In October 2015, Seattle-based retail giant REI announced that it would be closing its doors on Black Friday — the biggest shopping day of the year. The company even promised to compensate its 12,000 employees, creating a campaign called #OptOutside. The campaign encouraged companies and shoppers alike to put down their credit cards and head outdoors on the day after Thanksgiving. And while some retail executives might have been scratching their heads at this movement, the campaign was a marketing success for REI.
In fact, a recent analysis of social media sentiment from SAP found that throughout the 69,599 mentions of Black Friday, 8 percent of those comments were about REI — and an overwhelming amount of them were positive. The reason? Consumers were thrilled to see a major retailer marching in the other direction in terms of seasonal advertising.
It’s no secret that throughout the decade, stores have started promoting seasonal deals earlier and earlier. Yet data collected throughout 2015 showed that excitement for holiday shopping immediately jumped after Thanksgiving; 88 percent of the chatter was positive, while weeks before only 58 percent of people were expressing their holiday shopping excitement via social media.
Based on consumers’ enthusiasm for campaigns such as #OptOutside and Nordstrom’s announcement that it would not deck the halls until after Thanksgiving, emerging trends demonstrate that shoppers want retailers to take advertising one holiday at a time, and the way retailers reach consumers might actually be shifting as well.
The Digital Age
Retailers have traditionally focused on bringing consumers into stores during major holidays. Some even pull the trigger to lower in-store prices on items such as electronics, toys and clothing — the top deals for Black Friday — but research is showing us that it behooves retailers to align holiday deals both in-store and online.
Among the thousands of social media mentions focused on seasonal shopping in 2015, 71 percent of the total responses involved people talking about online rather than in-store shopping, with more than 10,000 of the mentions being positive. This trend was also seen in the months leading up to Black Friday. While Cyber Monday received 80 percent fewer mentions than Black Friday, online shopping continued to dominate the Black Friday conversation.
This data suggests that consumers are becoming more accustomed to shopping online rather than in-store, and they prefer to not be bombarded with holiday gift shopping promotions too early. Therefore, retailers need to deliver a seamless customer experience at the right time using the right channels to capture sales.
One approach to meeting shopper expectations includes seasonal promotions via mobile and online channels. This might include the ability to purchase online for in-store or home delivery, manage loyalty cards and points, or write reviews. In fact, a recent report commissioned by The Economist Intelligence Unit identified that about 60 percent of survey respondents use their mobile devices to comparison shop and 76 percent said they prefer in-store staff to use mobile devices to ring up their purchases.
Shoppers are looking for a distinctive experience such as real-time personalized promotions. For retailers, this requires analysis of individual point-of-sale transaction history, including date, time, frequency of visits and frequency of coupon usage. Two retailers, Brooks Brothers and Brookshire Grocery Company, recently shared their strategy for personalization.
By tying promotions to the right time of year, retailers have the ability to exceed consumers’ expectations and gain brand loyalty by taking each holiday one promotion at a time. As consumers continue to move towards online shopping to fulfill holiday lists, it’s apparent that retailers that fail to meet digital integration will lose consumers’ interest.
Lori Mitchell-Keller is the general manager for global consumer industries at SAP, a software and solutions technology provider.