Retailers are understandably concerned about this year’s shortened holiday shopping season. Whereas in 2018 Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 22, this year, the holiday will occur a week later, on Nov. 28. A late Thanksgiving will have a significant effect on the shopping period and retailers will have a smaller window to drive sales. Last year, retailers had five weekends and 33 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year, they’re down to four weekends and just 27 days.
So, how can retailers navigate the shortened season to come out on top? How can their marketing prepare and support them for what lies ahead? Here’s what marketers can do.
Taking advantage of the holiday creep
In 2013, the last time retailers faced a shortened holiday season, deals and promotions kicked off earlier than ever, with many debuting in August. The early campaigning was met with some derision at the time, but the move was a smart and profitable one. In the end, the holiday creep drove up spending per household by 11 percent year-over-year, with 46 percent actually overspending. It also set the stage for a very successful Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The early retail promotions drove interest in Black Friday to a five-year high, while Cyber Monday 2013 turned out to be the biggest online spending day in history at the time, per Comscore.
So, what does this mean for 2019? While most shoppers are likely to wait until at least November to begin holiday buying, we’ve found that more advertisers are interested in starting their campaigns earlier. In fact, some have already kicked off their promotions. This will help mitigate the contracted shopping season and maximize sales opportunities once consumers are more in-market and ready to buy. But keep in mind, with more retailers marketing earlier, the lead up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday is more cluttered and competitive.
Tap into emerging channels
To cut through and connect with consumers in advance, retailers should be considering new and emerging digital marketing channels that can deliver high-impact brand awareness at the top of the funnel.
Extended reality, or XR, formats like VR and AR are great examples, especially for showrooming products. In fact, between 70 percent and 80 percent of shoppers say they’re eager to try visualization and other tools for holiday buying. Connected TV, or CTV, streaming audio and digital out-of-home also show great promise. Savvier brands can turn to these new types of inventory as others — linear TV and radio, UGC platforms and others — become saturated.
Collapsing the funnel
Another important priority for retailers is collapsing the funnel. Research has shown that nearly half of all advertisers see reducing steps in the path to purchase as most critical to planning commerce campaigns. While most shoppers will be holding back on buying until at least mid-November, smart retailers can compel purchases sooner, during the consideration phase, through an effective mix of content and commerce.
For example, shoppable content experiences across gift guides, look books and, increasingly, video can accelerate the customer journey. In fact, McKinsey & Co. finds that the transaction rates for shoppable video are 1.6-times higher than they are for static images. Affiliate programs are also key here, as more than 80 percent of advertisers now rely on them to connect with consumers during the discovery and awareness phase. They are incredibly easy to scale and can deliver performance earlier in the shopper journey. The combination of branded content and affiliate programs is a powerful opportunity to drive awareness and conversions during the shorter holiday season.
The mobile formats that will make a difference
A shortened holiday season also means more consumers are likely to buy online this year. Per eMarketer, in 2018, brick-and-mortar accounted for the overwhelming majority of total holiday sales at $874 billion. Meanwhile, digital channels drove $124 billion in sales during the period.
Year-over-year growth was relatively small for traditional in-store shopping, rising just 3.9 percent. E-commerce, on the other hand, surged 16.7 percent. With six fewer days to visit a store during the 2019 holiday season, retailers should anticipate that online buying — particularly during Cyber Week — will see even more growth. To take advantage of that, retailers must be ready to invest more in digital media channels, formats and inventory, especially in mobile.
According to Forrester, last year smartphones were used across one-third of all U.S. retail purchases, contributing more than $1 trillion in sales. Mobile buying drove nearly 70 percent of all e-commerce during the 2018 holiday shopping season. To be successful, retailers need to get in front of these consumers. But what’s the best way to reach them?
Mobile native advertising is a great place to start. Native ads are built for commerce and they work across the funnel. They are increasingly data-driven, encouraging product exploration and eliminating steps to conversion. Brands that run in-app native ads during the 2018 holiday season saw the highest ROI. Additionally, mobile native campaigns using video see a CTR of 11 percent on average, which is 3.7-times higher than non-native pre-roll. They also generate 3-times more ad exposure and 157 percent higher brand awareness.
For retailers considering mobile-native formats, the most powerful for promoting e-commerce include Dynamic Product Ads, mobile wallet ads and countdown ads. DPAs allow brands to retarget high-intent users based on past shopping behavior, mail subscriptions, search patterns or abandoned carts. Mobile wallet ads bridge online and off-line with a full-screen campaign that delivers digital coupons right into smartphone wallets. And countdown ads promote flash sales with a countdown timer. This format, in particular, is effective for the shortened holiday season. It catches the attention of deal-seekers and can motivate immediate purchase.
With just 27 days to drive sales, the retailers that invest in digital and mobile, and that lean on mobile native formats, will be in the best position to succeed.
The shortened holiday season is an obvious challenge for retailers. With the right marketing strategies in place, there are many opportunities to take advantage.
Sarah Martinez is vice president and industry lead for retail at Verizon Media.