It’s that time of year again. With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, retail marketers are shifting gears to prepare for the holiday sales surge. They are fine-tuning their strategies and adapting industry-proven best practices to capitalize on the holiday season.
This year presents a distinct set of challenges for marketers, as fluctuating economic conditions and changing consumer trends add complexity to inventory planning and delivery logistics.
Marketers and retailers coming late to the planning party may find less satisfying results than anticipated. Brands need to be holiday-ready now, according to a marketing survey Bazaarvoice released Aug. 29.
The results show that 11% of consumers already holiday shopped in July, and 14% began in August. Another 19% plan to start shopping in September, followed by 35% more in October and 57% in November.
However, the survey offers some consolations to late-coming marketers who can still be ready for the 48% of respondents saying they will not start holiday shopping until December.
“It seems like every year the holiday shopping season starts sooner, and this year it is already well underway,” said Zarina Lam Stanford, Bazaarvoice CMO. “As purse strings continue to tighten, consumers are on the lookout for deals.”
Fluctuating Shopping Forecasts
New apprehensions are rising this upcoming holiday season. Consumers continue to tighten their belts and seek bigger and better deals, according to the Bazaarvoice survey. This shift has induced worries within the retail sector, pushing retailers and brands to utilize all of their strategies and tactics to win the holiday season.
“To engage and to inspire shoppers to purchase, brands need to ensure that they are meeting their customers with holiday deals at all of the watering holes at which they can be found: social media, e-commerce, in-store, and more,” offered Stanford.
Given that shoppers place a high priority on reviews, Stanford added that now is the time for brands to assess the recency, volume, and quality of their product reviews and social content. This scrutiny should include customer photos and videos to validate purchase decisions by authentic and trustworthy voices of their fellow peers.
Logistical challenges might also present marketers with unexpected changes in preparing for this new holiday shopping season. A report by marketing, packaging, and supply chain solutions firm R.R. Donnelley & Sons (RRD) shows that new market pressures on packaging and supply-chain issues may pose new e-commerce demands.
“Many companies found themselves playing catch-up to secure operations support following the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said RRD President of Packaging and Labels Solutions, Lisa Pruett. “But now, as market conditions are steadying, we are seeing companies return to more strategic decision-making around their packaging and label needs — all in an effort to increase efficiency and agility while trimming unnecessary costs.”
Shopping Shifts Create Supply-Chain Kinks
To meet the ongoing shifts in shopping trends that impact both physical and digital stores, many companies that are links in the supply chain are engaging in level-setting adjustments in advance of the holiday shopping onslaught, noted the RRD study.
Over the past year, supply chain disruptions and other market pressures led 87% of respondents to change their sourcing methods for packaging and labels.
Among those impacted by rises in e-commerce orders, half increased inventory, 36% increased staff, 34% expanded warehousing, and 39% increased support from external vendors. However, findings also indicated a dip in reported staffing challenges and fewer demands or strains on capacity compared to the previous year’s survey.
“Coming to terms with these persistent challenges should motivate organizations to place more of an emphasis on forecasting,” said Pruett.
She continues to see her company’s clients benefit as it puts them in a better position to make informed decisions and accommodate evolving market conditions.
Stepping Up the Preparation Process
Becky Parisotto, vice president of commerce for composable commerce for Omni-retail firm Orium has three steps she preaches to her company’s e-commerce platform clients to prepare for the upcoming holiday seasonal marketing and retail needs.
The first is to become as knowledgeable about industry changes as possible. Retailers need to know if their operations will run the same on Black Friday as on a Tuesday in May.
“This takes a lot of effort and coordination after hours, but it is also likely to be the reason the phone rings on Black Friday if not done properly. Take steps to ensure that the website will not falter. Catch problems before they occur live,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
On the site, ensure that the integrations and APIs can handle consistent data transmission even under heavy load. While e-commerce systems are generally designed for this kind of resilience, it’s worth noting that they aren’t the only elements prone to failure. About nine out of 10 issues stem from other sources.
Custom APIs bring data from the business and their databases into those platforms. When they pull your load, sometimes the data can be quite slow, and then your orders can get out of sync.
She warned that your products can get stuck, and your customers can cancel. Often, you need to do this load testing in the middle of the night to avoid interrupting the business flow on your live site. “So it is typically a scheduling dance, where people put it to the wayside and then do not circle back.
Ensure the Reliability of Your Inventory
Second, inventory and order management are potential sticking points, regardless of company size and whether you run a mom-and-pop website or a larger digital marketplace.
No matter your skills, your inventory and order management support will be critical on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This criticality is present for all types of big spike events, Parisotto cautioned.
“A small hiccup turns into a major fail on Black Friday if you don’t have inventory control on lock beforehand. This can mean overselling a product and leaving customers empty-handed or over-correcting and leaving too much product on the shelf for markdowns in January,” she said.
Parisotto also suggested having an idea about the scale of your business during peak sales periods. That idea will help you determine how you want to invest in technology to help support that.
“Some people close their store and physical accounts and then manage from there. Large-scale retailers don’t have that luxury. They’ll handle it more than transactional inventory management systems,” she said.
Experiment With Tactics To Drive Sales
Marketing experimentation is the third element to being prepared for peak holiday selling. Marketers need to figure out what will drive the most conversions, according to Parisotto. Does the purchase include free shipping, a buy-one-get-one offer, or certain days of the week that bring in revenue? These are pressing questions to answer ahead of time.
“Retailers need to run tests in September to know what will make money in December — no guessing! Be prepared with experimentation tools specifically in your market,” she advised.
Parisotto also recommended running sales experiments using analytics from your CRM platform to track sales.
The most common is split testing or A-B testing of the same product — a marketing experiment where you split your audience to test variations on a campaign and determine which performs better. For instance, you can show version A of a piece of marketing content to one half of your audience and version B to another.
Know What Works …
Focus on getting your brands holiday-ready now. Be sure you can meet consumers’ needs and interests before the calendar pages reach the end of this year.
According to marketing surveys, the hot-ticket items this holiday season for 70% of consumers are apparel, and 51% are gifting games and toys. Some 47% of consumers plan to give electronic gifts, while 40% said food and beverages.
Lesser-volume gift purchases for 37% of consumers will be health-and-beauty products. Almost the same amount, 36% of surveyed consumers, said they will gift jewelry.
What is left to consider?
Well, according to the Bazaarvoice survey, shoppers prefer holiday shopping in-store, but not by much: 81% said they would holiday shop in-store, while 72% said online and 22% said on social media.
… And What Works Where
Consumers want to learn about deals in certain places. These include:
- Ads (64%) are where consumers want to hear about Black Friday deals most, but social media (46%), marketing emails from brands (46%), and news articles and gift guides (42%) are not far behind;
- No matter where they shop, reviews are a top priority: 74% of shoppers agree that reviews impact their purchasing decisions over the Black Friday, Cyber Monday (BFCM) interval. Over half (59%) say the same about their purchasing decisions on social media;
- User-generated content or UGC gives shoppers the confidence to purchase: 73% feel more confident in a purchase when they use user-generated content over BFCM hype, and 64% said they trust that shopper content more than brand-provided content like product descriptions and professional product photos.
Act Now for Holiday Sales Success
Heading into the 2023 holiday shopping season, the stakes have never been higher for retailers and brands to adapt to this complex market landscape.
Whether you’re an early planner or catching up, proactive planning and strategic adaptation are essential. Ignoring these evolving trends and consumer behaviors isn’t an option.
An agile, data-driven approach to inventory management, marketing strategies, and customer engagement will help businesses navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities that the holiday season presents.
Now is the time to act; hesitation could result in missed opportunities and unsatisfied customers.