What does the holiday shopping season really look like? You might conjure images of densely packed stores and ransacked aisles; a pair of fathers grappling for the last must-have toy in stock; a mall Santa capping off a meandering line of parents and their children—many of whom are cycling through the full spectrum of emotional states. These images betray reality.
Based on the latest numbers from the National Retail Federation (NRF), a more accurate image of the holiday shopping season is this: a shopper nursing a grande mocha latte while sitting comfortably in front of her computer. Indeed, NRF’s 2015 consumer survey found that nearly half of holiday shopping, consisting of browsing and buying, will be done online this season.
For many local retailers who depend on increased holiday foot traffic to goose sales, this news is a lump of coal in their collective stocking. Not only must smaller retailers deliver against the big box stores’ steep discounts and extensive product offerings, but now they must compete even harder for shopper attention online.
These concerns, however, are misguided. When it comes to reaching shoppers online, local retailers have advantages that the big box stores—despite their bigger marketing budgets—can’t touch.
Here’s how local retailers can use digital marketing to compete with big boxes during the holiday shopping season.
It’s not too late to capitalize online
This holiday season, consumers are expected to spend more than $83 billion shopping online; an 11% increase over last season. And of those shoppers who still prefer the in-store experience, 42% turn to their mobile devices to search for information online even as they browse the aisles.
For local retailers looking to compete with the big boxes, it’s more important than ever to give shoppers a digital path to purchase. If you’ve been reaching and engaging with shoppers consistently throughout the year, you’re in good shape to capitalize on those relationships during the holiday rush. But if you’re making up for several months of digital dormancy, don’t be discouraged. Nearly 20% of consumers don’t start ticking items off their holiday shopping list until December. Start ratcheting up your digital efforts now and your last-minute marketing will engage a significant segment of last-minute shoppers.
And, once you generate some traction this holiday season, don’t stop the minute Santa lands back at the North Pole. An effective digital marketing strategy is a 365-day commitment. Sure, you may turn up or turn down your activity level to coincide with your busiest sales periods, but your online marketing should never be turned off.
Be helpful, not promotional
Retailers spent $4.3 billion on holiday advertising from November to December across traditional and online media in 2014. Yes, big box retailers have deeper pockets than their smaller, independent counterparts, but effective digital marketing is about having meaningful interactions, not merely renting eyeballs.
Research shows that people are 7 times more likely to respond to promotions after they’ve had some meaningful engagement with the brand. Yet, rather than connecting with shoppers to answer questions or address concerns, retailers send three times as many promotional messages as they do helpful responses. Worse still is that 83% of customers get absolutely no response when asking brands for help on social media.
Local retailers can cut through the promotional clutter simply by offering assistance, rather than looking to close the sale. During the holidays, consumers are even more likely to turn to social media to ask questions and see what other shoppers are buying. In fact, 61% of consumers say they use social media to make purchasing decisions. Just as small and mid-sized retailers edge out big box stores when it comes to providing exceptional in-store customer service, they too can stand out in the competitive online shopping landscape by being helpful to shoppers—not just promotional.
Attempting to keep pace with big boxes by mimicking their digital marketing is a losing battle. You’re never going to be able to out-spend Walmart, but you can outmaneuver them by keeping things personal and local.
Corporate brands spend millions of dollars per year on marketing efforts specifically designed to create the illusion of a personalized interaction. They address you by your first name in mass-distributed email promotions. They track or purchase information on your online behavior so they can send you product recommendations or special offers. Corporate brands do this for good reason. A recent study shows that 70% of consumers expect some level of personalization from the brands they engage with online.
As a small business owner, you don’t have to fake it—you know your community and your customers better than anybody. Authenticity is your advantage over impersonal big box retailers. Use social media to talk about the holiday events taking place in your city. Reach your most loyal customers—your “regulars”—with a truly special email offer. Cooperate with other locally-owned businesses nearby to promote a one-of-a-kind deal for shoppers in your community.
Don’t worry about thinking small: a whopping 94% of shoppers said shopping local makes them “feel good.” And this “feel good” affect is only spreading. This year, according to the NRF, one in four holiday shoppers are planning to “shop small” and purchase gifts and other holiday items such as decorations and food at local retail businesses.
There’s never been a better time to be a local retailer during the holiday season. Just remember to think small, be helpful and don’t turn off your digital marketing once Santa returns home. Your customers deserve to feel good all year long.
Susan Marshall is the CEO and Co-Founder Torchlite Digital Marketing