Applying Last Year’s Lessons for Holiday Sales

This story was originally published on March 10, 2012, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

OK, it’s time to officially close the book on the 2011 holiday retail season and to shift our attention forward to 2012. For me personally, what makes it difficult to stop looking back are the new trends that emerged that will forever change holiday shopping. By now you know the story:

  • Mobile made its mark, with 11 percent of online sales in December coming through a mobile device — an increase of 100 percent over December 2010.
  • The empowered customer turned to multiple mobile devices including smartphones and tablets to conduct mobile shopping.
  • While overshadowed by their mobile counterparts, social media sites such as Facebook proved they have an influence on consumer buying.

Now it’s time to begin looking at some of the smarter commerce approaches retailers can embrace to ensure they hit the bull’s-eye this 2012 holiday season. Following are some key issues to consider.

Shopping by Tablet

We now know that mobile commerce here to stay. In fact, we believe that mobile shopping rates will exceed 20 percent in 2012. A huge part of this growth will come via the iPad, which offers consumers an unparalleled experience, one which this past December drove more retail purchases than any other device.

In 2012, retailers will need to go the extra mile by creating a design and experience that fully takes advantage of the richness and the exploration capabilities of the device.

Next, take a leap of faith and embrace Quick Response Codes (QR Codes). QR Codes are unique bar codes that store a significantly larger amount of data. By scanning the code with a mobile device, consumers are instantly presented with a vast array of data about the company, including nearby locations, special offers and more.

While many feel that QR codes have missed the mark, with mobile shoppers in full swing, this technology represents one of the next big evolutionary rungs on the mobile commerce ladder. Push to make your business’s mobile commerce efforts even smarter by using QR Codes to connect consumers with rich, detailed information about the products that interest them the most, all through their mobile device.

Social Sales

While mobile stole the 2012 holiday spotlight, one thing that slid in under the radar is the fact that social media sites can help drive sales. Retailers must begin forming their social commerce strategy now, by looking at how their customers are behaving on social media channels both on their sites and across the Web.

Specifically, look at how consumers are sharing specials and promotions within their networks. Next determine if there are there patterns that you can identify and replicate in 2012.

Additionally, take the time to decipher social sentiment. By embracing advances in analytics, businesses can regularly gain new insights into consumer perceptions of their brand that will ultimately help to predict their buying behavior.

Go Beyond

While mobile and social are center stage, email remains one of the most effective ways to engage customers, as long as it’s not overdone. To be truly effective, marketing should be perceived as a service, not an intrusion.

For the 2012 season, begin examining the data gathered over the 2011 holiday effort. Specifically, look at the behaviors of customers to identify clear preferences for time, promotion, and how they consume your messages.

What days were they shopping most, and at what time of day? What devices were they using, and when? Now take this insight and target these shoppers with promotions and special deals at these precise times and on their preferred device.

Don’t Delay

One trend that was more pronounced this past season was the Thanksgiving shopper. In 2011, U.S. shoppers took advantage of early sales, which drove a 39.3 percent increase in online spending on turkey day, making Thanksgiving the official kickoff to the weekend of holiday shopping.

In 2012, retailers must begin promoting deals a day early and then be prepared to keep them fresh for Black Friday to ensure you keep shoppers interested.

Reel Them In

Paid channels offer a unique opportunity that should be a part of your everyday and holiday mix. Start looking at your budget, and then figure out which days to target and what words or themes to select.

For example, if you are keen to acquire new customers, it will be important that you know that consumers will be actively shopping for the best deals on Black Friday. Buying general key words that ensure your brand comes up high in many Black Friday searches will enable you to get more brand and promotion reach to consumers who haven’t bought from you yet.

We know consumers are actively looking on this day, so make sure you are one step ahead of them. And, of course, be prepared to deliver offers that will drive new customers to your site.

With 2011 in the rearview mirror, we know that the empowered consumer has drastically changed the holiday shopping landscape forever. The good news is that with some smarter approaches to commerce, retailers have a chance to answer the call in 2012.

The time to start planning is now.

John Squire is director of digital marketing and analytics at IBM.He writes for IBM's Smarter Commerce blog and loves to hear from readers. Follow him on Twitter at @IBMsmrtcommerce.

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