‘Tis the Season to be Online: Holiday Season E-commerce Booms
It’s no secret that traditional retailers have been under pressure from the online channel. The advantages of lower prices, broader selection and convenience offered by e-commerce have been luring consumers to buy online for the past decade. The ever-upward growth trend of the online retail market continues in 2016, to the surprise of absolutely no one. As we draw nearer to the highly anticipated year-end holiday season, let’s take a look at the growth patterns for online retail, projections for this year and most importantly, how to take full advantage of this historically unique surge.
What happened last year?
An analysis of last years’ online shopping spending on the highly awaited Black Friday (November 27), amongst a selection of UK online retailers, revealed astonishing figures. Online retail had grown by a remarkable and unprecedented 259 percent, a dramatic increase from the 133 percent growth in 2014. The leader in online transactions for the 2015 holiday season was, unsurprisingly, Amazon. However, it was not the leader in growth. Curry’s, Very and John Lewis all outperformed the giant in terms of absolute growth rate.
Overall, online retail sales in the UK reached £114 billion (far exceeding the £52bn estimated by experts), making its citizens the most avid online shoppers in Europe, followed by Germany and France. Of this amount, a whopping £24 billion was spent over Christmas. Conversely, physical sales, while still dominating with respect to total volume, have seen a marked decline in growth. In fact, most brick-and-mortar businesses have redirected their attentions to their online portals to maximise sales and reach more consumers.
The advent of the Mobile Shopper
Online shopping has undergone its’ own paradigm shift in the last three years, as a result of the technological dislocation brought about by the advent of the smartphone. These devices have allowed consumers to cut back on their visits to retail stores and, along with that, their offline spending. Moreover, mobile site/app visits accounted for a staggering 63 percent of hits in the US and 56 percent in the UK. Mobile purchasing has also seen a similar upwards march, much more so than most projections for 2015 and 2016 had estimated. This can be attributed to the rapid increase in the number of smartphone owners and the growing familiarity with mobile use. Logistics giants, FedEx and UPS, have reported more delivery status checks via their mobile site than any other platform, including desktop and telephone.
This has led to more and more online retailers focusing on the mobile platforms, to the extent of offering coupons, discounts and products exclusive to the smartphone.
Key Marketing Avenues
The Critical Importance of an Effective SEO campaign
In the US, during the holiday season, approximately 45 percent of referrals to online retailers came from search engines (up from 41 percent in 2014), and as we discussed earlier, the majority of these were made through the mobile platform, with the most significant keywords being ‘sale’ and ‘discount’. Marketing analyses from Canada, UK and Germany reveal similar trends.
Social Media Continues to Be a Major Contributor
Social media sites also increased their share of referred traffic to retailers this holiday season by a relative 21 percent year-over-year. That’s likely due in part to the increase of “Buy Now” on social sites. Interestingly, between 2013 and 2014 there was actually a decline in referred traffic from social media, but that trend reversed course for retailers this holiday season and marketers should be working in 2016 to incorporate action buttons in their social posts.
Multimedia, especially videos, have proven incredibly successful in generating traffic online. Amazon, NewEgg, GameStop, Sephora and dozens more have reported an increase in online traffic thanks to successful video ad campaigns on YouTube.
E-mail marketing remains one the most crucial factors driving referrals, especially with faster checking and response times as a result of consumers’ growing comfort with smartphone e-mail applications. Also, don’t forget to let your existing customers know you’re thinking about them. Offer personalised promotions and early access to sales. Keep them well informed but don’t spam them.
Pay-Per-Click, Google Ads
Shopping Ads will be a key battleground this holiday season. Price reviews, bid adjustments, text optimisation, and special promotions will all be vital areas to maximise sales during this period. You could also optimise your existing Ad Text with seasonal promotion messages, and don’t forget to constantly monitor your performance.
Predict, Prepare and Provide
This holiday season, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. This means predicting demand, key performance factors and potential issues with the help of previous data and current market data; preparing to meet demand by insuring smooth logistics; and most importantly, providing consumers with a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment.
Here are a few ‘things-to-do’ that need to be on your list:
Analyse last years’ data with a fine-toothed comb
Before embarking on your strategy for the coming holiday season, revisit what happened last year. Analyse the most significant traffic generator, the success of your SEO/Social Media/E-mail marketing campaign, and which platform led to the most conversions.
Remember, apart from focusing on your key performance factors, it is also wise to remove low performers to further optimise your gains.
Make a ‘promotions calendar’
An area where many smaller players lose out is by not taking full advantage of the holiday season due to a lack of organisation. Update your web and mobile portals to reflect the festive spirit, offer incentives in the form of time-sensitive discounts and offers, showcase holiday gifting ideas and engage with the consumers via social media and e-mail. At the end of this article we’ve included a list of key dates to target in your campaign.
Good logistics ensure happy customers who return
It is imperative to have all your eggs lined up when it comes to shipping costs, delivery schedules and post-sale logistics (return/exchange). Almost 80 percent of consumers feel more inclined to buy products that offer free shipping, to the extent that it could be a deciding factor between two competing products. Also, deliveries that correspond to estimated times and ease of return/refund are major influencing factors in consumer decision-making. Therefore, make sure you have these details worked out before you enter the frantic holiday market.
During the holiday season, consumers tend to be a bit more selective when it comes to shopping, discovering products, comparing, and looking for alternatives. Retailers that target different segments and behaviours are far more likely to capitalise on this aspect.
Make sure your smartphone/tablet experience is excellent
As we’ve mentioned earlier, mobile phones as a platform for e-commerce have grown beyond anybody’s wildest expectations, with the majority of searches being performed on handheld devices. It’s clear that retailers who provide a smooth, intuitive and convenient mobile experience have a distinct edge.
Holistic preparation is a key element to maximising your advantage this holiday season. It’s not too late to start planning, but the sooner you start the better! It has become clear that e-commerce is going from strength to strength and that this is not a short-lived trend but the future of retail. Effective SEO, Social Media and E-mail campaigns are an integral part of insuring that a portion of the huge volumes of holiday shoppers end up on your page.
Important Dates to Keep in Mind
- 31st Oct - Halloween
- 5th Nov - Bonfire Night
- 27th Nov - Black Friday Deals
- 30th Nov - Cyber Monday - Now Extends A Full Week
- 24th Dec – Christmas Eve
- 26th Dec - Boxing Day
- 1st Jan - New Year Sales
- 1st Feb - Extended Sales
- 1st Mar - Extra Discounts