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October 11, 2016 | Emily Winsauer

6 Holiday Trends in Retail Ecommerce You Can Implement This Season

Holiday ecommerce has grown way beyond "Cyber Monday"; at this point, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year's is a fully-fledged Cyber Season.
 
Ecommerce purchases balloon at this time1, and 2016 is expected to see an even greater rate of growth than last year.2 For businesses that rely on holiday income, October is crunch time. With planning and preparation for the holidays in high gear, understanding ecommerce trends and what's driving them is essential if you want to compete with so many other businesses for attention and revenue.
This year, trends are driven in part by better tech: larger phones, better WiFi, more payment options, and better mobile security. But there's an equally important psychological element involved in holiday shopping that no ecommerce retailer should forget: the joy and stress of gift giving. 
 
Since this post is a bit lengthy, here's a table of contents so you can jump to what you want:
  1. Catering to Multichannel Shoppers
  2. A Holistic Approach to Getting Found
  3. Selling a Markedly Different Experience
  4. Making Online Customer Service Equal In-Store Help
  5. Remembering Brick-and-Mortar Stores, Including Your Competitors'
  6. Prioritizing Value Reclamation
 

1. Catering to Multichannel Shoppers

I'm not going to bore you with another "Guys, you really need to be thinking about mobile!" Duh. We know that. People shop on their smartphones. The less-well-appreciated aspect of mobile ecommerce is that it makes up a part of a larger multichannel purchase process for the consumer.

A few years ago, we were talking about how shoppers wanted to browse and buy on their smartphones as well as with their desktop computers, but today's ecommerce customer base is not that binary (in fact, they never were). 

Many people will shop on their phones, put items in their carts to consider, and want to come back to it later on desktop to make the purchase. Others will want to browse Pinterest on their laptops during lunch, then go back to their "Things I Want" board and click on buyable pins when they get their bonuses. Yet others may use retail locations to try something on (and then wait for an online-only sale) or to make the final purchase after browsing online.

See? Multichannel.

According to Google, 85% of online shoppers start a purchase on one device and finish on another.3 Luckily for ahead-of-the-curve ecommerce businesses, these customers are actually more profitable. They shop more frequently and spend about 3 times as much4, perhaps because they're spending more time with your products, which makes impulse buys and complementary purchases more likely. 
 

The State of Mobile Shopping

 
In the world of ecommerce, desktop is still king, but mobile is catching up. Forrester projects that between online and offline transactions, mobile devices influenced more than $1 trillion in total purchases in 2015.5
 
Indeed, 35% of people agree that their mobile phone will become their main purchase tool, even if it's not there yet.6 Yet mobile sales are substantial, and represent an even larger share of ecommerce sales during the holidaysMobile devices accounted for 37% of US online sales over the Thanksgiving weekend and into Cyber Monday in 2015 (up from 29% in 2014).
 
Certain brands see even higher rates of mobile sales or mobile-assisted sales at this time; Amazon reported that 70% of its customers globally spent time shopping on their mobile devices during the 2015 holiday season.7
 
What does this mean for retailers? I would argue that mobile-influenced purchases are as important a metric for ecommerce retailers as total mobile purchases are, yet it is difficult to measure for individual businesses. If you can't view individual user behavior, you can always compare email open and click rate to sales broken out by device, or compare the mobile/desktop traffic breakdown on your site to your conversions. That will at least give you a sense of what's happening.
 

What does it mean to cater to multichannel shoppers?

In most cases, accommodating multichannel shoppers means providing seamless visual and UI (user interface) experiences from one platform to another, so your customers feel like they're interacting with one entity and one system regardless of platform.

This involves design and branding, navigation, content, ecommerce solutions, payment gateways, and the integration of social platforms and particularly social advertising into your ecommerce strategy. Behind the scenes, better CRM solutions can manage customer data, order history, and user behavior in a way that creates better experiences across all channels. 

From the consumer's perspective, it doesn't make sense that your loyalty program or shopping cart wouldn't follow them from one platform to another. If they've shopped with you before, they shouldn't have to enter their payment information again or take any additional action to earn their rewards. 
 
Likewise, a potential customer who was drawn to the aesthetic of your sponsored Instagram post enough to click would be jarred (and likely turned off) by landing on a website with radically different look. Put another way:
 
This woman is clearly confused because the website landing page doesn't match the aesthetic of the social post.

Design elements also speak volumes; a coherent visual language helps eliminate friction and make cross-channel transitions easier on customers. Use consistent visual cues to identify important actions, and make strategic choices about what content to present and when—understanding the buyer's journey is key to improving in the user's experience.

2. A Holistic Approach to Getting Found

SEO is more important for ecommerce businesses than others, but luckily, the software that supports ecommerce is rapidly getting more SEO-savvy and is getting more likely to follow best practices natively or offer plugins that allow you to do so.

Long-form content remains essential, not only on site pages and blog posts, but on product pages. In product descriptions, be specific and give people everything they need to be confident in their online purchasesDon’t be afraid to use full sentences and conversational language, which is a great opportunity to add valuable long-tail keyword variations. As voice search gets more and more influential and LSI keywords become the norm, this approach will help you get found by more searchers under more circumstances. 

Reviews are also a valuable addition to product pages; they often use conversational language, and 40% of customers say that reviews influence their buying behavior.8 When reviews also appear on a third-party site (like Google or Yelp), be sure to maintain your profile there, because it may drive traffic to your site.

While PPC and social ads don't bring organic traffic in the classic sense, they are still powerful ways of getting found and they, too, benefit from the inbound marketing approach. Aim for persona-driven ads that link to valuable, engaging landing pages with content people will enjoy. Also, remember that retargeting ads is particularly powerful at the holidays, as people get more rushed and desperate to check friends and family off their shopping lists.

However, with all of the tactics you can use to get found, a significant portion of your traffic relies on organic sharing—and that traffic is likely to be some of your best-performing. Today, social media posts are even more influential than traditional reviews67% of consumers say that either reading or writing social media reviews and comments influences their online shopping behavior.9Do everything you can to encourage sharing both in your design and with your marketing. Encourage people to share their reviews, the products they like, your videos and blog posts, and anything else they connect with.

Finally, sometimes "getting found" comes down to "staying found," especially as you fight for repeat business from customers who are faced with many other options. During the holiday season, you can't take your customer base for granted. On the plus side, your brand advocates are an invaluable asset—encourage them to review and share!

Getting Found: Action Items 

  1. Bulk up your product descriptions, using clear, specific language and different keyword variations. Give customers everything they need to be confident in their purchases.
  2. Add product-specific reviews to your product pages, either through an embedded plugin solution or, if necessary, directly into the copy.
  3. Link to your product pages at appropriate places in your blog posts and website content.
  4. Do a pre-season SEO check for 404 errors, missing meta descriptions, and other basic SEO problems. If people are searching for what you sell, you want to make sure that they like what they see and click.
  5. How does it all look on mobile? If there are any massive headlines or text that's wrapping strangely, you may be able to fix it with an easy CSS change. Better to take care of this before your annual peak site traffic, huh?
  6. Optimize your emails for sharing, both with social sharing buttons and a call to action (e.g. "To share this offer with your friends, just forward this email!"). Plan an email marketing schedule that keeps you in front of customers without irritating them (remember, too many emails is the #1 reason for unsubscribes). If you can, A/B test email subject lines and other important elements with a segment of your list so you can send the best possible version of important emails to the bulk of your email list. 
  7. Plan your PPC and social ad campaigns in advance so you have time to create powerful, thoughtful content and visual assets before things get rushed.
  8. Add any videos you have to multiple searchable platforms like your site and YouTube. Use your target keywords in the titles and descriptions. Remember, social media platforms are search engines, too.

3. Selling a Markedly Different Experience 

Since Cyber Monday's inception in 2005 (it was a marketing tactic created by Shop.org), ecommerce business have relied on the same feelings of competition and urgency to sell goods online that brick-and-mortar stores use to promote Black Friday sales.

The thing is, most people find that unpleasant and stressful, especially now that technology allows interruptions and demands on every moment of our time. Instead of jumping on the Black Friday Sale train, ecommerce businesses have an opportunity to present a far less stressful alternative—after all, isn't shop-in-your-pajamas convenience the biggest selling point of ecommerce? But the experience you offer doesn't have to be just less stressful; it can be enjoyable, as buying gifts for loved ones should be.

Slow Things Down

When you choose to sell this way, start earlier and provide more support for your customer, but be very careful to keep the tone mellow, helpful, and transparent. Use the enjoyable parts of holiday shopping—browsing, thinking about what will make gift recipients happy, receiving gifts themselves, the upcoming holiday festivities—as entry points into the conversation with your customer.

By encouraging people to opt out of the craziness, you are asking them to take the time to enjoy the holidays, and your marketing should reflect thatConsider compiling gift guides, creating shopping lists, and adding "Treat Yourself!" bonuses or incentives to keep things easy and fun.

You can also provide support with reminders that are all about convenience, such as when your last shipping day will be, or even about when peak shipping season is about to start ("Don't risk delays on your holiday gifts—peak shipping period starts on Monday!"). If your ecommerce solution has the capability, consider sending reminders when stock levels drop on items in a user's cart or products they've visited multiple times in your store.

Try turning the old flash sale on its head and holding an early-access sale for subscribers. After someone has taken advantage of the offer, you can even follow up with an email-only "Friends and Family Discount" to encourage them to share the offer with their loved ones. Since the low-stress approach to the holidays relies more on your email list, these tactics are a great way to get introduced to new customers you can market to later.

Share the Story

In the age of fast fashion and cheap everything, a good deal is nothing unusual. Certainly, lots of consumers are happy to participate in the race to the bottom, but multitudes are eager for something a little more satisfying.

During the holidays, purchases aren't just about you and your personal priorities; the gifts you choose have implications about the people they're for and your relationships with them. Something pretty but generic implies last minute bulk purchases for acquaintances, while something unique with a story suggests careful thought. 

For brands, storytelling is both a sales tactic and a customer satisfaction tool. The buyer will be more satisfied with her purchase when she believes the recipient will love it and think well of her for buying it, and both she and the recipient will be more likely to talk about the gift, review it, and share it on social media.

Whether they have a local connection or a charitable purpose,gifts with meaning are a natural fit for this kind of storytelling, and they tie in perfectly with the low-stress approach to the holidays. For customers who want to skip the Black Friday battle for the last flat screen TV, thoughtful gifts that reflect social values are the ideal choice.

Last-Minute Luxury

If you're skeptical that consumers will take you up on this early-bird approach, you're not wrong—many of them just won't be able to make it happen, but that doesn't mean you can't give them a less stressful experience.

While not every brand can offer concierge-level service for the 2016 holidays, you may be able to provide value with luxury add-ons or bundled services for last minute shoppers  including chat support to help with gift selection, suggested stocking stuffers based on current cart contents, gift wrapping with holiday cards or tags, and overnight shipping. Think of it as the "we'll take care of it" package. 

4. Making Online Customer Service Equal In-Store Help

Not every brand has luxury customers who will pay for the premium experience, but here's one thing all businesses can count on: it's 2016, and people expect the same level of on-demand customer service online that they get in stores. Ecommerce isn't the Wild West anymore—they're tackling holiday shopping around other responsibilities, and they need answers in real time.

Customer Pre-Service

Begin by taking steps to reduce customer service needs by answering as many questions as you can before people need to ask them—but do it in natural, elegant ways. Detailed product information and customer reviews help give people everything they need to feel confident in their purchases.

To find out what you're missing, refer to your customer service questions and think carefully about when in the research process the customer needs that information. It's introducing the information at the right time that keeps it intuitive instead of overwhelming.

Clarity About Products

Make it as easy as you can for people to find other colors and product options, related products, and alternatives when something is out of stock. As you do so, think about how this information is presented on other channels and be as consistent as possible. If a customer sees the perfect belt on Instagram available in Cognac but finds only one listed as Brown in the online store, he may wonder if it's the one he wants and choose not to risk it. 

Security

Secure, seamless payment processes and easy-to-use loyalty programs are essential, and people are increasingly conscious of your security and fraud prevention measures. Earn points with your customers by publicizing what you're doing to keep them safe, especially if it requires extra action on their part.

If you need to bulk up your security, look into an address verification system that works with IP address to confirm legitimacy of orders, or invest in an anti-fraud system like eBay Enterprise or Signifyd. You can also consider offering PayPal as a payment option, because all those transactions come with fraud protection.

Shipping and Fulfillment

Ecommerce vendors now have access to sophisticated order and stock management systems that can auto-select the cheapest shipping option that fits the customer's timeline, streamline shipping from different locations (including ship-from-store), and manage retail and online stock levels together, even allowing for a pick-up-in-store option. 

These options are getting more and more popular; national chain Shoe Carnival now ships more than 99% of its orders within 48 hours from its retail locations, and I'd bet that you've noticed an uptick of online ordering in the food service sector.10

Regardless of the other tactics you choose, you can add value by simply following up with customers after their purchase to show them that the quality of their experience matters to your brand. By all means, ask for a review, but do so in a way that makes it clear that their satisfaction is the priority.

5. Remembering Brick-and-Mortar Stores, Including Your Competitors'

 
With all of this focus on your online presence, it's easy to forget that ecommerce success indeed does have brick-and-mortar elements, starting with this: upwards of 29% of US consumers use their mobile devices to compare prices while they're in stores.11
 

Using geofencing, you can create location-targeted mobile ads with in-store deals and flash sales—or create geofenced mobile ads targeting your competitors' locations, so that when shoppers use their smartphones to compare prices, you're the alternative they find. And if this seems like inside baseball, don't worry, you won't be alone. Location-targeted mobile ad revenues are expected to grow by more than 4X from $4.3 billion in 2014 to a whopping $18.2 billion in 2019.12

In store beacons are another tech trend that's being implemented at an incredible rate. Beacons drove $4 billion in U.S. retail sales in 2015 and are expected to reach $44 billion by the end of 2015.13 By 2018, there will likely be somewhere around 3.5 billion active beacons in stores14, and retailers are set to invest about $2.5b on the "internet of things" by 2020, mostly in beacons and RFID tags.15 Beacons are big business, and they're only going to get more accessible for brands.
 

The Future of Integrated Retail 

 
When it comes to integrating in-store and ecommerce and leveraging new technology to the fullest extent, one brand stands apart: clothing retailer Rebecca Minkoff. Both traditional retail and ecommerce businesses can gain inspiration from their forward-thinking approach to the shopping experience. In this video from Magento, you can see how they used inspiration from the ecommerce experience to shape the in-store experience, and vice versa. 
 
As Minkoff herself points out, "Our customer lives seamlessly with technology. It's not something she has to do; it's how she operates."
 
Ecommerce retailers can cater to these desirable customers by thinking about what ecommerce is missing in relation to the bring-and-mortar shopping experience and filling those gaps.
 
The most obvious difference is that customers can't physically handle products online; compensate with videos or more angles in product photography, shots of products in their real-life contexts as well as on plain background, close-up images showing texture, featured reviews that address common concerns, etc. You've done your job when customers feel confident in their purchases and trust your robust customer service to fix anything that may go wrong.

6. Prioritizing Value Reclamation

Since you've stuck with me this far, I'm going to give you the most immediately profitable tip in this entire post: build an optimized value reclamation email for abandoned shopping carts. We have seen incredible results for our clients with these, and the opportunities are huge: the Baymard Institute estimates that 69% of shopping carts are abandoned16, and about 63% of the $4 billion left in them is recoverable.17 That's insane.

Let's do a little quick math. If 69 of 100 carts are abandoned, but you can get 63% of those back (technically it's 63% of the value, but we'll assume a fixed cart value), that means you can recoup 43 of those carts—notably more than the 32 carts that completed the purchase process in the first place—for a total of 75 of 100 carts. 

As you draft the email, take a look at the common reasons for cart abandonment. You know your business better than anyone, and you'll probably have a good sense of what's most applicable for you. When possible, offer incentives in the email that may entice people back by directly addressing their concerns. Some of the common reasons, like "the site wanted me to create an account" or a complicated checkout process, are things you can improve with the UI/UX of your site.

Okay, guys. That was a long one and it really took it out of me.

Man dumps a large cup of coffee over his head.

Let's all go get some coffee. But as long as you're at it...

 

VIEO Design Free Website Assessment

Resources

  1. https://www.internetretailer.com/2015/12/28/holiday-e-commerce-sales-surge-20
  2. https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Holiday-Retail-Ecommerce-Sales-Will-Grow-17-this-Year/1014529 
  3. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/infographics/adweek-google-digital-holidays.html
  4. http://www.smartinsights.com/ecommerce/ecommerce-strategy/ecommerce-trends-watch-2016-infographic/ 
  5. https://www.internetretailer.com/2016/01/29/online-sales-will-reach-523-billion-2020-us
  6. http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/retail-consumer/global-total-retail.html
  7. http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/retail-consumer/global-total-retail.html
  8. http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/retail-consumer/global-total-retail.html
  9. http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/retail-consumer/global-total-retail.html
  10. http://10ecommercetrends.com/
  11. http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/retail-consumer/global-total-retail.html
  12. http://www.geomarketing.com/geo-targeted-mobile-ad-revenues-to-reach-18-2-billion-by-2019
  13. http://www.cio.com/article/2989716/retail/5-cutting-edge-retail-technology-trends.html
  14. http://www.smartinsights.com/ecommerce/ecommerce-strategy/ecommerce-trends-watch-2016-infographic/
  15. https://www.juniperresearch.com/press/press-releases/retail-spend-on-iot-to-reach-2-5bn-by-2020
  16. http://baymard.com/lists/cart-abandonment-rate
  17. http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-retailers-can-reduce-shopping-cart-abandonment-and-recoup-billions-of-dollars-in-lost-sales-2015-7

 

 
Emily Winsauer

Emily Winsauer

As VIEO's content director, Emily Winsauer is responsible for content strategy for VIEO and our clients. She works with the content team to create a wide range of compelling content designed to help our clients better connect with their customers.

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