attention to consumer preferences and status will score bonus points with personalization expectations.

Between an extended holiday shopping season and multiple channel options, this year’s shoppers expect more from their brands. Give shoppers the convenience they expect. Ease some of their stress. And along the way, build a relationship that pays off throughout the year.

Matt brings 30 years of experience in consumer retail. He was previously the chief operating officer at Bergdorf Goodman, where he transformed the iconic 120-year-old brand to a digitally enabled customer experience. Matt approaches the business as a consumer anthropologist and is obsessed with human behavior, relationships, and experience.

More by Matt

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