With COVID-19 at its peak last year, it seemed inevitable that retailers would close their stores on Thanksgiving to minimize Black Friday crowds. The reality is, with Best Buy and other major retailers like Walmart and Target closing their stores on Thanksgiving Day yet again, holiday shopping seasons are changing more permanently.
So what are the implications of this shifting dynamic, and how will it alter retailers’ approaches to engaging e-commerce experiences year-round?
Shifts in Seasonal Shopping Behavior
Today, many retailers work to capitalize their promotional efforts around U.S. holidays. People are off from work, and retailers tap into this time by promoting shopping and deals. At first, online shopping mostly mirrored in-store shopping. However, as online shopping began to dominate, the constraints of in-store shopping like inventory capacity and staffing concerns diminished in importance. Among other aspects, this gave rise to Cyber Monday, which has become the online equivalent to Black Friday, and in some sectors even exceeds the volume of Black Friday. What this indicates is that the days preceding and following Black Friday are contributing significantly to online sales volume.
When Customers Are in Market, Retail Must Be Relevant
There's no question that seasonal holidays still generate a lot of customer interest on their own, which makes sales and other related tactics almost a requirement. In the old days, that might have meant a big tent out front with balloons and those funny inflatable stick men, but the modern day online equivalent is more than fireworks and a banner.
Though somewhat desensitized, consumers still respond to sales. That said, they're a dime-a-dozen, and we often find that busy people aren’t willing to slow down for something they perceive will be duplicated a few weeks or months later, as retailers clamber for business. One way to rise above the noise is to engage your customers in an event that's bigger than just a sale.
Prime Day is the obvious example for a modern day, artificially created retail “holiday.” It’s so big that there's enough search volume around it to give rise to “tagalong” initiatives from other retailers, such as Sweetwater’s Prime Time Deals promotion. The tactic we’ve used is to launch ours a few days before Prime Day, thereby siphoning off some amount of relevant search traffic before that money has been spent elsewhere.
Build Your Own Event by Giving it Substance
Content-based events shift the focus away from purely selling products and are more informative and educational. These are successful for building brand awareness and credibility in the marketplace, while at the same time bringing in a new generation of customers who don’t necessarily respond to sales but to ideas that trigger thought around products that are sold. For example, with a story or video about how to record a guitar for best results, customers are immediately thrown into thoughts about guitars, microphones, recording equipment, etc. Amplify that idea into a “Guitar Month” or a “Record at Home” initiative with a bevy of relevant and helpful content and then add a sale or promotion around relevant items, and now you’re driving business volume while also establishing your brand as a leader in the space.
Content-based events are the gifts that keep giving, when leveraged correctly. If the content is developed in a strategically sensible way, it will continue to tap into search volume for months or years to come, which leads customers back to the source (you). It's also a true win-win: customers get real value beyond a discount, while retailers develop loyalty beyond just a momentary bump in revenue.
David Stewart is chief marketing officer/executive vice president of marketing at Sweetwater, the largest online retailer of musical instruments and pro audio equipment in the United States.