Holiday shoppers in New York.

Move over, backpacks and lunch boxes. Holiday shopping is just around the corner. Jonathan Cherki, founder and chief executive officer of user experience optimization platform ContentSquare, explained what this year’s back-to-school results (see the company’s recent report on the season here) suggest might be in store this holiday season.

The ceo explained that based on the firm’s data from last year, people spend 43 percent more money during the holidays as compared to the rest of the year (for comparison back-to-school is 18 percent more than the rest of the year). And according to Cherki that’s not where the differences between the two biggest shopping seasons of the year stop. During the holidays, shopping stops when the sales end. For back-to-school, customers continue buying long after the sales are over. On top of that, holiday shopping is more emotionally driven throughout, he said.

Still — what ContentSquare’s report gleaned about the b-t-s season shed insight on the current state of the market. Based on its findings, Cherki provided retailers with tips on how they can best navigate through holiday.

WWD: Where do you think the major differences will lie this year between b-t-s and holiday shopping?

Jonathan Cherki: A major difference is that while back-to-school shoppers are purchasing for themselves or their children, holiday shoppers are usually purchasing for other people as gifts. This will create behavioral differences in time spent on each page and amount of category and product pages viewed before purchasing.

It will be interesting to compare where people prospect or research more, although my prediction is that, since motivation and engagement are higher when purchasing for oneself, during the holiday season we will see more page visits needed before converting and less activity on each page. This is something businesses should keep in mind when creating these pages, making sure that there are plenty of additional suggested products offered on individual product pages.

WWD: ContentSquare’s to-do checklists in its report provided some great tips for retailers tackling b-t-s sales. What tips might you add for holiday?

J.C.: The main tip is to listen digitally to your customers and really understand them, learn what their will and intent is, and react to them quickly and attentively. If you see that your customers want to purchase via mobile, make it easy for them. If they want to browse, make sure you are showing them a variety of products in the category they are interested in.

For example, if you target Generation Z shoppers you will find this holiday season to be very interesting, given that they have reached shopping age and are becoming critical players in online shopping. I would recommend that retailers focus on this generation of digital natives because its behavior and demands are quite different than the generations before.

We created a guide to attract and engage them that will be very relevant for the holidays, and one of the main takeaways is to connect with their craving for authenticity with an immersive shopping experience. They are looking for digital experiences beyond the ordinary, while at the same time simplified customer journeys that feel completely seamless. One tip would be to shorten checkout procedures to as few screens and clicks as possible. I assure that this will pay off — if you get it right, they convert twice as much as the rest of the population.

WWD: What else should retailers and brands keep in mind as they begin getting ready for the holiday season?

J.C.: One of the most important things retailers need to focus on is creating a simple, clear and engaging mobile-first digital experience. Traffic on mobile is growing exponentially but mobile conversions are not. This means that while people prospect on mobile, they still go to desktop to convert. This is because, while mobile is the device of choice for shoppers, many retailers still do not offer the correct experience on mobile, which makes it hard to check out and complete a purchase.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that most people prefer to shop ahead of time and do not leave many items for last-minute shopping. Retailers should begin campaigns as early as November, making sure to suggest relevant content for shoppers.

WWD: What is the most challenging part of holiday sales, and how might retailers combat this?

J.C.: The most challenging part for digital retailers is converting their visitors. In a brick-and-mortar, approximately 20 percent of the people who walk in will buy something. Amazon Prime has approximately 15 percent conversions. In digital stores, that number drops to less than 3 percent.

To combat this challenge, retailers must understand not only what visitors are doing on their digital platforms, but how they are behaving — and why. Retailers must understand why a visitor decides to buy or to bounce, what barriers are standing between them and conversions, where they are becoming frustrated, and where the gaps are between the experience retailers think they are providing versus the actual experience visitors are having.

Really understanding the how and the why of all of this, and focusing on end-to-end customer journeys will lead to optimizations in the digital experience that will reflect immediately on conversion rates, engagement and loyalty.

WWD: What do you foresee will be trending strong throughout the fall for holiday?

J.C.: During the b-t-s period we saw that shoes and backpacks were the hottest items. They generated a 37 percent higher cart value than books and school supplies, and also had 75 percent more page views than the latter. This indicates that consumers are looking for, and will splurge on, items that will differentiate them from others.

We predict that unique and original items such as apparel and accessories will be at the top of the list this Holiday season. We also expect to see mobile continue to grow not only for research, as we see today, but for completing the full customer journey. Customers are ready, and businesses should be as well.

WWD: Overall, what are your top predictions for holiday season sales?

J.C.: Experience will be the main motivator to buy or bounce. People will make decisions based on digital experiences and businesses who offer intuitive, easy and accessible experiences will win big. The gap between digital and brick-and-mortar shoppers will continue to get smaller and smaller. Traffic on mobile will be at its highest, and shoppers will expect a seamless mobile experience from retailers.

Conversions will start in early November, where shoppers will purchase a higher volume of items at sale prices. Unique and exclusive products and brands will be the main focus in December, with shoppers willing to spend more time and money on special items.

Finally, Generation Z will be a big player this year and will purchase from retailers who are able to capture their attention in less than five seconds.

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