You’re Makin’ a List, They’re Checkin’ it Twice

Big Business and the Holiday Shopping Experience

Making a List


Holiday shopping trends change from year to year as hot new gift ideas emerge and new trends take root. From toys to tech, consumers strive to find better deals each year, going to great lengths to satisfy every want and need for their loved ones on their holiday gift lists – decking the halls, hanging the stockings, and being sure there is no shortage of holiday cheer.
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Though much of the anticipation around the holiday season remains, with retail centres illuminated with holiday festivity (as soon as the Halloween decorations have come down), the way in which holiday shopping occurs has greatly changed in the era of technology. As screens have become the dominant interface between consumers and retail offerings, big business has had to take notice and adapt.

Marketers and businesses have long studied consumer behaviour, striving to understand consumer motivations – the many reasons people buy or consume, and the reasons they shop in the way that they do. In understanding the personal, situational, psychological, social, and financial contexts in which consumers participate in retail activity, businesses can better meet their diverse wants and needs.

The largest consumer demographics for businesses to cater to this holiday season are the Baby Boomers, Generation Y, and Millennials. Though the demands of these cohorts vary significantly in terms of the products they buy, marketers have identified ways in which they are also similar, enabling them to consolidate their marketing strategies and approaches for the 2015 holiday shopping season.

This year, marketers and businesses are working to ensure that they address the increasing desire of consumers for a convenient, pleasant, expedited, and simple transaction; consumers want to be able to get what they need with ease, at the best price points available, both online and in-store. Expectations are high because prior to purchase either in-store or online, according to a Google/Nielsen study, these customers have likely spent a significant number of hours – many in excess of 15 hours – researching products and product reviews on their computers, tablets, and mobile phones. Acknowledging the time spent online in addition to the fact that many people cannot go an hour without checking their phones or mobile devices, businesses are finding new ways to take advantage of this connectivity, utilizing technology in order to better introduce consumers to the right product at the right time, catching their attention in the expansive online marketplace.

Holiday shopping is defined by highly connected, informed, and increasingly savvy shoppers, a challenge for businesses that are trying to communicate products and services to consumers through multiple channels simultaneously while still providing consumers with a sense of holiday spirit in more traditional retail spaces. Each year, companies spend billions of dollars to gear their products and services to consumer demand, with companies such as Google, Yahoo! and AOL collecting consumer data, monitoring web activity to identify patterns of online consumer behaviour in order to better market products, and adopting new technologies and marketing strategies to engage online shoppers.

Although in-store traffic and sales are on a continued decline, holiday spending was up last year, with an increase in spending expected again in 2015. Investing in more targeted, effective marketing strategies to hook today’s mobile consumer, companies are making great efforts to reach consumers through every available retail platform. Utilizing technology to their advantage by creating well-placed advertisements and using targeted online exposure to offer coupons and discounts relevant to recent consumer searches, marketers and businesses are taking a strong multi-faceted approach to reaching consumers this holiday season.

The technology now exists whereby companies and marketers can track mobile phones and search queries to establish product search patterns, focussing on a customer’s dwell time on specific products; this has a direct correlation with increased sales of particular products. Retailers must also be sure to offer a secure checkout, as concern for the security of personal and credit card information was high in 2014. Retailers are committed to protecting credit card and personal consumer information at the time of purchase, putting many of these concerns to rest this holiday shopping season, which promises increased online traffic and transactions. These concerns were definitive of the 2014 holiday shopping season, trends from which 2015’s seasonal game plan is being developed.

Noting that over $1 trillion, 28 percent of all retail sales, were influenced by mobile searches, according to a study conducted by Deloitte, in addition to the increasing length of the holiday shopping season, marketers and businesses are trying to get in front of the 2015 holiday season by increasing their mobile platforms to increase customer engagement and releasing new products earlier in the year.

Marketing approaches are likely to emphasize smart search and display ads to interface with the user while researching and shopping online, or when frequenting social media sites, bringing the products directly into the consumer’s consciousness at all times of the day when the user is engaged with his or her screen.

Indeed, this year promises to be the most connected holiday shopping season yet. In 2015, the holiday shopper wants to maximize value without having to exert great effort to do so. Not only do they desire the highest quality of customer service, they want the best prices and product availability.

Besides price, holiday shoppers are motivated by free shipping, many willing to wait longer for their orders if the service is free. One of the lessons learned from the 2013 holiday shopping season was the importance of shipping logistics and infrastructural capacity in accommodating increases in demand. In 2013, a combination of demand, limited capacities to accommodate that demand, and weather-related shipping impediments caused many holiday gifts to be delayed, some arriving after Christmas Day. Companies have been investing a great deal of resources to improve in this regard. For example, Amazon is considering the use of short distance drones to improve shipping efficiencies year-round.

Many people wait for Black Friday and Cyber Monday to make their big ticket purchases, holding out for what they believe to be the best available price of the season. Furthermore, consumers are far less brand loyal than in the past, with more than half of the consumer population willing to try new brands and products this holiday season, and even more likely to do so if a product or company is sustainable and the price is right.

Today’s companies have the opportunity to capture new markets, and customers’ brand loyalty is up for grabs. A great way to satisfy consumer needs across the marketplace is for companies to offer everything as a service, better interfacing with the highly connected consumer across the multiple retail platforms they utilize this holiday season.

Customers are using their phones for research and shopping purposes, and are more likely to consult their phone than an actual employee working in the store. Some companies have evolved to offer social payments, as some apps such as Twitter offer a one click payment option that enables immediate transactions without leaving the page. Technologies such as tracking cookies, video analytics from in-store footage, and smart phone tracking such as I-Beacon technology have enabled companies to take advantage of the increasingly mobile marketplace. Through mobile optimization, responsive websites, targeted and content marketing (which B₂Bs found successful in 2014), high-quality point-of-sale (POS) systems, retail information systems, repurposed email marketing, customer loyalty programs, and coupon code and zip code tracking, data is collected, analyzing customers and their behaviours in order to improve their retail experience.

Getting ahead of consumer holiday shopping activity is important, and ever more difficult for companies when the activity begins prior to Black Friday, especially in marketing new, hot ticket items for the holidays. It is also becoming more difficult to provide the ultimate holiday shopping experience when in-store traffic is down and online retail activity is up.

This year’s hot ticket items include anything LEGO, Disney’s Frozen, Minions, and once again Star Wars, just in time for the hype surrounding the new release. Post-Movember you can expect a push in manscaping products. And of course, technology is once again is likely to dominate holiday shopping lists around the world and across age demographics, with the release of the new iPhone as well as the Apple Watch, for example.

Drones are hot new items, some with cameras, like the Lily Cam, and some without, such as the Quadcopter. Self-balancing scooters and hover boards are making a splash, proving that advancements in technology are not only contributing to how people shop, but are serving as the hot ticket items they are shopping for. With innovative products sure to please even the pickiest person on your holiday shopping list, and new forms of the shopping experience emerging all the time, this year’s holiday shopping season promises to be a fruitful one for shoppers and retailers alike.

June 24, 2017, 11:36 AM EDT

Safety at Work, at Home, and on the Road

The National Safety Council (NSC) has an invaluable mission: to eliminate preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road. The membership-based organization accomplishes its goals through leadership, research, education and advocacy. After profiling the Council in June 2015, Business in Focus sat down with President and CEO Deborah Hersman this month to hear the latest developments.