The holiday season is a critical time for retailers. On average, approximately 30 percent of all sales have traditionally occurred between the Friday after Thanksgiving and Christmas, with jewelers and certain other retailers reporting that the holiday season accounted for 40 percent or more of their total annual sales. In recent years, an increasing number of shoppers have been turning to e-commerce sites instead of brick-and-mortar stores for their holiday shopping. For 2016, e-commerce sales are expected to increase by almost 14 percent although total retail sales are expected to increase by only 3 percent. If the predictions prove true, 2016 could be the first holiday season in which e-commerce's share of holiday sales exceeds 10 percent. However, the competition will be fierce, so it is important for online retailers to embrace the proper methods and strategies to give them an edge over their competitors.
Mobile Will Drive Growth
There was a time when customers would use mobile devices for casual browsing, but they would revert to a desktop for the actual purchase. However, in 2015, 27 percent of all online sales and 50 percent of all visits came from a mobile device, and once the final numbers are in for 2016, these percentages are predicted to be even higher. The move to mobile spans all generations, but it is greatest among gift buyers who are under the age of 35 and those who embrace one-click purchase options. Online retailers who optimize the entire shopping experience for mobile devices stand to receive the greatest rewards.
Customers Are More Demanding
Some people have opined that e-commerce has transformed into "me-commerce". Today's shoppers are more demanding than ever before. They quickly lose patience if a page is slow to load, navigation is difficult or they are presented with irrelevant content. They want a seamless experience that spans all channels and presents a uniform message. Offering free shipping for all purchases over $50 on your Facebook page, for example, and free shipping for all purchases over $100 on your website will leave customers confused and disenchanted, potentially costing you a significant number of sales. It is essential to offer customers the best experience possible. Ensuring that an e-commerce site can be easily searched and navigated, providing superior information on product specifications, making sure that inventory numbers are accurate and utilizing advanced technology to respond to inquiries can help online retailers boost sales.
Online Retailers Need Flexibility
Online sales during the holiday season do not necessarily follow the traditional purchase journey or even the updated non-linear progression that is more common during the rest of the year. Successful e-commerce retailers consider a variety of unusual factors when planning their holiday marketing messages. For example, younger males comprise a substantial portion of last-minute shoppers, and they are more likely to be focused on simply getting through their chores, frequently ignoring promotions and sales. Focusing on how easily they can complete their holiday shopping may be a better marketing message than delivering a digital coupon. Weather conditions can affect sales significantly; research has shown that online sales increase when the weather is inclement, so some retailers increase their marketing efforts on days when snow, sleet or extremely low temperatures are keeping many shoppers at home. Other online retailers are looking more at items that could be purchased together than at items that have traditionally been bought at the same time.
Holiday Shoppers Have a Different Mentality
People do not approach holiday shopping with the same mindset that is common when they are shopping for themselves. Although price matters, their underlying goal is to find the right gift for everyone on their list. The more guidance shoppers can receive — whether from an interactive chat function or content such as comparison charts, instructional videos on product use or gift suggestions based on recipient's demographics and relation to the giver — the more likely they will be to complete a purchase.
Shipping Charges Matter
Multiple sources have reported that the leading contributor to abandoned shopping carts is shipping costs. According to one study, approximately 50 percent of all shoppers balk at paying for standard shipping although they are willing to pay for upgraded, faster shipping. During the 2015 holiday season, one study found that 78 percent of all retailers offered free shipping of some type; the most common offering was free standard shipping if the order exceeded a specific amount. Such an approach can encourage shoppers to purchase multiple items from the same site in order to meet the minimum requirement for free shipping.In conclusion, the 2016 holiday season is expected to give e-commerce retailers an unprecedented opportunity to boost their sales. However, the most successful online retailers will be flexible as well as innovative, and they will make determined efforts to give shoppers what they want.