Fortune Favors the Bold (and Prepared): How to Make the Most of the Holidays
I recently watched a documentary that claimed the Disneyland Resort begins planning its holiday decorations every February like clockwork. My takeaway from this tidbit is that Disney has hit on something every retailer should know: Relying on last year’s holiday trends or waiting until the last minute to identify new ones is a poor way to lure customers, especially during the holidays when everyone is pressed for time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that past online shopping trends are immaterial. For example, we’ve seen consumer attention spans decline and bounce rates — the percentage of people who arrive at a site and leave immediately (presumably because they couldn't find what they’re looking for) — increase over the last couple of years. No one believes these trends will reverse themselves.
For retailers, this means you have to perfect a tailored, customized approach to reaching your audience, increasing the odds that they won’t bounce away from your site to your competitors’. Personalized, relevant and targeted display ads may be just the ticket to keeping your brand, products and special offers top of mind among consumers who visited your site but didn’t buy anything.
But the past only paints part of the picture. That’s why the retailers who recognize and take advantage of this year’s emerging trends will be the biggest winners come this holiday season.
Mobile is online retailers new best friend. Embrace it. Think about how you use your mobile phone. If you’re like most people, you keep your phone within arm’s reach at all times. Use that proximity to your advantage to drive sales and build brand loyalty by treating mobile as a key element of your marketing programs.
Furthermore, people generally don’t distinguish between a mobile site vs. a website vs. an in-store experience when they’re evaluating their experience with a particular brand. Consistency is key. If your website gives consumers a rich, immersive experience, then you need to make sure your mobile experience is just as compelling.
Mobile phones are quickly becoming the instrument of choice for people, whether they’re casually browsing, researching their next purchase, responding to your latest email promotion or making impulse buys. Use this pervasiveness to transform your marketing programs into customer service that’s built on what consumers are telling you they want every time they pick up their mobile phone.
But what about social media? Shouldn’t retailers be spending an equal amount of time and resources investing in social media marketing? The answer lies in your analytics data.
IBM benchmark data for retail shows that the majority of retailers are reaping greater rewards from investments in mobile marketing than from equal investments in social marketing. Your specific data may tell a very different story; it should paint a clear picture about where your customers are coming from and what they expect from you.
I like to think about social and mobile as two sides of the same coin: they both go beyond simple shopping trends. They're reflections of how we live our lives. Social media is about authentic, transparent conversations. People are smart. They can spot corporate doublespeak a mile away, and the internet is strewn with case studies about social media done wrong.
This holiday season the savviest, most innovative retailers are sure to be watching their social channels for emerging trends — e.g., what’s flying off the shelves and therefore sold out in X,Y and Z locations (but of course available online, and hey, if you order by this date we’ll even give you free, guaranteed-to-get-there-on-time delivery). That’s when marketing starts to feel very much like a value-added service to your customers. You make their lives easier with useful information and they’ll reward you with something even more important than a simple sale: loyalty.
The last tidbit I’ll share with you is the importance of acting on information ahead of your competitors. Real-time data and trends are powerful not just because they give you the opportunity to marginalize your slower-moving competitors, but because they’ll enable you to demonstrate that you’re listening to what consumers are telling you every time they visit your site, act on an email promotion or post a comment about your products on a social site.
The fact is that identifying emerging trends early on will afford you an enormous competitive advantage, as the folks who run Disneyland can attest to. But even if, unlike Disney, you didn’t start preparing for the holidays back in February, it’s still not too late to identify which trends make the most sense for your business.
For more detailed information about how to formulate powerful programs to take the holiday season head-on, check out IBM’s 4th Annual Online Retail Holiday Readiness Report. Providing an in-depth analysis of key trends in online shopping and usage based on data from more than 500 leading U.S. retailers, the report offers best practice guidance on how to adapt to fast-moving trends during the critical holiday season.
John Squire is chief strategy officer of IBM Smarter Commerce.