5 Must Do’s for Retailers This Holiday Season [2016]

Think it’s too early to start preparing for the busiest online shopping time of the year?  Let me share some helpful tips on personalization to help you prepare.

According to ChannelAdvisor, “74% of retailers say 20% or more of their yearly sales take place during the holiday season.”  It’s no wonder eCommerce professionals spend so much time trying to make their websites perfect.  Everything from onsite promotions and products, content and site-search and even email must deliver the most relevant, and engaging experience for would-be customers.  And this must happen across all touchpoints and devices.   Since one wrong step can spell disaster, let’s take a look at the 5 things online retailers must do this holiday shopping season to be successful.

#1 Promotions

In an effort to compete, brands are starting their holiday promotions much earlier than in previous years.  According to Scot Wingo, ChannelAdvisor CEO, “We’ve seen larger retailers kick off their holiday promotions as early as July” a reference to the splash Amazon created when it announced its ‘Black Friday in July’ sale.  For retailers, this strategy to offer earlier promotions is different from recent years, when the primary strategy was to offer free shipping.  Now, with free shipping considered more of a requirement than a strategy online retailers must rely upon optimized promotions to deliver dynamic, highly personalized, relevant content to each customer.  In fact, a recent study conducted by Google concluded that “85% of e-shoppers are more likely to shop from brands that offer personalized discounts and exclusive offers.”  Whether this occurs on the homepage and website or in the email, to compete this holiday season promotions must be dynamically targeted to each customer, meaning they must be on point!

#2 Products

This holiday season competition among retailers will be fierce.  Marketwatch expects year-over-year retail sales growth in 2016 to top 3.4% (upwards of $650 Billion dollars).  This is measurably higher than the 2015 holiday season in which retail spend came in at just over $626.1 billion, as reported by the National Retail Foundation.   With so much pressure for online retailers to offer the right product at the right moment to the right customer, brands must embrace 1:1 personalization to remain relevant.  It’s no longer a winning strategy to rely solely upon simple product recommenders, a topic we looked at in detail in a recent Baynote blog post titled, “The Dirty Secrets of Product Recommenders.”   To meet the shopper’s needs this holiday season online retailers must offer a personalized shopping experience with contextually relevant product recommendations.  These recommendations must take into account everything known about the customer from location to gender to segments to even real time preferences and brand affinities.  As Megan Oullet, Director of Content Marketing for LISTRAK points out, “56% of shoppers are expecting retailers to make holiday shopping more personalized… both online and in-store.” Because of this expectation, it’s important that brands go above and beyond to deliver an exceptional online buying experience for their shoppers.  It’s not enough for product recommendations to be solely based on past purchase or browse data, especially when the stakes are so high.

#3 Content

A third key to achieving online success during the 2016 holiday season is content; that is the context of the content as retailers try to get more shoppers interested in products.  As the Brafton Marketing agency pointed out, “69% of web retailers are already refreshing their site content to account for the holiday season.” For example, retailers are offering more promotional and educational content around discounts, suggested gift ideas and even product videos.  However, when it comes to taking content recommendations to the next level successful brands will be the ones that employ personalization to better engage their customers.  By applying real-time machine learning to figure out customer buying habits and preferences, smart retailers will be able to offer content that is targeted to each shopper in a highly personal and relevant way.  This is a result of observing thousands of online shopping sessions and creating patterns of shopper behavior.  As customers continue to rely on content for information and insight about purchases, the greater the burden will be on retailers to ensure that they are providing the right content at the right moment to the right person.

#4 Search

Optimizing site search and navigation for the holiday season is also important.  According to the Online Marketing Institute, 85% of customers abandon a site due to poor design and 75% of customers refuse to scroll past the first page of search results.  So, it’s no wonder that being able to display quality, relevant products, and content when a shopper is searching is a must.  Compared to traditional methods of onsite search, when brands take a behavior-based approach and provide improved navigation and personalized product and content recommendations, they are often able to increase conversion rates as much as 40% (compared to pre-optimization levels.)  Specifically, this occurs because behavior based systems such as Baynote’s Social Search technology are able to learn the affinities between search terms and content (beyond simple taxonomy and metadata), giving merchandisers insight into the context of shoppers queries and the unique ability to surface relevant content, products, and recommendations.  This makes it easy for holiday shoppers to find what they are looking for, and much easier for retailers to capture a shoppers attention while they are searching.

#5 Email

Email marketing is still a highly effective way for Retailers to reach shoppers this holiday season.   According to a recent study conducted by the ChoozOn Corporation, “57% of email subscribers are spending between 10-60 minutes browsing marketing emails during the week.”  This means online retailers this holiday season are likely to reach shoppers regardless of where they are.  And it’s safe to assume that the most successful online retailers will be the ones that can deliver the most relevant and engaging emails.  Specifically, what online retailers must do to be successful this holiday season, is turn to personalization for optimizing email marketing campaigns.  Personalization, in the context of email marketing allows online retailers to take what they know about the shopper and apply it in real-time to their email campaigns.  The days of batch-&-blast are over, to stand out in crowded inboxes this holiday season retailers must begin to utilize account and shopper segments, location, recent behavior, purchases, search terms and even customer preferences to determine the best items to display.  With Baynote not only is the above possible but the email recommendations are rendered in real-time as the email is opened by the shopper.  This allows the system to constantly optimize recommendations during an email campaign to take advantage of inventory, promotions and contextually relevant offers.  This approach has been shown to result in a “68% increase in user engagement above traditional forms of email marketing,”

While the holiday season represents a fantastic opportunity for marketers to connect with shoppers, leading brands know that creating an engaging, personal experience for customers is what drives results straight to the bottom line.  Smart retail brands will recognize that a customer who is fully engaged represents an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared with the average customer.   It’s never too early for online retailers to prepare for the holiday shopping season.

With the above tips eTailers in 2016 should be well positioned to succeed.

Author: Dan Saso

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein