The clock strikes midnight on November 1st and registers ring, email inboxes fill with promotional messages and the holiday season is officially in full swing. With preparations for the holidays starting earlier every year and purchasing trends shifting, retailers need to stay ahead of the game and be ready for all consumer needs.
Many brands are finally taking a break with Thanksgiving Day sales, keeping their doors closed for the holiday, but instead are extending the shopping season even earlier into the year. Consumers are on the lookout for coupons and pre-Black Friday promotions that are already flooding in and with more options than ever. Sales between November and December 2021 are expected to be the highest recorded increase yet with a predicted increase of 8.5% to 10.5% according to the National Retail Federation. So, what new trends have emerged this year and how can brands be prepared for them this holiday season?
COVID-19 turned the world upside down and everyone had to adopt new holiday shopping practices last year, driving sales online. This year, the retail industry is expecting a hybrid approach from most consumers as the roles of online vs. in-store experiences are starting to blur together. Consumers have become used to the convenience of options and now expect to have the same exceptional service wherever they go. Brick-and-mortar stores were once a place to research and discover products, but now they have a transactional purpose since consumers already know exactly what they want when entering a store. To accommodate this shift, companies are adopting immersive features to their websites to allow for an “in-person experience” such as virtual try-ons and personalized recommendations. Consumers can talk live to sales associates while browsing online as if they were shopping in real life.
Another vital accommodation is offering hybrid delivery options, like buying online and picking up in store, reserve in store, curbside pickup and same day delivery. With such high competition, any inconvenience that could be solved elsewhere will turn a customer away. On top of that, consumers expect both free delivery and free returns; any additional costs can deter sales. They don’t want to take the risk of purchasing an item they are unsure about and having to pay to return it.
As consumers continue to increase online spending, opportunities within e-commerce also increase, especially with the help of important digital marketing efforts. With such high competition, establishing relationships and developing brand loyalty through digital means gives a competitive edge. Social media allows for direct communication between consumers and businesses to answer any questions or concerns that may arise during the buying process.
Product pages should also be optimized for search engines to gain higher visibility, especially since the internet has turned into one centralized location for consumers to find products, research details about items, compare deals and read customer reviews. By making this information readily accessible, it establishes a sense of trust and transparency, pushing someone closer to a conversion.
Persuading a customer to create an account while checking out has its benefits, forcing someone to make one in order to complete their transaction can be detrimental. The holiday season is busy, and people want a smooth, quick checkout process. Even if consumers are preparing to complete a purchase, requiring them to make an account before purchasing can turn people away and lead them to abandoning their cart.
Within e-commerce, mobile purchases dominate retail sales. It’s predicted that 73% of all e-commerce sales will be made from mobile devices in 2021 which makes the need for a flawless, mobile-friendly website essential to making sales. Many last-minute shoppers use their mobile phones to make purchases and any complication on a company’s website could lead to cart abandonment. Mobile already has the highest cart abandonment rate with 85.65% of transactions ending without a sale, so it’s vital that sites are optimized to fit the smaller screen. Offering multiple payment options including digital wallets, ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ plans and credit or debit cards can help drive a consumer through the entire buying process.
If a shopper abandons their cart, this can be an opportunity to utilize email remarketing by sending a reminder that their cart is waiting for them. This strategy is significantly more successful than a standard email, but the message must be personalized and direct them right back to where they left off to reach its optimal potential. Using exit-intent popups to offer shoppers free shipping or a coupon when they are about to leave the site prior to making a transaction is another way to keep shoppers from abandoning a potential purchase.
Many consumers have lists of people they want to buy holiday gifts for but fall short on what to get them. They’re turning to social media to find unique ideas and discover new brands. The app algorithms can anticipate consumers’ needs and personalize their feed, attracting more people to use these platforms as a discovery aid. In the United States, social commerce is expected to grow by 35% in 2021 with 35.9% of internet users making at least one purchase. Of the platforms, Facebook reigns supreme with 56.1 million buyers. Advertising products on social media platforms is a trend that can put a business ahead this holiday season.
An issue that concerns both consumers and retailers this year is the disruption of supply chain and the potential for shipping delays. On the retail side, having a diverse array of products and services that come from a variety of channels can potentially help keep a sufficient inventory. However, with customer behaviors changing and being aware of delays, consumers will be starting earlier to complete their to-do lists, making timing unpredictable. Brick-and-mortar stores may be at an advantage because people will be heading in to stores if products are unavailable online, making fast delivery and an ample inventory vital.
Instead of skipping dinner on Thanksgiving to shop, consumers are jumping on deals even earlier than Black Friday. Retailers should be ready for a longer holiday season and offer a variety of purchasing and delivery methods to make a seamless buying process. A disrupted supply chain and increasing levels of competition are forcing businesses to provide exceptional service during all touchpoints with consumers during the buying process as many are taking a hybrid approach to their shopping.
To maximize reach with the new hybrid shopping experience, use integrated marketing. By utilizing a variety of marketing channels, messages can be spread to wherever the consumers are.
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Lizzie Thornton is a Content Marketing Specialist at thunder::tech. When she is not writing strategic content she spends her time watching true crime documentaries and saying "hi" to every dog she meets.