The Election Tipping Point: How to Prep for the Holiday Rush
As the U.S. presidential election comes to an end, consumers are turning their attention to the rapidly approaching holiday shopping season. Typically, Americans tend to start preparations well before the December rush, and even before the traditional Thanksgiving week start to the season. According to The NPD Group’s Holiday Purchase Intentions Survey, in 2015, “half of all holiday shoppers planned to start their shopping before Thanksgiving weekend, a 6 percent increase over 2014.” Retailers are also coming off of a successful 2015 season, with holiday retail sales up 3 percent and online and other non-store holiday sales growing 9 percent, according to the National Retail Foundation (NRF).
However, due to the recent election, consumers haven’t been getting into the holiday spirit quite as quickly. In past election cycles, some retailers have experienced a delay in the shopping rush until after the election. And while the NRF expects 2016 retail sales to grow 3.4 percent over 2015, the organization’s chief economist cited uncertainty around the presidential election as a potential hurdle.
Regardless, the election is over and holiday shopping will be picking up the pace. In order to account for the potential delay, retailers and marketers should start by looking at historical sales data during election season to understand how their sales velocity this year might be different from non-election years (i.e., establish a baseline understanding if an election year makes a meaningful difference on your business). Based on that insight, they should then use this post-election period to prepare in three major areas impacted significantly by timing shifts:
1. Inventory breakdown: Historical data, particularly from past presidential election years, should inform your understanding of how the election timing shift may impact specific categories. If your analysis shows that certain parts of your product catalog may see significant pickup after the election, prepare your inventory and supply chain for increased demand.
Aside from monitoring your inventory in warehouses and brick-and-mortar stores, ensure you have the capabilities in place to track the performance of drop-ship suppliers. And once your processes are in place, consider making inventory availability viewable online. According to UPS’s “Pulse of the Online Shopper” study, 58 percent of shoppers believe that the ability to view inventory availability as they search for products online is important to the purchase decision.
2. Demand drivers: Even if your sales are slower-than-normal in the period leading up to the election, or advertising needs to be scaled back temporarily to account for increased competition for eyeballs, this period provides a critical window for fine-tuning your demand strategy. It goes without saying that you'll need to shift how you're allocating marketing spend in response to external factors.
For example, if you were planning on focusing budget on Facebook ads, but noted increased competition due to the election, consider channels like Pinterest or Google PLAs where you won’t be competing with candidates. You should also consider saving more spend than normal until after the election so you're matching your spend to customer demand and attention.
Use the post-election period to analyze consumer behavior and determine which channels and tactics are resonating. Are consumers shopping at certain times of day or from different devices? Real-time analysis will make a major difference when shoppers turn their full attention to holiday shopping.
3. Delivery expectations: Despite a shorter-than-normal holiday season, more consumers than usual may still be leaving their shopping to the last minute — presenting both a risk and an opportunity for e-commerce. For example, consumers evaluate a retailer’s delivery promise as part of their purchase decision when shopping online under a deadline.
To prepare for an increased holiday rush, use this time to prepare your back-end operations to get packages to shoppers quickly, efficiently and cost effectively. Make sure you have a real-time view into orders so you can upgrade the orders that need it — and not those that don’t. Leverage your brick-and-mortar locations to get packages to customers faster by shipping from stores, and consider tapping into a network of 3PL distribution partners so you aren’t missing out on any holiday demand.
This election year, it may feel like America’s attention is permanently fixed on just one topic, however, the holiday shopping season is upon us. Take this time to make final preparations. And don’t forget, last year nearly half of consumers planned to shop retailers’ after-Christmas sales in stores and online.
Bill Kong is executive vice president, products and services at CommerceHub, a provider of hosted integration, drop-ship fulfillment and product content management.