Early holiday spending pushes marketers to act quickly
It wasn’t too many years ago when the holiday spending period was clearly defined. No Halloween merchandise was seen or bought before back-to-school shopping was over. No ornaments or sleigh bells were sold until the masks, costumes and face paint were put away.
That is no more.
Christmas now enters retail before the leaves fall and the beach gear is put away. It’s caused a reevaluation of holiday spending marketing and promotional programs, not just in the area of timing, but in such items as ad frequency, the importance of mobile devices and the placement of calls to action on early fall materials.
“Amazon has worked to bring a bigger sales period into the summer with their Prime Day,” said retail veteran Ryan Craver in an interview. “I think that they are going to go very strong and hard starting at the end of September to get all of the holiday sales that they can. I do think that we have a glut of inventory to sell off, specifically within the apparel world, and we have the outlets charging hard and strong to steal market share from the department stores. And we have the dollar stores charging hard and strong to steal market share from the outlets.”
Craver, who formerly led strategy for Lord & Taylor, Saks and Hudson’s Bay, said he believes the most important holiday spending period has already begun.
“I think that it is going to be an incredibly competitive holiday season,” he added. “I think that we are going to see it start even sooner, believe it or not, and make a long tail of shopping up to the Christmas period, whereas before it would be a major pop in late November and early December. It will be incredibly lucrative for consumers.” And incredibly busy for marketers.
The rise of mobile
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), mobile was important to last year’s holiday season. For six days that came on weekends and holidays, traffic from smartphones surpassed that of desktops, but the average transaction size on computers was higher than on mobile and in-stores. Facebook IQ determined there was a 33% increase in the share of mobile purchases made during the 2015 holiday season compared to the 2014 season. The takeaway for marketers is that they need to pay attention to both channels.
“I’m fascinated with how customers are finding the products that they are buying,” Craver said. “If you take a look at the smartphone specifically, 45 percent of product searches start at Amazon.com. Another 16–20 percent, depending on what survey you look at, start at Google.com. I can’t see how that won’t spread too much more than 65 percent combined.”
Tech’s influence on holiday retail
According to Craver, nearly every single purchase is coupled with a mobile phone or some other tech influence. Of course, the mobile influence has been growing, and observant marketers have learned some very critical lessons, such as the following:
- Start early. There are way more choices and mobile marketing decisions to make than ever before.
- Your timeline likely depends on the timeline of others in your organization. Seek out buy-in and cooperation now.
- Given many long lead times, quickly determine where you can place mobile calls to action on later-hitting marketing and sales pieces.
- Make sure that even in the clutter of the holidays, your calls to action are prominent and easy to respond to by mobile users.
- Prevent “anticipointment” by ensuring there will be enough of your product to meet the demand that will come from your marketing efforts.
- Avoid surprises for your customer-facing personnel. Take the time to develop efficient training to ensure the delivery of great experiences. Be certain that everyone in the organization knows the importance of the effort.
- Be prepared to zigzag given the uncertainty that comes with a longer selling period.
The most important lesson learned is that consumers have ever-increasing expectations. They demand fast-loading mobile web pages, options that include near-immediate delivery and the need to be approached with relevant and personal information and offers.
Wise marketers have always planned in advance the path to a green holiday season, but businesses that fail in this area will likely see another color: red.