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Putting a Wrap on Holiday 2019: Prominent Trends That Created Advantage

The 2019 Holiday season was monumental for the retail industry for a few noteworthy reasons. Here’s what went down:

Each day within Cyber 5 (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) saw significant year-over-year growth. More sales than ever came from smartphones. As a matter of fact, most site visits (63.4%) on Thanksgiving came from mobile, suggesting shoppers were doing pre-Black Friday research during this time. This mobile trend continued onto Black Friday as Adobe deemed it “the biggest day ever for mobile”— $2.9 billion sales came from smartphones which was a 21% increase from the prior year.

What might come as a surprise is that Super Saturday (December 21), beat out both Black Friday and Cyber Monday—becoming the largest single-day of shopping in US retail history. The fact that it drove $34.4 billion in in-store sales alone proves that in-store holiday shopping is alive and well.

The Most Valuable Channels of Holiday 2019

Paid Search: Mobile search proved to be both scalable and cost efficient, growing 69% for Merkle’s search clients which outpaced mobile spend share growth (53%). Surprisingly, it has remained a cost-effective channel, even as mobile is increasingly becoming the default device type among consumers.

Email: We saw an uptick in email sends and customer engagement. According to Adobe, 8% more emails are sent per day during the holidays compared to the rest of the year. While you may think that customers feel bombarded by this, in reality, NRF reports that thirty-nine percent of consumers looked to emails from retailers as their main resource for deals and promotions.

Social Media: Merkle saw social media ad spend soar during the holiday season. As social sites evolved their e-commerce features, retailers were quick to invest in them.

Five Trends from Holiday 2019

While I forecasted some key trends we would anticipate after Cyber 5, there were 5 trends we shared going into the season that held true and will only become more prominent in the future:

1. Promote holiday sales early

Shoppers tend to be proactive with their holiday shopping — as a matter of fact, 12% anticipated starting before September, suggesting they were open to holiday promotions and messaging well before Black Friday. Since there was a shorter window of shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas (six days shorter), retailers started promoting deals early. Walmart was one of the first retailers to kick off holiday savings as early as October 25th.

2. Spanning savings across multiple days during key retail holidays

We’re seeing more and more holiday offers spanned across multiple days. Cyber Monday is hardly contained to the day itself. We see Cyber Weekend or “early access” sales being promoted the weekend leading up to it and the extension of Cyber Monday into Cyber Week. To drive shopping before or beyond Cyber 5, retailers are turning to themed sales events. As previously mentioned, Walmart began “deal drops” in October and ran them throughout the season. Gentleman’s Box, a men’s accessory subscription, offered 12 Days of Deals while Pottery Barn created 12 Days of Gifting to drive both gift inspiration, along with unique savings for a variety of products.

3. Offering convenience and ease of shopping

We saw an increased focus on convenience and ease of shopping to differentiate from other retailers. A major lever in this effort was shipping. Amazon Prime has redefined consumers’ expectations of what convenience means in terms of both shipping cost and speed, and other retailers are making moves to try and keep pace.

More retailers are offering free shipping—some are even offering free expedited shipping. For instance, Walmart was able to target roughly 75% of American consumers with its free next-day delivery option. Best Buy promoted the fact that free shipping was available on thousands of items. Meanwhile, Target anticipated increased shopper expectations around shipping back in June when it launched its Shipt platform. While not free, consumers are able to have items shipped within the SAME day of purchase for $9.99 per order. Despite the new trend for faster shipping, Deloitte found free shipping to be more important than fast shipping.

Beyond shipping, retailers were also adding convenience through gift guides aimed at specific recipients such as “kids & babies” or “gadget gurus”.

Gift Guides

4. Bridging the gap between online and in-store

According to NRF, customers who shop both online and in-store spend 25% more than those who shopped in only one or the other.

Because retailers are often able to drive greater value from in-store customers vs. those on retailers’ websites, it is imperative for retailers to give shoppers a reason to get off the couch and visit a store. Although traffic was down in stores during the 2019 holiday season, there were still a strong number of shoppers, spanning across generations, who preferred picking out gifts in person.

In-store and Online

Pop-up experiences were also on the rise to draw the attention of customers and increase exposure to more shoppers. For example, Target opened a pop-up experience near NYC’s Chelsea Market. Retailers without a brick-and-mortar footprint also leveraged pop-ups to move beyond the world of ecomm-only and gain visibility.

When consumers do venture out to stores, they want to be certain the products they want are available — this is evident as BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store) usage during Cyber 5 grew 47.8%, year-over-year. More notably, on Black Friday, conversion rates at BOPIS retailers outperformed non-BOPIS retailers by 64%. If BOPIS is an option, it deserves to be known and communicated to shoppers.

5. Being relevant to break through the clutter

Customers don’t just want personalization, they demand it—it’s the only way to be relevant and be heard. Thanks to artificial intelligence, product recommendations are becoming more and more refined and relevant. e.l.f. Cosmetics saw a 4.2% increase in revenue, per user, after adding recommendations on its product detail page. Additionally, e.l.f.’s click-through rates improved by more than 23% after adding a “You May Love” section.

Shopping stats

Google continues to release new tools to streamline campaign management. Some of the most notable ones include Explanations and Bumper Machine. Explanations provides insights on performance fluctuations, reducing time spent on troubleshooting, while Bumper Machine removes the barrier of creating more appealing YouTube ads by cutting video down to 6 compelling seconds.

I could go on and on about the need for relevancy and personalization! Want to learn more from the holiday season? Check out my deep dive recap in the on-demand webinar here.