3 Ways Retailers Can Get Ready for Santa

While most people are starting to enjoy the lazy days of summer, it’s a much different story for retailers. The clock is already ticking on their annual holiday strategies, and they have just a few months left to get plans ironed out and new technologies up and running before the 2016 holiday rush begins.

If predictions so far are any indication, savvy digital marketing strategies will be especially important this year. Total retail holiday sales are expected to be essentially flat over last year, increasing just 1.8% according to eMarketer. But, the same forecasts expect ecommerce sales to grow 13.3% over 2015, showing that to win during this crucial time of year, retailers must up their online ante.

For ideas on how to offer excellent digital shopping experiences, retailers can learn from ecommerce giants like Amazon, which set the bar for consumer expectations and shopping habits especially around the holidays. According to research released this week, 42% of US consumers say that Amazon will be their primary holiday gift destination.  This isn’t surprising, especially considering that Amazon had its biggest holiday season ever in 2015.

Consumers say that they like Amazon because its site is easy to use (reported by 50% of survey respondents), because they are Prime members (reported by 36% of respondents), and because they like the product reviews and recommendations (reported by 29% of respondents). In short, Amazon delivers simplicity and seamlessness that makes consumers want to shop with them again and again.

Amazon is able to deliver these kinds of experiences thanks to the strategic use of customer data. Retailers who harness their own first-party data can compete and deliver the same level of data-driven, personalized experiences, but in a way that fits what their customers want and need from their brand. Here are 3 ways to do so just in time for the holiday season.

Know Your Customers Better Than the Competition

Today’s consumers have high expectations that have been set by e-commerce leaders like Amazon and Zappos. Much of the reason for these retailers’ successes is because they are able to immediately customize the shopping experience every time a shopper visits their site or app. In fact, a survey conducted by MyBuys found 83% of consumers saw value in being recognized across devices by online retailers in order to receive personalized and consistent shopping experiences.

This is something that multichannel retailers also have the potential to do – and actually do better than e-retailers who only have access to online data. During the holiday season and beyond, the most successful retailers will be able to know and recognize their customers across channels and devices by collecting and acting upon first-party data in real time. When leveraged effectively to build deep, rich customer profiles, retailers gain the competitive advantage of knowing their customers as well as, if not better, than the most popular megasites.

Create Memorable Experiences

Once a retailer has collected first-party data and connected it into durable customer profiles that work on every touchpoint, then what? Those profiles are the key to delivering personalized experiences that will make a lasting impression on customers during the holidays and long after. Think about the holiday season as a first date, and the insight housed in rich customer profiles as the guidance that will help select the perfect flowers and fantastic restaurant, creating chemistry to ensure a second date.

Brands that recognize the customer anywhere on their journey – browsing, buying, returning items and engaging with customer service – and use that information to remove friction and create seamless 1:1 experiences, will be the brands that consumers remember and return to again and again. But, if customers don’t get those types of experiences, they won’t come back: 47% of U.S. consumers ignored future communications from companies that sent them irrelevant information or product recommendations. Addressable media, which helps brands recognize customers as people, not impressions or cookies, gives retailers the power to engage fast-moving holiday shoppers exactly when and where they’re browsing and buying, providing the most useful information.

Make Life Easier for Shoppers

Holiday shoppers are time-crunched and eager to check all the gifts off their lists. Sophisticated retailers understand the importance of offering quicker, simpler and more convenient shopping experiences that empower customers to shop the way they want to and blend the best of both digital and in-store experiences. This means the entire shopping experience should be seamless and full of options that bring much needed convenience to such a hectic season.

For example, give consumers the option to make purchases and returns where and when they want. Half of consumers say that offering free fast shipping for online purchases will influence them to buy this holiday season, while 60% agree that the ability to purchase items online and pick them up in-store influences where they make holiday gift purchases. Retailers should go above and beyond by offering a variety of options, including same-day delivery or ship-from-store.

The holiday season isn’t just about sales and profits. This high-traffic time is also a prime opportunity for retailers to earn customer loyalty in December and beyond by providing memorable experiences that make a lasting impression on shoppers. Now is exactly the right time for retailers to begin implementing these three strategies for success.

 Kathy Menis is Senior Vice President of Marketing for Signal

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