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

Walmart Takes Aim at Amazon, Facebook, and Google with Online Advertising

Walmart Takes Aim at Amazon, Facebook, and Google with Online Advertising

Advertising Amazon Facebook Google

When Walmart recently announced that it was joining Microsoft in a bid for TikTok, the news had many people scratching their heads. But the bid makes perfect sense in context of Walmart’s growing online advertising business, an aspect of the Walmart empire that is beginning to catch more attention among brands. Read on to learn more.

The Growth of Walmart Advertising

You might not know it, but Walmart operates its own digital advertising business under Walmart Media Group. Under CEO Doug McMillon, Walmart Media Group has been building an advertising business to compete with Amazon, Google, and Facebook (the Big Three of online advertising). As reported in The Wall Street Journal, “deep-pocketed companies with large amounts of data on their customers are in the best position to mount a challenge” to these competitors.

Walmart feels ready to play in that sandbox. The retail behemoth aims to tap into its own trove of shopper data (about purchases made both online and in brick-and-mortar stores), and sell advertising services to businesses with products in Walmart stores and across the entire digital world, on sites including Walmart.com. As Steve Bratspies, the chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., has noted, data can give advertisers a leg up by providing insight into what a consumer might really want and need.

For example, as noted in The Wall Street Journal, a customer might buy a bicycle in a Walmart store, then subsequently see ads for bike helmets on platforms like Facebook. The ads would direct the shopper back to Walmart.com to make the purchase. It’s a win/win, with consumer needs being anticipated and met, and brands making the connection to a motivated shopper.

Walmart’s Advertising Services

How does Walmart propose to make those connections? The retailer currently offers advertisers services such as:

  • Sponsored Products ads, which consumers encounter when they are browsing Walmart.com. These ads can take many forms:
    • A brand’s products can get premium placement on the first page of a shopper’s search results.
    • An advertiser’s logo might appear, along with a custom headline, at the top of relevant search results.
    • Products can appear as part of a product carousel of relevant alternate purchase options.
    • Items can be highlighted in a “Buy Box” as the most relevant alternate purchase option on a product detail page.

Walmart Sponsored Product Ad

  • Visually compelling display ads, which keep a brand in the forefront:
    • Across Walmart’s digital properties. Content and advertising can be seamlessly merged on Walmart.com, pickup and delivery, and Walmart apps.
    • Offsite, across the web and social channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. As noted earlier, relevant ads will re-engage customers and send them back to Walmart for products.

Walmart Display Ad

Where Does TikTok Fit into All This?

Walmart’s motivation for acquiring TikTok probably has much to do with digital ad dollars. As Mark Sullivan of Fast Company points out, TikTok is a prime space for digital advertising. And Walmart clearly recognizes that, sharing in a statement that TikTok might represent “an important way for us to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses.”

Sullivan elaborates:

TikTok is itself in the early stages of selling ads on its app, and it has data on people’s video content choices, but it lacks data on the things people buy. If Walmart owned TikTok it could use its ecommerce user data to help advertisers put ads in front of the right TikTok users. And Walmart could be the exclusive seller of targeted ad space on TikTok.

One advertising industry insider told me that a brand—say a car company—might use a cookie to capture data on a consumer that came to its site to look at cars, then use Walmart’s ad-tech to show an ad to that same consumer on TikTok.

If Walmart had an ownership stake in TikTok, Walmart could connect its advertisers with TikTok’s young demographic, too. And let’s face it — TikTok is hot. In early August 2020, the video-sharing social networking service reported about 100 million monthly active U.S. users, a figure that is up nearly 800 percent from January 2018. Walmart clearly sees the opportunities inherent in connecting its brands with that audience.

Contact True Interactive

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

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/

Retailers Ramp up Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Retailers Ramp up Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Retail

Last March we wrote about the increasingly important role that technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have in the marketing field. Since then, major businesses have continued to apply AR and VR to support a number of functions. Retailers have been especially keen to use these technologies for shopping. For example:

  • To capitalize on the uptick in mobile holiday shopping, Macy’s has launched an AR app that lets shoppers see pieces of furniture virtually within their homes, following the successful pilot of a VR experience to make furniture shopping more immersive. According to Macy’s, shoppers using VR headsets to view Macy’s furniture had more than a 60 percent greater average order value than non-virtual reality furniture shoppers.
  • Walmart recently announced the launch of new AR scanning tool in its iOS app to help customers with product comparisons. Unlike traditional barcode scanners (which allow price comparison on one item at a time), Walmart’s AR scanner can be aimed at multiple products on store shelves to view details on pricing and customer ratings.

Some studies predict the global economic impact of virtual and augmented reality to reach $29.5 billion. Although this number may sound overly optimistic, I do believe there is a lot of value in these technologies yet to be exploited. Both VR and AR have the potential to be among the most valuable tools in any marketer’s arsenal simply because they offer intimate and engaging experiences. They allow brands to build a more profound connection with consumers by offering personalized, interactive experiences. In addition, when combined with artificial intelligence, these technologies have the potential to help make life easier by empowering users to take immediate action (like completing a custom order on the spot).

VR and AR Defined

Even though they may look similar, VR and AR are different:

  • Virtual reality: refers to any kind of experience that places the user “in” another world or dimension usually by way of a headset with special lenses.
  • Augmented reality: the term we use when we place content “into” the real world by using cameras (e.g., Pokémon GO)

Although some brands have rushed to experiment with augmented reality on social media platforms, others are using AR and VR to support commerce. One of the cleverest campaigns was that one from the Spanish fast fashion retailer, Zara.

Although their storefronts may have appeared empty to the naked eye, they came to life when people pointed their phone’s camera at the shop’s window (or in-store podiums) after downloading the Zara AR App. This app enabled users to see seven-to-twelve-second sequences of models Léa Julian and Fran Summers wearing selected looks from the brand’s Studio Collection and allowed the viewers to instantly order any of the looks shown at the touch of a button.

 

Tommy Hilfiger is another example of a retail brand that has also deployed AR technology to improve the shopping experience in their stores. By placing digitally enhanced mirrors inside the fitting rooms, Tommy Hilfiger gave customers instant access to information like styles, models, sizes and colors available both in-store and online. The experience also allowed shoppers to request a new size or color without leaving the room and suggested other products to browse. These smart mirrors made product discovery much simpler and promoted sales by helping users find the right style.

iMirror for Retail from Pieter on Vimeo.

But the business potential seems almost unlimited when AR/VR is combined with artificial intelligence. An example is Salesforce’s Einstein AI technology, which was subject to practical testing along with Coca-Cola. As noted in this article from Diginomica:

Einstein was trained to recognize, identify and count the varieties and quantities of Coca-Cola bottles stored in one of its cooler display cabinets, simply by analyzing a photo taken with an iPad or iPhone. […] Einstein can then take that stock count and combine the information with predictions based on known seasonal variations, weather information from Watson [the IBM AI system], and upcoming promotions, to automatically calculate a restocking order.

There is no doubt about the potential benefits of new technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence for both consumers and businesses. In the ever-changing and dynamic world of digital marketing, it would be safe to expect tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Facebook to soon develop and introduce new features that accommodate for these technologies in their portfolio of products and services.

The Key to a Successful Holiday Season: Shipping

The Key to a Successful Holiday Season: Shipping

Retail

Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are just table stakes for retailers to compete in the first-ever $1 trillion holiday shopping season. The real competitive advantage is coming from shipping.

Based on the client work I do, I’ve always known that favorable shipping can help a retailer compete more effectively during the holiday shopping season. Low-cost, rapid shipping caters to the needs of today’s on-demand consumer who want products curated and sent to them and oftentimes at the last minute.

But what’s changed dramatically about the 2018 season is the Amazon effect. Earlier in November, Amazon announced free shipping with no minimum purchase required from November 5 onward. Amazon did not announce a cut-off date, but it will probably be December 22. Now, this change to its shipping policy is huge. Amazon accomplishes two objectives with free shipping during the holidays:

  • Beating Target and Walmart. These two retail giants had announced more liberal shipping and returns policies of their own in October. Walmart had announced it would expand two-day shipping to the entire Walmart marketplace beginning November 1. And Walmart also said that products purchased through its marketplace could be returned Walmart brick-and-mortar stores products purchased through its marketplace. Target had announced free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase or REDcard membership required from November 1-December 22. Amazon trumped both.
  • Luring shoppers to Amazon Prime. Amazon hopes that anyone using free shipping during the holidays will get a taste of what Prime members enjoy all the time – and, presumably, sign up for Prime, where many more benefits await. For example, Prime members get free same-day delivery on millions of items and free two-day shipping on many more. Prime is the center of Amazon’s on-demand world, which encompasses services ranging from entertainment to retail.

Smaller retailers have a harder time competing on those kinds of terms, but try they must. If you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer, advertising on-demand services such as delivery, shipping, and online ordering/in-store pick-up is key to winning this holiday season. It’s important that you manage your online advertising, including your paid search and display, to show how well you service the on-demand shopper. If you need help, contact True Interactive.

Image source: Walmart