The Holiday Shopping Season Delivers Early Lessons for Retailers

The Holiday Shopping Season Delivers Early Lessons for Retailers

Retail

The holiday shopping season is in full swing now. Granted, it’s a looking a lot different than it did in years past, with the pandemic influencing consumers’ moods and their shopping habits. But already, some important lessons are emerging that may affect retailing all year-round:

  • Online retailing is bigger than ever. During Thanksgiving Weekend, shoppers broke records for online purchases, with Cyber Monday 2020 becoming the biggest online shopping event ever in the United States. In addition, Black Friday broke a record for most online sales. Although e-commerce was already booming in 2020, it was not certain that Black Friday and Cyber Monday would be this big. Retailers such as Walmart, had been spreading out Black Friday sales online going back to early November, which raised the question of whether those sales might cannibalize the “real” Black Friday occurring November 27 this year. There was no need for worry.
  • Thanksgiving Day is turning into a huge shopping event. According to Adobe Analytics, Thanksgiving Day spending online rose by nearly 22 percent year over year to $5.1 billion, hitting a new record. Businesses that advertised Thanksgiving Day deals online probably benefitted from the fact that many big retailers closed on Thanksgiving Day, reversing a growing practice of launching Black Friday deals in stores on a day when families normally would be gathering to eat turkey and watch football. But Thanksgiving Day 2020 was different. People visited less with families and friends given the safety risks of in-person gatherings. Apparently, they had more time on their hands to go online. And they shopped.
  • Brick-and-mortar stores still matter. Even amid the pandemic, 124 million Americans shopped in stores over Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). But offline stores got less foot traffic – down 52 percent from 2019. Stores offering curbside pickup saw traffic increase by 52 percent, according to Adobe. The lesson for brands is to ensure that your digital advertising and organic content plays up the availability of options such as curbside pickup, as well as clear instructions for how to use curbside.
  • Mobile keeps growing. Shopping on smartphones rose 25 percent to $3.6 billion, making up 40 percent of total online spending on Black Friday. But people are using mobile in different ways now – searching and purchasing online but also booking curbside pick-up services offline. All told, cross-channel shoppers – those who visited websites and brick-and-mortar stores — spent an average $366.79 over the holiday weekend, which exceeded by 25 percent the spend generated by people who shopped in a single channel, according to the NRF. Stores that integrate a complete cross-channel mobile experience are in the driver’s seat.

What Businesses Should Do

Retailers need to be nimble. They need to plan ahead for the holiday season as they’ve done in the past, but they also need to be ready to adapt to changing consumer behavior. For example, it’s clear now that Thanksgiving has arrived, but only retailers that paid attention to shopping trends and adapted their online advertising strategies benefitted from that shift. In addition, consumers have shown a remarkable penchant for suddenly wanting to buy products ranging from chess sets to puzzles in 2020, as they manage the realities of social distancing. But how many retailers adapted? Fortunately, tools such as Google Insights help advertisers monitor changes in consumer behavior and adjust their advertising strategies accordingly.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

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No More Shopping Stampedes: How Black Friday Is Changing

No More Shopping Stampedes: How Black Friday Is Changing

Retail

Black Friday is changing radically in 2020.

A Google-commissioned Ipsos survey found that 74 percent of U.S. shoppers said they plan to shop online more than they have done in previous seasons. And people who shop in stores will rely on services such as curbside pickup to limit their contact with other people. In response, retailers are taking a hard look at their Black Friday experience.

Retailers Reinvent Black Friday

Consider what some of the heavy hitters are doing to re-imagine what Black Friday means during a year when many people simply don’t want to go into stores.

As noted in RetailWire, “Walmart has long been one of the retailers noted for performing at a high level when facing down natural disasters and economic tumult.” The retail monolith’s response to Black Friday is no exception. As reported by CNBC.com, Walmart is taking an innovative approach, staggering three holiday sales events through the month of November. Each sales event will begin on the Walmart website. Brick-and-mortar stores will continue the sales a few days later, after some demand has presumably been satisfied online (thus mitigating crowds). On the holiday sales days, stores will open at 5:00 a.m. local time. Shoppers will encounter COVID-era precautions: single-file lines; limits on the number of shoppers inside at any given time; sanitized shopping carts; and store “health ambassadors,” who will greet shoppers and remind them to wear a mask. Bargain hunters who prefer to bypass in-store shopping can shop online, or take advantage of Walmart’s curbside pickup.

As Scott McCall, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., shared in a news release, “By spreading deals out across multiple days and making our hottest deals available online, we expect the Black Friday experience in our stores will be safer and more manageable for both our customers and our associates.”

Walmart’s not the only one to re-think what Black Friday looks like this year. Many other retailers have announced that they are redefining the traditional in-store Black Friday sales as a digital experience that occurs over days, weeks, or even months. Home Depot set the tone early, announcing in September that Black Friday prices would be available throughout the entire holiday season, both online and in-store. Though a few “unique deals” are planned to launch later in the season, the store is orchestrating a campaign that consciously sidesteps that single day of crowded, feverish shopping.

Retailers are also capitalizing on opportunities like Amazon Prime Day to generate a surge in sales that businesses often associate with Black Friday. This year’s event ran for two days, October 13 and 14, during which marketplace sellers netted $3.5 billion+. Third-party merchants on Amazon generally reported good results. As noted in practicalecommerce.com, along with the increased sales came increased advertising costs. At the same time, the results speak for themselves: for one of our clients, we secured 44 percent more revenue and a 33 percent increase in return on ad spend on Prime Day — with only an 8 percent increase in advertising costs. We were happy with the outcome, as our client was.

Shipping during the 2020 Holiday Season

As retailers respond to a changing retail landscape, they must also face the reality that with a surge in online ordering throughout November comes the potential for shipping delays as businesses send more packages. More packages being delivered puts more of a strain on shipping services – and possibly a strain on retailers’ fulfillment capability. On the other hand, FedEx has said it is hiring 70,000 seasonal workers to manage an expected surge, and bellwether retailers such as Target are hiring aggressively to ensure they can handle the increased volume in online orders.

What Should You Do?

How do you plan to stay competitive during an unprecedented year? We recommend:

  • Don’t wait for Black Friday to promote your holiday deals. Activate your display advertising, search marketing, and paid social media programs now.
  • Consider creating events of your own. Don’t worry about creating a blowout on the scale of Amazon’s Prime Day. Instead, take a page from Walmart’s book and ask yourself how you might create your own “Black Friday” digital events. Learn from the bellwether brands!
  • It goes without saying, on the operational side, prepare yourself for the expected uptick in orders. Assuming you have done so, promote any deals you’re offering on shipping (something we’ve blogged about here). In addition, set expectations with your customers. Let them know that waiting until the last minute to order and ship may incur additional delays this holiday season in particular.
  • Be mindful of tone in everything you do. People want to shop, yes—but as we’ve blogged here, they are also under stress. Many shoppers will be ordering gifts for loved ones from whom they will be socially distanced this holiday—and feeling a sense of loss as they do so. Others may be overwhelmed by COVID-19 news: fearful of a spike in the virus, or a lockdown of stores and businesses. Be sensitive to these anxieties in your messaging.

Contact True Interactive

In a year like 2020, even traditions like Black Friday are going to look different. We can help you maximize digital and rise to the occasion. Contact us.

Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash

Convenience Is King This Holiday Shopping Season

Convenience Is King This Holiday Shopping Season

Advertising

This is going to be a different holiday season. Many shoppers will be planning for holidays apart from their extended families and friends as they practice social distancing. And shopping itself will look different: consumers will likely be very careful about going into brick-and-mortar stores. As a result, shoppers will seek convenience. We’ve blogged about the importance of customer-friendly shipping in the past; this year, as consumers order gifts for shipping abroad to their socially distanced loved ones, convenient and cost-effective shipping will be more important than ever. Shoppers will also rely on services such as curbside pickup that make it easier to purchase gifts without needing to go into stores. It’s important that retailers adapt online holiday advertising strategies accordingly.

Rise of Convenience

Signs are everywhere that shoppers will place a heavy emphasis on convenience:

  • Retailers from Home Depot to Macy’s are downplaying Black Friday, focusing instead on spreading out holiday deals over a period time. This is a big shift: no longer will customers be expected to queue up in front of physical stores on retailers’ timetables. It’s simply not safe to do so.
  • Instead, retailers are stressing their ability to manage—and support—how people want to shop on their own terms. For example, Walmart has launched Walmart Plus, a new subscription service through which the retailer, among other things, manages delivery of purchases. For $98 a year, participating consumers receive in-store and online benefits like unlimited free delivery. The service, a direct competitor to Amazon Prime, demonstrates how retailers can pivot to meet customer needs during a year of radical change.
  • We also see retailers expanding their curbside pickup services, which makes it possible for shoppers to minimize in-store shopping while still getting what they want on their own timetable. As noted in eMarketer, curbside pickup is booming: “We now expect US click-and-collect ecommerce sales to grow to $58.52 billion, up 60.4% from our initial forecast of 38.6% growth.”

What Retailers Should Do

There are steps retailers can take to stay competitive during a holiday season shaped by an unprecedented year. What do we recommend?

  • First off, start now to advertise your holiday sales. Why? Because people are probably shopping earlier to accommodate more time to ship things. eMarketer recommends capturing accelerating holiday traffic by setting suitable budgets, not to mention competitive targets, for Smart Shopping campaigns and Smart Bidding.
  • But don’t just promote merchandise. Promote convenience; send the message that you are recognizing shoppers’ needs during an extraordinary year, and working hard to make life easier. For example, if you offer curbside pickup, use Google advertising tools to promote it: retailers can now indicate in their local inventory ads that curbside pickup is an option. And features like the local inventory ads curbside pickup badge, currently in beta, allow retailers to highlight contactless pickup available for products next day or even same day.
  • Capitalize on location-based advertising such as advertising on Google Maps. As we have blogged in the past, Google Maps advertising offers unique possibilities; why not use this tool to highlight your shipping and curbside service offerings?
  • Put video to work. Explain how your shipping and curbside services work via tight, thoughtful video segments. Per eMarketer, “Viewers are three times more likely to pay attention to online video ads than television ads, and 70 percent of viewers say they bought a brand after seeing it on YouTube.” YouTube’s value, in fact, can’t be overstated: the article goes on to detail that the video-sharing platform has a 97 percent audience reach. Internalize these tendencies and strengths, and capitalize on them by planning a video strategy that reaches more people, and inspires those people to come shop this holiday season.
  • Make sure you promote services such as shipping through Google search ads. As eMarketer notes, almost 75 percent of U.S. respondents who indicate they plan to shop this holiday state that they will shop online more than they have in past holiday seasons. And the time-honored joy of browsing for gifts? A similar percentage say they will indulge their browsing online rather than on-site. Meet these online browsers and shoppers where they are at, letting them know, in their online search results, what you are offering in terms of shipping.

Contact True Interactive

A year ago, no one could have predicted the ways 2020 would shape consumer need—or the imagination and agility that would be demanded of brands responding to that need. Let us help you create online holiday advertising strategies during a singular time. Contact us.

Three Ways Retailers Can Succeed during the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

Three Ways Retailers Can Succeed during the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

Retail

The 2020 holiday shopping season will be unlike any other as people plan amid the reality of social distancing. And yet in a few important ways, the season will reflect the direction that consumer shopping behavior has been headed already, especially with people putting digital at the center of their shopping experience. Here are three ways retailers can prepare:

1 Be Digital-First

A Google-commissioned Ipsos survey found that 74 percent of U.S. shoppers said they plan to do more online shopping than they did in previous seasons. These findings should surprise no retailer. The holiday shopping season has been going increasingly digital for years. According to Salesforce data, there was an 8 percent increase in digital spend overall for the 2019 season, with $723 billion in digital revenue worldwide. The difference in 2020: digital will dominate.

If more people are buying online, that means they’re spending more time online searching for things to buy. In the past, we’ve counseled retailers to aggressively embrace digital advertising tools to prepare for this shift in behavior (for more insight, see this post from 2018 and a sample post of mine from 2019). What’s different about this year is that online advertising where your audience is – such as on Amazon, Facebook, and Google  – is essential, not optional, especially as social distancing has created a surge in people spending more time on digital.

2 Level up Your Mobile Game

Consumers prefer digital, but they have not abandoned in-store shopping by any means. According to a new survey of more than 1,400 U.S. consumers by CodeBroker, 53 percent of shoppers intend to shop at physical locations. Among those who said they were not planning to shop at their favorite stores’ locations, 61 percent said they would change their mind if they received a high-value mobile/digital coupon for a product in which they were interested.

In addition, the Google/Ipsos research says that 53 percent of shoppers that plan to shop this season said they’ll choose to shop at stores that offer contactless shopping. And 47 percent of said they’ll use options to buy online, pickup in-store, or use curbside pickup.

These findings tells us that retailers that use mobile wisely to improve the brick-and-mortar shopping experience will win. Here again, this trend is not new. Holiday shopping has been going mobile for some time, and as we blogged in 2019, retailers that had already responded to the rise of mobile orders were already enjoying a distinct advantage over those that had not. What’s different about 2020 is that retailers need to prepare for a surge in curbside pick-up orders with consumers using their mobile phones to manage the process of ordering and picking up their purchases. Moreover, retailers can and should deploy advertising strategies that use mobile coupons where possible and appropriate.

3 Adapt to a Different Shopping Mindset

How shoppers feel about the holiday season will be radically different. Consider these realities:

  • Many shoppers will be planning for a holiday apart from their extended families as they practice social distancing. As shoppers inevitably order gifts for shipping abroad to their socially distanced loved ones, their moods will be affected.
  • Shoppers are already planning amid a threat of COVID-19 cases spiking again during the winter and possibly triggering state-by-state lockdowns. The ongoing news reports about COVID-19 are likely creating a sense of urgency among shoppers as they work around the possibility of their favorite stores closing. Moreover, shoppers are likely experiencing understandable anxiety and fear.

Retailers should respond by:

  • Activating holiday shopping campaigns now. If ever there was a year when shoppers are planning ahead and are receptive to holiday campaigns that promote services such shipping and curbside pickup, 2020 is that time.

In addition, be ready for a surge in queries from shoppers about details such as product order status as people shop with caution. The Google/Ipsos survey found that 67 percent of holiday shoppers will confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it. This means retailers should expect more customer queries everywhere you interact with customers, including email and your socials.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed this holiday season with online advertising, contract True Interactive. We have extensive experience helping businesses thrive with digital.

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

3 Ways to Gear up for Black Friday with Online Advertising

3 Ways to Gear up for Black Friday with Online Advertising

Advertising Google

Black Friday is coming in hot! We’re already seeing an explosion of deals. For instance, Walmart has gone live with a wave of reductions and early Black Friday deals. Amazon’s Black Friday “preview” features a smart home device bundle deal. And not to be outdone, on November 8, Target celebrated “HoliDeals” with a two-day Black Friday preview sale.

As we discussed in our recent blog post, “3 Ways That Retailers Can Win During the 2019 Holiday Shopping Season,” Black Friday is more than a day. It’s more like a season unto itself. And as the examples above illustrate, more retailers are responding by not only extending Black Friday hours, but actual deals, beyond the day. As a consequence, advertising begins early, too, and carries over into Cyber Monday.

Don’t want to get left behind? Here are some ways to stay competitive with your Black Friday offerings:

1 Put Google to Work for You

Maximize the value of Google’s many advertising tools to showcase your Black Friday sales and your merchandise. These tools include Black Friday promotion extensions, which allow advertisers to get granular with specifics in their text ad promotions, without cutting into established character counts. And note that Google’s Black Friday-specific ad units, as distinguished from the typical promotion extension, will drive your ad to prime placement so that it shows up at the top of the SERP under “Black Friday Deals.”

2 Be Visual

It should go without saying that Black Friday means turning it up a notch with visual storytelling. This is a time to make your merchandise pop. Fortunately tools exist to make it easier on platforms such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Instagram.

As we’ve noted, Google’s Showcase Shopping Ads take a common-sense approach to advertising. Using Showcase Shopping Ads, brands can visually group related products, and in the process merchandise them more effectively. Google recently blogged about how retailers such as Urban Outfitters are benefitting from Showcase Shopping Ads. According to Google:

Urban Outfitters is one example of a retailer using Showcase Shopping ads to get into the consideration set and inspire those new to their brand. Urban Outfitters expanded their Showcase Shopping ads to 50 key categories across apparel, home decor, and beauty. Overall, they saw a 241 percent CTR lift across campaigns running Showcase Shopping ads, with 52 percent of those customers being new. Moreover, Urban Outfitters saw a 186 percent increase in sales from new customers via Showcase Shopping ads (compared to reactivated customers).

In addition, Google recently announced it has improved Showcase Shopping Ads by expanding them into Google Images. Moreover, Google also announced it is making YouTube more shoppable. You get the idea: Google wants advertisers to rely on Google to reach customers.

Meanwhile, Instagram and Facebook Stories are a brilliant way for advertisers to draw potential customers with appealing content that incorporates a narrative and interactive elements. In a survey by research firm Ipsos, 62 percent of respondents reported becoming interested in a product after discovering it via Stories, and more than half indicated they make more purchases online due to Stories.

Finally, Amazon, now the third-largest online ad platform behind Google and Facebook, offers tools like Sponsored Products (which promotes products to shoppers who are using certain keywords, or viewing similar products on Amazon) and Sponsored Brands Display Ads (through which advertisers can upload a customized creative). Amazon provides more insight into these products here.

3 Go Mobile

As we recently blogged, the 2018 holiday season marked the first time smart phones accounted for more than half of all visits to websites during the holidays. Brands are wise to embrace mobile—and deliver a great experience on their site, regardless of where consumers are accessing it from. You don’t want to lose customers to an online experience that reliably delivers from a PC or laptop, but not a smart phone. A failed purchase from a smart phone may result in . . . no purchase at all.

Contact True Interactive

Need help making the most of the opportunities Black Friday affords? Contact us.

Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

3 Ways That Retailers Can Win During the 2019 Holiday Shopping Season

3 Ways That Retailers Can Win During the 2019 Holiday Shopping Season

Retail

The holidays are always in season for retailers. Even though holiday shopping traditionally does not begin until the week of Black Friday, advertisers need to constantly anticipate and respond to shifts in consumer behavior and any factors that affect how people shop during the holidays. Here are three ways retailers can succeed in the 2019 holiday shopping season, based on our experience:

1 Be Mobile

According to Adobe, the 2018 holiday season marked the first time that smart phones accounted for more than half of all visits to websites during the holidays. With 51 percent of shoppers using their phones to address shopping needs, retailers better have a strong mobile advertising presence.

To be mobile, brands need to first and foremost capitalize on tools that maximize the value of the mobile format. For example, Google Gallery Ads, available in beta, consist of swipeable images that display on multiple pages on a user’s mobile phones. Shoppers can swipe through the images or click one to expand the gallery into a vertical view that users can then swipe down. At the end of the gallery, a call to action to visit the advertiser’s site appears. A company such as ours that has access to Google can fast track you into using tools such as this one.

In addition, Google has launched tools that make it easier for brands to make your inventory sparkle, such as Google Showcase Shopping Ads. These types of tools are especially useful for making inventory more attractive (and literally shoppable) as people are using their mobile phones to browse for holiday ideas before the season officially kicks off.

Being mobile also means providing a great follow-through experience on your site, whether that site is accessed from a laptop, a PC—or from a smart phone. As I blogged last year, a number of businesses encountered turbulence because their online experience didn’t deliver well after shoppers clicked through on ads to buy things.

Be ready – across the entire mobile journey. (Note: check out this case study about our work with Snapfish for more insight into how we’ve helped a business succeed with mobile advertising.)

2 Prepare for Black Friday Week

Black Friday not just a day anymore. It’s a shopping state of mind.

Black Friday remains the single most important shopping event of the year. But winning retailers understand that Black Friday has become, in fact, an entire week. As the popularity of Cyber Monday shows—four hours on that day were, in 2018, the busiest period of the entire year. People are in Black Friday shopping mode hunting for deals during Thanksgiving Week and immediately afterwards. That shopping rush includes Thanksgiving Day, which incidentally shows buyers relying more on smart phones than they do on Cyber Monday or even Black Friday itself.

To maximize the opportunities afforded by an expanded Black Friday phenomenon, online retailers need to be ready with advertising strategies—paid search and display, for example—that attract customers to buy during the entire week.

3 Compete with Shipping

One of the major stories of the 2018 holiday season was the rise of shipping as a competitive tool: Amazon, Target, and Walmart all tried to outdo each other with attractive shipping offers. Amazon, for example, famously extended free shipping, with no minimum purchase required, for a limited time starting November 5.

Shipping will be a big story for the 2019 season, too. With Thanksgiving taking place later in November, the official holiday season will be shorter. And a shorter season usually means a sense of urgency, as consumers try to make up for lost time by having products shipped to them faster. While smaller retailers may have a harder time matching the efforts made by behemoths like Amazon, it’s important to stay competitive by having your act together and your shipping strategy sorted. Achieving more efficient product fulfillment and shipping may involve hiring more labor. It might also demand tweaks to your online advertising.

Contact True Interactive

Bottom line: brands want to stay abreast of the trends in order to maximize the holiday shopping experience they provide for customers. If you need help, contact us.

Image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/woman-shopping-lifestyle-beautiful-3040029/

Online Holiday Shopping Season Hits $126 Billion

Online Holiday Shopping Season Hits $126 Billion

Retail

Winning the hearts and minds of consumers during the holidays increasingly means having a digital strategy to attract and convert them. According to Adobe Analytics, consumers spent $126 billion online during the 2018 holiday season, an increase of 16.5 percent year over year. For the first time ever, smart phones drove half the traffic, amounting 31 percent of revenue (34 percent growth year over year).

The numbers do not surprise me. By early December, the holiday season was already well on its way to achieving strong results. The final numbers suggest a number of lessons for retailers:

1 Start Early to Win Online

Our own clients were working with us to start raising awareness online for their holiday sales long before the holiday shopping season began. Businesses that began building awareness for their holiday inventory via online advertising were best positioned to attract the surging traffic from shoppers going online looking for deals.

2 Respect the Power of Thanksgiving Weekend

Reports of Black Friday’s demise are exaggerated. Black Friday achieved a 23.6 percent increase in online traffic. But Black Friday is now part of a bigger five-day Thanksgiving weekend shopping extravaganza. The period between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday generated 19.2 percent of all online holiday spend. In particular, Cyber Monday saw a surge of buying. A four-hour time block on Cyber Monday (7:00 pm to 11 p.m. PST) was the most active period of the year. These four hours recorded more than $2 billion in sales. Conversion rose sharply through the evening, as consumers rushed to take advantage of deals. Businesses that invested in a strong Thanksgiving Weekend digital media spend were in the driver’s seat to win, especially if they capitalized on Cyber Monday by spending on ads with strong calls to action during the waning moments of Cyber Monday.

Go Mobile

The increase in smartphone traffic clearly shows that businesses need strong mobile-centric advertising strategies, including investments across mobile display networks. But going mobile means more than having a mobile presence. Going mobile means:

  • Promoting your app effectively. Mobile apps are now driving more revenue than ever. Having a strategy to promote your app is more important than ever.
  • Formatting content for mobile viewing and including an easy conversion path on mobile.

At the same time, it’s important to ensure that your messaging on mobile is consistent with your messaging on other channels.

Start Succeeding Now

You don’t need to wait another year to apply these lessons. They hold true with other major events that attract a surge of shopping and advertising, such as Presidents Day and Memorial Day. True Interactive can help you prepare. Contact us.

Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/holiday-shopping-smartphone-phone-1921658/