Editor's Note: School Bells Giving Way to Sleigh Bells
As you read this, you're likely in the middle of or wrapping up your busy back-to-school season, so your thoughts may not be on the upcoming holidays. But if last year is any indication, you should probably start thinking about it. Holiday 2012 figures to be another blockbuster shopping season for cross-channel retailers.
Despite a less-than-stellar economy, holiday retail growth was up to pre-recession levels last year, with 2011 sales peaking at $465 billion, up 4.13 percent from 2010, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Retailers will be counting on a boost in sales in the final stretch of the holiday season this year because there are two extra shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year vs. a Sunday last year.
There are other reasons for retailers to be optimistic about the upcoming holiday season. According to the NRF's recent Global Port Tracker report, which helps retailers understand what's happening at the nation's ports by monitoring things like container volume imports and gate operations, there's been a significant increase in imports for August, September and October, the three key months of the year when retailers import the bulk of the merchandise they'll sell during the holiday season.
Furthermore, a survey released in August by nonbank lender Capital Business Credit showed optimism among consumer-goods suppliers about holiday sales. Forty-three percent of the suppliers surveyed — who sell goods to retailers such as Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney — believe holiday sales will be stronger this year, a significant increase from the 27 percent who felt that way in 2011.
There's also reason to believe that this year's holiday shopping season will begin earlier than ever. Christmas merchandise arrived at Costco on Aug. 1, and Sears, J.C. Penney, Wal-Mart and other retailers will be pushing holiday goods by the end of September, according to USA Today. Wal-Mart also announced in August that its holiday layaway program is back, this time a month earlier. The program starts on Sept. 16 and runs through Dec. 14.
Retail emails mentioning "Christmas" or "holiday" have also started appearing earlier than ever this year. According to the Retail Email Blog, Hallmark promoted a Christmas card contest in March, The Sportsman's Guide mentioned holiday ornaments in an email in May, and Norm Thompson promoted ornaments and other holiday items in emails in May and June.
There's no mystery as to why retailers are constantly stretching out the holiday shopping season: The longer the season, the more shoppers are likely to spend. In addition, if retailers start their advertising campaigns earlier in the season, they're able to spread their messages to consumers with less ad clutter to compete with.
Consumer Trends to Keep Top of Mind This Holiday Season
So, what should cross-channel retailers do to make this holiday season a profitable one? According to IBM Enterprise Marketing Management's fifth annual Online Retail Holiday Readiness Report, published in June, they should focus on the following:
- Mobile shopping and browsing. There will likely be a big increase in mobile shopping this holiday season. Make sure your site(s) and ads are optimized for mobile devices.
- Pervasive personalization. The more closely you match offers, products and content to individual consumers this holiday season, the greater the reward will be for you and your customers.
- Display ad and email retargeting. Using display ads and emails to re-engage visitors who browsed an item or added an item to their shopping cart but didn't make a purchase is growing rapidly among retailers. The strategy has proven to drive sales and elevate brand awareness. Make it a part of your marketing mix this season.
- Email rendering and deliverability. For your holiday promotional emails to be effective, they need to reach inboxes and render across a broad range of desktop and web email clients, mobile devices, browsers, and internet service providers.
- Unified cross-channel marketing. Smart retailers are moving toward a unified cross-channel marketing approach that presents a consistent, personalized experience across all offline and online touchpoints.