The new seller's guide to a great holiday sales campaign
It’s the end of October. For a lot of folks, that means piles of leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, and scrambling for a Halloween costume. For retailers, it means around-the-clock planning, prioritizing and preparation. Yes, the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is right around the corner, and you don’t have to be a marketing whiz to know that means big things for sellers and six-year-olds alike.
Getting ready for the holidays is a huge challenge for any business. This is especially true for online retailers who’ve never dealt with the millions of shoppers who descend on the web in late November. Constantly evolving trends and preferences, a multitude of sales and promotional channels, and the technical task of fortifying your store to handle the surge are enough to drive even experienced sellers to the brink. T
he good news is that the stress and hard work do pay off. For some stores, the 30-ish days between American Thanksgiving and Christmas are more profitable than the other 11 months combined. (Remember, it’s called Black Friday not for the black eyes suffered at Best Buy, but because historically it’s the day when retailers start turning a profit.)
We want your holidays to be as wonderful as possible, so in the coming weeks we’ll be bringing you a series of posts (starting with this one) aimed at helping ecommerce merchants plan and execute their first holiday sales campaign. By the end, you should find your stocking full of tips, strategies and ideas to make your store shine through the new year.
Putting the Holiday Season into Perspective
For most retailers, the fourth quarter is the strongest of the year. Last holiday season, shoppers in the U.S. spent a total of $928 billion between November and January. Online shopping accounted for a relatively small piece of that—$53.3 billion, or just under 6 percent—but its growth is fast outpacing that of traditional retail. According to the National Retail Federation, non-store holiday sales in 2015 should see a 7 to 10 percent increase over last year.
While the ecommerce industry as a whole is growing at breakneck speed, where it’s really at is mobile commerce. According to Monetate, smartphone shopping for Cyber Week—the deeply-discounted sales season comprising Black Friday through Cyber Monday—is up 45 percent since 2013. Even more compelling, experts predict mobile commerce will grow 300 percent faster than the rest of the ecommerce industry by 2018.
All these numbers add up to one thing: a huge opportunity for online retailers. By opening an online store, you’ve already taken the first step towards cashing in—but if you want to stand out as a new company in November and December, you’ll have to plan your holiday campaigns with care. The first step? Circling some important dates on your calendar.
Know Your Holi-Dates
You probably already know that Christmas is December 25th. You might also know that Black Friday occurs the day after American Thanksgiving. But what about Green Monday? Sofa Sunday? Every year it seems we’re adding new shopping days and events, and just because you didn’t celebrate them as a kid doesn’t mean you can forgo them as a retailer.
Here are the dates you should know if you want to make the most of this year’s holiday shopping season:
American Thanksgiving - Thursday, November 26th
In 2015, Thanksgiving is as much about deals as it’s about turkey. Some analysts predict it will be bigger and better than Black Friday. To maximize revenue, a number of stores have taken to launching Black Friday sales as early as a week before Thanksgiving.
Black Friday - Friday, November 27th
Traditionally a day for shoppers to converge on malls and big box stores for heavily discounted electronics, Black Friday isn’t just about in-store deals anymore. In 2014, online shoppers opened their wallets to the tune of $2.4 billion, an extraordinary 24 percent increase over the previous year. In 2015, projections look just as good.
Sofa Sunday - Sunday, November 29th
Nope, not kidding. Described by The Guardian as the day “everyone dresses up in impractical loungewear and goes shopping on their mobile devices,” Sofa Sunday taps into another new-ish term: m-commerce (“M,” of course, stands for “mobile). Most Sofa Sunday observers are expected to shop late in the day, effectively getting a head start on the following day’s frenzy.
Cyber Monday - Monday, November 30th
Rounding out the mega shopping weekend, Cyber Monday is the Holy Grail of the ecommerce calendar. In 2014, Cyber Monday crashed websites and smashed records with a whopping $2.65 billion in sales. In fact, it was the most profitable day in online retail ever.
Green Monday - Monday, December 14th
If you thought “green” referred to the colour of your Christmas tree, think again! “Green” means money! eBay first used the term in 2007 to refer to their best December sales day. It also marks the last chance for shoppers to place online orders without paying for expedited shipping.
Free Shipping Day - Friday, December 18th
Free shipping day is exactly how it sounds—a one-day event where participating merchants offer free shipping and promise that your purchase will arrive by Christmas.
Super Saturday - Saturday, December 19th
Long before Black Friday and Cyber Monday came along, it was Super Saturday (the last Saturday before Christmas) that laid claim to the most profitable day of the year. Today, it remains a big revenue driver, with retailers focusing mainly on last-minute shoppers and folks who didn’t get their fill of deals earlier in the season.
Christmas Eve - Thursday, December 24th
By Christmas Eve, most online orders have been received, wrapped, and stowed safely under the tree. Store owners shouldn’t expect banner sales on the 24th, but as same-day shipping becomes more prevalent and sought-after, Christmas Eve sales may climb.
Christmas Day - Friday, December 25th
Generally a quiet day in retail, Christmas Day is actually becoming a big one in ecommerce, with last year's sales rising 8.3 percent over 2013. It makes a certain kind of sense: once all the gifts have been unwrapped and you find you’re missing the one thing you really wanted, you can scoop it up online, often with a pre-Boxing Day discount.
Boxing Day - Saturday, December 26th
Like Black Friday, Boxing Day has become a week-long affair, stretching from Christmas right up to New Year’s Eve. Instead of stumbling outside in a post-turkey stupor to wait for stores to open, Boxing Day shoppers are now scoring deals from the comfort of their living rooms.
New Year’s Eve - December 31st
The last day of the year (and a jam-packed shopping season) is a time to reflect and regroup. Online retailers are usually strategizing about how to deal with excess inventory, and deciding which tactics will be most successful in enticing customers back to their stores in January.
Inside the psyche of holiday shoppers
Understanding your customers and the psychological factors that drive their spending is an important part of getting your store ready for the holidays. We know that scarcity and urgency whip buyers into action no matter what time of year, but to really win them over in November and December, you’ll need to delve deeper.
The holiday shopper is a special breed of buyer. This is true for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because the purchases they’re making typically aren’t for themselves—they're gifts. University of Michigan professor Scott Rick suggests there are two kinds of consumers: “tightwads,” who find parting with cash painful and spend less than they would ideally like, and “spendthrifts,” who buy freely but regret their extravagance after the fact.
For most of the year, spending between the two groups is distinct, but when it comes to holiday shopping, behaviours converge. Why? Because spending money on someone else mitigates the pain of making those purchases. In other words, buying gifts isn’t so much a choice as a necessity. “The pain of paying matters most when purchases are optional,” says Rick. “Gifts for loved ones are not optional, assuming we want to maintain those relationships.”
The necessity of gift-giving also leads to normalization. With so many people buying and gifting, a kind of herd mentality develops. No matter what type of consumer you are, the easier it is to see spending as normal and necessary, the easier it is to justify.
It’s also a lot easier to justify spending more, says marketing expert Neil Patel. Patel argues that price sensitivity goes out the window during the holidays: “Just as you’re likely to become accustomed to unfamiliar smells or background noise, you eventually become less shocked by spending money… Heck, you’ve already spent $450. What’s another $20? Or $2,000?”
That said, online retailers shouldn’t expect shoppers to spend willy-nilly just because they’ve got lots to buy in a short span of time. Holiday shoppers are discount-primed, and—as we've seen time and again—often ruthless in their pursuit of a bargain. The holidays are a competitive time amongst retailers, and buyers know it. No one’s paying full-price for a TV in December.
Know what to to expect for the 2015 holiday season
If this is your first holiday season as an online business, you probably don’t have a ton of numbers you can crunch to devise a game plan. Don’t worry. We’ve already covered some important context points (mobile is big, the end-of-year retail calendar is packed, holiday shoppers are free-spending so long as they’re getting a deal), and now we’re going to identify a few key trends we expect to see this holiday shopping season.
For starters, while Deloitte predicts that ecommerce will overtake brick-and-mortar stores in total retail sales for the first time, that doesn’t mean that this year’s online shoppers will be avoiding physical stores altogether. Around two-thirds of consumers are expected to shop in-store—and not because they don’t know their way around a smartphone. A
nalysts are calling 2015 the year of the “omni-channel shopper,” defined as a consumer who shops online, on his or her smartphone, and in-store. It may seem backwards, but some previously online-only brands are opening physical locations to cater to this growing demographic.
Omni-channel consumers are expected to spend a total of $1,643 during the holidays—76 percent more than those who only shop in-store—but their demands are far greater when it comes to service and selection. As in-store technologies blur the line between physical and digital commerce, more and more buyers have come to expect things like in-store pick-up, price-matching, and in-store mobile payments.
Today’s customers also expect an increasingly personalized shopping experience, both in-store and online. Retailers who can find ways to engage customers meaningfully and non-intrusively at every touch point will see far better returns than those who only personalize their email campaigns and customer loyalty programs.
Lastly—and here’s some good news for digital retail rookies—brand loyalty isn't guaranteed in 2015. Ecommerce has levelled the playing field and created a space for mom and pop shops to compete with established brands. Last year, 41 percent of holiday shoppers bought from a new retailer—so don’t think being new precludes you from big sales.
Preparing for the holidays is a challenge for any store, online or off, established or brand new. This post covered some important points to keep in mind as you get into the holiday spirit and plan your holiday sales strategy. We’ll be bringing you more tips and insights in the coming weeks, but for now we’ll leave you with a final thought, inspired by our friends at Shopify.
As a first-time holiday seller, treat the next few months as a learning experience. Stay hungry and ambitious, but don’t focus exclusively on reaching unrealistic sales goals or think that falling short of them spells failure. Learn as much as you can, try new things, and see what sticks. You’ll experience highs and lows over the course of the long season, so remember: at the end of the day, there’s not much a cold glass of eggnog (neat or otherwise, however you take it) can’t fix.
If you have any thoughts on holiday sales or feel like sharing about your store’s strategy, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.