It’s no surprise that the holiday season – between November 1 and December 31 – is crunch time for online retailers. Last year’s online holiday sales hit $91.7 billion and also broke a major e-commerce record: Cyber Monday became the biggest online shopping day in U.S. history, generating $3.45 billion in online sales. No matter their size, vertical, or available resources, merchants work tirelessly all year to optimize Q4 customer shopping experiences and capitalize on holiday sales opportunities.
This year’s holiday season is projected to hit even higher sales numbers, but a new threat has emerged that could seriously jeopardize merchants’ holiday revenue: online journey hijacking. Many retailers remain unaware of the phenomenon, but online journey hijacking is prevalent across the web and involves unauthorized product ads being injected into consumer browsers, distracting prospective shoppers from a retailer’s offerings and cutting directly into their revenue. Additionally, online journey hijacking disrupts customer experiences by distracting users and often littering unsavory content across websites.
Online Journey Hijacking Spikes During Holidays
Recent research on online journey hijacking found that 15% to 25% of user sessions are interrupted by unauthorized ads, and in 40% to 70% of these cases, the ads feature competitive products sending the customer to shop at the retailer’s competitors. Even more alarming, particularly with the holiday season already underway, is that these figures increase dramatically during peak shopping seasons. While retailers are busy trying to make the holiday season as profitable and enjoyable for their customers as possible, malware developers are also busy, increasing their reach and optimizing their digital interruptions to generate more clicks and revenue.
During the holidays, data indicates that online journey hijacking increases to affect 20% to 30% of all customer sessions. Even worse, of those sessions, 80% of the displayed ads are for competing retailers. The lost revenue caused by these hijackers, that effectively moves qualified holiday traffic from one retail site directly to its competition, can be devastating. In fact, based on historical patterns, retailers are estimated to lose $2.1 billion due to online journey hijacking during the 2017 holiday season.
What’s the source of this problem? And how are users getting infected?
At the heart of this problem are unauthorized product ads that are injected into consumer browsers by digital malware. Many users unknowingly download extensions bundled with drivers, applications, and other free apps from the internet (such as a free PDF viewer or even an antivirus program). Even without a download, unauthorized ads can be injected through free public Wi-Fi at locations such as coffee shops and airports. Infections can occur across all browsers, operating systems and devices (including mobile phones and tablets), and once malware has permeated a customer’s browser, it will continue to inject unauthorized product recommendations and deals, advertisements and spyware scripts.
Protect the Customer Journey to Preserve Hard-Won Revenue
So what are retailers to do? An important first step to tackling this problem is acknowledging that online journey hijacking exists, and understanding exactly how it targets their website. This will help assess its impact on your bottom line.
Retailers and marketers can do this by using a browser infected with digital malware to view first-hand how it affects their overall site experience. This will reveal the different ways this malware affects your online visitors. It will also show you where your visitors are being hijacked to, and to which competitor sites.
Retailers can also grasp the scope of this problem by breaking down what percentage of page views are unauthorized ads, what percentage feature related products from competitors, and which pages are more likely to include these ads.
By leveraging emerging solutions to secure the customer buying journey and prevent injected ads from continually disrupting user experiences, retailers can be spared from losing millions this holiday season, and at the same time, boost their customer retention and loyalty levels, too.
Chemi Katz is Co-Founder and CEO of Namogoo