Can you make an impact this season at this late date and meet heightened expectation among shoppers for relevance and immediacy during the holidays?
Until recently, merchants could succeed during the holiday season with a one-size-fits-all approach. Holiday gift guides and email campaigns shared uniformly across touchpoints, Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals broadcast widely, and in-store shopping experiences focused on catering to the masses have all been the norm.
Those days are long gone. Changes in the commerce landscape necessitate a new holiday scenario altogether. The rise of mobile shopping means that shoppers are accessing brand information in a variety of different situations and formats, including in physical stores, which merchants need to acknowledge with their holiday promotions. Social media has given shoppers an amplified voice when it comes to both giving feedback directly and sharing brand experiences – good and bad – with friends and family, requiring merchants to respond one-to-one and quickly. And the sheer growth of the ecommerce market, with mega-merchants such as Amazon dominating even as smaller brands flock to the Internet, means that shoppers have more choices than ever and can navigate quickly away if brands fail to match their unique criteria for holiday deals.
So, where will you begin? This year more than ever it’s possible for merchants to capitalize on new technologies to deliver individualized experiences. Even now, as the calendar edges into October, you can still put systems into place to create the illusion of a one-to-one shopping experience and personalize holiday shopping.
Discovery: Speak Shoppers’ Language from the Start
As shoppers find their way to brand sites and narrow their product searches, merchants should cater to their specific criteria and concerns.
Opportunities to prove brands’ relevance to shoppers begin with the first interaction. As holiday gift seekers begin research, merchants can cater to their needs – both stated and implied – by presenting engaging content, products and services that speak to individual needs and criteria.
You can start by enhancing some of the methods you probably already have planned:
Welcome emails that earn future opens. Email is still the top touchpoint consumers prefer to stay in touch with retail brands. In order to win opens during the peak of the holiday buying season, merchants must earn credibility with the shoppers they entice to sign up during the fall – and that starts with a welcome email series that demonstrates you know and care about them.
Welcome emails have serious engagement potential, as they achieve on average open rates of 42%, according to email services provider Epsilon. To maximize this potential, rather than simply ferrying a generic discount offer, emails should tell a serialized brand story that unfolds over several messages – and draws on individual subscribers’ past brand interactions to personalize the content.
In addition to showcasing products, categories or promotions based on prior browsing behavior, merchants should take into account:
Preferred Screen: Pay attention to responsive design principles in your email design. Know the preferred screen of your customers since more than half of all emails are first read on touch devices.
● Old Friends: Acknowledge current subscribers who attempt to try to re-subscribe by treating them like the old friends they are by featuring products relevant to their prior browsing history.
● Location, location, location: Customize messages to shoppers geographic location to help make them aware of stores and services available close by.
● Forge Connections: Help them connect to social media outposts and let them know about your brand referral program. Make sure they know about your mobile app so that they are seamlessly connected wherever they roam.
● Be Interested: Find out more about your shoppers. Gather one or two explicitly stated preferences to find out what subscribers want to see, then deliver relevant content that speaks to shoppers’ individual situations and concerns.
The one-to-one gift guide. Most ecommerce site gift guides feature a roster of intended recipients, such as “for him”, “for her,” “for kids”. While the list might expand greatly beyond those basic categories to include specific personas based on the target audience – “for the trend-setting traveler”, “for the thrifty home chef,” and so on – these themed categories still fail to take into account shoppers’ individual tastes, gift list recipients, and local store connections.
Such a hyper-personalized gift guide might seem out of the reach of your data analysis resources but merchants can deploy an array of tools now to make the vision more of a reality. While at the same time helping shoppers serendipitously discover the right gifts they may not have known to search for outright. Social login not only streamlines the login process but when integrated to display friends’ favorites gives shoppers a shortcut to gifting success. Social login can also help facilitate the creating and sharing of wish lists creating your own legion of brand evangelists.
Marc Jacobs Beauty provides shoppers with a speedy way to share items using its “Love List.” Shoppers click on the heart on product pages to instantly save items to their lists, which are then accessible by clicking an icon in the global header. A small modal window and a 5-field form enables swift account signup without leaving the “love list” environment, making it easy for shoppers to resume sharing via social media or email once logged in.
Syndicate gifting content site-wide. Entice shoppers to explore the full breadth of holiday offerings by spotlighting individual selections from the gift guide alongside other relevant products, creating a tailored view of gifting options based on browsing behavior. Flag and integrate gift guide content into on-site search results as well as list as an attribute in the navigation.
Consideration: Engaging Come-and-Go Shoppers
The holidays are a research-intensive period, when shoppers avidly compare products and promotions to find the best value. Some ideas to keep your brand at the forefront:
● Remarketing: Cart abandonment isn’t abandonment so much these days as a remaking of the tool into a product bookmarking device. Shrug off the hand wringing over those numbers and utilize remarketing campaigns to remind shoppers something they love is waiting for them. Deliver photos of the items left behind with specific details and message any special discount opportunities like free shipping, free site-to-store services. Highlight customer service information including click-to-all functionality to close the deal on mobile devices.
● Retargeting: Fine-tune retargeting ads for search and social – and add “buy” buttons. Retargeting techniques that serve search and social ads to remind shoppers about products and offers they’ve considered and left behind on merchant sites are increasingly popular. These campaigns are effective, enjoying an average conversion rate of more than 20% — five times higher than a standard promotional campaign, Listrak found.
Strike the right balance between visible and annoying. Do cap the frequency of ads, and be sure to stop serving ads to shoppers who go on to convert as well as to those who haven’t responded to ads within a reasonable consideration timeframe.
● Build automated triggers to communicate product status. Flag holiday shoppers when the status has changed for products of interest – whether abandoned in a cart, shared on social media or saved to a wishlist. Deliver alerts such as price drop, stock status changes via email, or SMS format for mobile shoppers. Notifying shoppers of wish list activity encourages them to revisit, add items and possibly purchase for themselves.
The advent of the 2015 holiday season finds many merchants lacking confidence in their ability to deliver seamless, relevant multi-touchpoint experiences. But by putting systems in place now to deliver personalized messages at opportune junctures on the path to purchase, merchants can succeed at one-to-one selling during the season. You can enhance your capacities using third-party tools and automated processes to get a leg-up on the road ahead.
Ken Burke is Founder and CEO of MarketLive.