By Andy Marken
You just got the kids back to school and don't even want to think about your first pre-holiday ad or online/in-store Christmas decorations, but there are too many touchpoints that have to be taken care of this year.
After last year's white-knuckle Christmas, everyone in the channel has been working feverishly to ensure consumers forget how they scoured the web and stores looking for bargains.
Actually, we learned a lot from all of efforts to convince folks we had the stuff they wanted to buy, give, share.
The smart players are pulling out all of the stops and testing a bunch of new technologies to not just finish the season in a solid manner but even produce some sales lift this year.
Retailers have set some aggressive goals for the season and this year, they're focused on the bottom-line.
It all boils down to our ability to drive sales through strategically timed promotions and totally integrated marketing – web, social media, mobile device, in-store.
Leading the Charge
It appears that millennials will be the shopping influentials this year and will influence the age groups with the greatest amount of disposable money to spend – the Silents and Boomers.
Gift Givers – Millennials are the most optimistic about the upcoming Christmas season, and they will have a strong effect on the Silent and Boomer generations who have more money to spend this holiday season.
eCommerce sites like Amazon, eBay, Other World Computing and a host of others have been redesigning, testing, tweaking, retesting and double-testing their websites since before consumers threw down their last New Year's eggnog.
It's a never-ending process of taking advantage of new programming techniques and ideas to see if consumers can open your website and go to the page/pages they want--even before they think of what the gift was going to be and who it was for.
Test Flights – Every manufacturer and retailer is taking a long, hard look at their web site and pages to ensure they open quickly and that search engines can find them quickly. Less than optimum location, poorly designed, out-of-date site locations and broken links costs organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Everything has to work seamlessly, flawlessly this year.
Online and brick and mortar sites know that a second or two load/refresh time, ease of selection and speed of checkout can spell the difference between a sale and an abandoned shopping cart.
They've enhanced their SEO (search engine optimization) to adjust the site's contents for the optimum ranking in search engine results and have their SEM (search engine marketing plans in place to promote the site and improve page visibility...just for people.
The online/store front retailers know people no longer have one device -- the stay-at-the-office, stay-at-home computer.
It would be nice (easy) if they did, but folks are going out this year armed to the teeth and retailers will be ready to deliver web pages in just the right format – TV set, notebook, tablet, smartphone.
Screen Size Matters – Retailers need to ensure their web site and pages appear quickly and properly on all types of devices (notebooks, tablets, smartphones) to keep consumers interested and coming back for news, information, sales, special offers. Like Target, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Amazon and others, you want to ensure they don't leave "before their time."
There's just enough difference in the device screen consumers are using at the time that if their pages don't look good, marketing knows they're ... gone.
Life was so much easier for web teams before people became totally connected!
Channel people have learned the hard way that consumers have become very savvy on researching a product before they buy, so the "social media" folks are limbering up their fingers/ thumbs to be everywhere folks – young and old – will be this year.
Social Connection – The popularity and use of social media sites can change almost overnight; and since companies can't be certain which one their potential customers will be using this holiday season, their social media folks will be on all of them ... just in case.
These folks are ready, willing and able to deliver information, news and deals on YouTube, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace, Pinterest, and a dozen other social media services that will appear in the coming weeks.
Starting even before Thanksgiving (think Halloween) they'll be posting great ideas for gift-givers across all the services ... a couple of times a week.
A Matter of Trust – Friends and family have consistently had the greatest influence over what people buy; but today's we- savvy consumer does a lot of online research before they make a purchase, well beyond Facebook Likes. They study product, company and service reviews as well as user forums and reviews. They are well armed before they buy.
It would be great if people would just take their word for it, but today's consumer spends hours researching the product category he/she is interested in to find just the right product from the right company/retailer with the right reputation and service/support at the best price.
With money being tight the last couple of years, people have gotten into the habit of being real serious about how they spend their holiday budget.
Industry players don't see that changing.
That's why the clerk said, "For the next 5 minutes only, 99% off!"
Since it's a level playing field today, nearly everyone will be offering price matching ... just show them the ad, price...BAM!!!
New POS – The smartphone has become a valuable tool and resource for today's shopper. People are doing a lot more research-- even when they are in the store, checking product reviews/reports as well as the best pricing. Beyond just acting as showrooms for online sites, a growing number of retailers have implemented price matching policies for any product advertised at another store or online.
Retailers have gotten past the anguish of consumers bringing their smartphone into the store and showrooming (checking the physical product, searching for a better price and leaving to buy online).
That does happen, but most people who have gone to the trouble to go to the store and see the product want to buy it Now!
That's going to be even more important this holiday buying season when inventories everywhere are going to be closely monitored by management.
In fact, retailers see people's smartphone as being a real advantage for them this year.
According to a recent study, Bayfront found:
53 percent of respondents expect mobile transactions to account for a significant part of holiday revenue
38 percent believe mobile will drive renewed in-store interest that will lead to increased revenue
mobile's momentum heading into the holiday season is in stark contrast to social media, which 84 percent of respondents see as having little or no impact on sales
The Grinch was a little disappointed when his answering machine said, "You have no messages."
eTailers and retailers alike are focusing on the customer experience this year because they have a huge, rich treasure trove of Big Data, they're more efficient at mining that data and they are connecting all of their selling solutions to capture the consumer's attention ... and keep it.
The part of the customer experience that intrigues me is the growing and sophisticated use of digital signage--especially when it's tied to the retailer's app on the smartphone. Some are even testing using in-screen cameras for facial recognition and touch screens.
Really creative signage solution providers like OSM Solutions and Flixio are making it interesting, almost fun, to look at the in-store signage, especially when it presents information that will interest customers even before they know it themselves.
Eye to Eye – Economic digital signage systems and solutions are becoming valuable selling tools for manufacturers and retailers. Messages can be targeted just for the viewer in the store and they can interactively find out more information about the products. It's not as advanced as in Minority Report yet, but the industry is working on it for you.
While you see the signs, what you don't see is all the creativity and hard work that is going on behind the scene to feature new products/special offers to spark folks interest and give them added product benefit and value information.
To provide more information, screens this year in large big box and small stores will be touchscreens that will help consumers learn more about a specific product, see user testimonials, really get you involved ... almost committed.
The signage solutions are becoming so affordable and so feature-rich that consumers who walk into a store this holiday that only has plain old paper promotion may turn around and walk out because they figure the store probably won't even be able to do a price match.
Some stores are going even further, i.e., the moment you come into the store with your smartphone and their app; they'll slip you some special coupons, special offers, hot news on items of interest ... life is good.
Now that's a customer experience!
Or, as the Grinch said, "I don't wanna make waves, but this *whole* Christmas season is..."
There will always be a certain group of folks who will leave their smartphone in their pocket and jam into the store to share in the claustrophobic fun.
Pack the Halls – Expect to see retailers inching their holiday specials and sales ahead of Thanksgiving this year to fill the stores with shoppers. Special events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all of the last-minute rush sales will be hot-n-heavy again this year as retailers focus on making their fourth quarter numbers big ... and black.
This year, we'll see retailers starting their Christmas promotions in early October to encourage consumers to brave the mobs, elbows, insults.
The Grinch looked around and said, "I tell you Max, I don't know why I ever leave this place."
A majority of U.S. adults (68 percent) expect to shop online for gifts this upcoming holiday season.
Over 40 percent of U.S. adults who shop online evaluate their purchase with a local retailer before buying online.
That's why it's important to create a positive online shopping experience for shoppers who visit stores to try out the product then make the purchase online.
As you'd expect, most shoppers will use their mobile phones and tablets to make purchases. According to a Harris Poll:
67 percent of the folks will stop using websites if the pages load slowly on their device 29 percent will buy in a store if they have website "issues"
22 percent will buy from a competitor's site if they have issues
20 percent will blow it off altogether
Positive experience counts, with nearly three quarters (70 percent) online shoppers saying they will buy from a store if they had a previous positive experience ... even if it is cheaper somewhere else.
Savvy retailers won't be taking any chances because they'll make it worthwhile for the brave souls this year with flash sales, BOGO (buy-one-get-one free) and you name it to ensure folks make everyone happy this Christmas.
Santa's Helpers – Online and omni-channel retailers will continue to offer periodic free shipping and overnight delivery for people who don't want to face the crowds, can't find just what they want in the store or put off their shopping until the very last minute.
We'll see a lot more free shipping this year; and as people hold off until the absolute very last minute, stores will be ready to ship overnight (might be a slight cost here).
Retailers up and down the street, in and out of the cloud are going to use all the tools available to increase engagement, revenue and long-term relationships with all of the happy shoppers.
Seeing the anxious retail faces and all of the searching exercises consumers will begin shortly, the Grinch said, "The sleigh, the presents, they'll be destroyed, and I care!"