The busy holiday shopping season is upon us, and this year has seen an increasing shift in consumer purchasing habits due to the global pandemic. Keeping up with the changes is a challenge for any business, especially for traditional retail outlets with brick-and-mortar locations.
The impact of quarantine restrictions and the recent spike in the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to reinforce consumer confidence in online interactions; it is apparent that holiday gift-buying has now predominantly moved to the virtual marketplace. Retail businesses need to adapt to maximize sales during this uptick in digital commerce by implementing specific, targeted e-commerce strategies — or be left behind.
The ever-changing protocols continue to have a devastating impact on brick and mortar stores, both big and small. Forbes reveals that retailers have confirmed at least 7,500 U.S. store closings in 2020, following record-high closure rates of 9,300 in 2019 and 8,000 in 2017. Sadly, this downward spiral will continue, but the shift to online buying has been a long time coming.
Even before the pandemic hit, retail stores struggled to compete with giants like Walmart and Amazon, which have experienced tremendous growth with digital storefronts. According to a 2018 Business Insider article, e-commerce sales had doubled over the previous five years, while retail businesses suffered widespread closures.
Pandemic shutdowns have also changed our shopping habits, with more of us working from home, taking virtual meetings, attending online classes, and even virtual doctor visits. We’re connecting with friends and family through digital platforms and shopping online more than ever. As referenced by Accenture.com, the virus’s impact is accelerating existing trends where buyers feel safer in the digital marketplace rather than browsing openly in a more public traditional, commercial space.
The general population embraces this new way of life as they focus on health, shopping consciously with more sustainable options, and supporting stores in their communities. Local businesses, along with national and global brands, have benefited by reshaping their operations. The Accenture study discovered a whopping 88% of consumers “expect these connections to stay intact long after the virus is contained.”
If there is an economic bright spot during these unprecedented times, the data reflecting consumer spending remains positive. In August, CNN Business reported, “After slumping to a seven-year low in April, retail sales bounced back to their pre-pandemic level in just a few months. As of July, they were at their highest level on record.”
Consumers are spending, but their purchases have shifted mainly to the retail goods category online and away from services. This paradigm shift offers unique opportunities to redefine relationships with the consumer for holiday sales.
Black Friday through the Christmas rush, retailers make up for their revenue losses from earlier in the year, and it can be a make-or-break period for many. The good news is that sales in 2020 are brisk. According to Digital Commerce 360.com, “for the first 10 days of the holiday shopping season, U.S. consumers spent $21.7 billion online — a 21% year-over-year jump, according to Adobe Analytics.”
The article says that 63% of consumers are avoiding stores and buying more online, with health concerns due to the pandemic driving that decision for 81% of them, as reported by an October 2020 Qudini survey.
Whether you are a retailer, distributor, manufacturer, or a manufacturer who is a retailer that sells directly through an e-commerce site, you should be taking full advantage of these rapid growth opportunities in online sales, especially during holiday shopping season.
The key to success is using a sound, well-thought-out strategy. Optimizing the digital sales funnel is a great place to start. Our recent KM101 article discusses several techniques to capture consumers and convert them from lookers and researchers into buyers.
These methods include creating a conversion tracking model that can help you build and track campaigns to optimize your marketing messages for each specific target audience. The framework considers a multi-channel strategy within a defined budget to maximize conversion ratios and provide you deeper optics for your customer base.
The gap between in-store and online shopping has widened. In November, the Wall Street Journal reported, “more than half of consumers (51%) are anxious about shopping in-store during the holiday season because of the pandemic, and 49% say they won’t return to pre-COVID shopping behavior until a vaccine is available.”
Consumers turn their concerns about safety into convenience shopping, and you need to remove as many barriers as possible for consumers to buy your products to give as gifts.
If you are a retailer with a brick-and-mortar store, you will need to attract consumers by offering them the flexibility of contactless purchasing options. These could include curbside pickup, same-day local delivery, free gift wrapping, expanded online shopping through your website, and complimentary ground shipping.
Additionally, your plan should also involve content curation on your blog and social media accounts and offering your own holiday gift guide to show your customers what’s hot for this year’s holiday shopping season.
For decades, the tried-and-true formula for a business was to hire a public relations firm to pitch their holiday gift guide to outlets such as print magazines or mailers. The PR firm curated these relationships hoping that one of their clients’ products would be featured in the guide, resulting in sales.
With the explosion of internet commerce, the remaining time-honored outlets are not producing as many gift guides for the holiday shopping season. Does that mean gift guides are inadequate and out-of-date? Not at all. In today’s marketplace, you need to create your own gift guide and make it authentic and engaging for your audience. Make sure to post it on your blog, pull that content into your social media, and back it up with a paid direct marketing campaign.
The self-produced holiday gift guide presents three highly effective types of media: owned, earned, and paid media — all at the same time. The content reads like an editorial: written by you or one of your team members, it offers what appears to be an honest insight into the products. You can then push it to your existing audience and potential new customers. As you promote it to your fans on Facebook and Instagram, you can simultaneously use paid media to attract consumers outside of your reach that may be looking for similar products and might consider yours.
There are several vital steps to take to maximize your potential for success. It is critical to back up your efforts with email marketing to your existing consumer base. Targeting new customers through marketing and remarketing strategies (you know, those ads that follow you around the Web after you’ve looked at a product one single time) is a necessary component of a successful campaign. Advertising through your own distribution channels — Amazon, if you’re an Amazon retailer, or through Shopify, or wherever you call home — is also essential.
An excellent way to think of it is that you’re setting the table by manufacturing the product. You put the food on the table with your holiday gift guide, and now you need to use your advertising capabilities to get everyone to eat it. Where do you think the Thanksgiving turkey would be without endless mentions of the product in the media? We’d all be eating ham, chicken, or McDonald’s for dinner.
As discussed in our article “Earned vs. Paid vs. Owned Media: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You,” not all media is created equal. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but you should be using all three to ensure your marketing dollars can achieve the best result.
Embracing marketing strategies with clearly defined outcomes and using them correctly can almost guarantee sales. Still, if your company needs help during this season, Kahn Media is proud to be your knowledge partner. We are prepared to develop a year-end marketing campaign best suited to your needs.