The Secret to a Successful Holiday Shopping Season, Every Year

December 10, 2019 | 4 minute read
Rick O'Herron
Director, Content Marketing
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Once again, the holiday season is upon us.  Halloween is now a holiday ghost. Thanksgiving is a tiny, speed bump standing between consumers and discounted holiday shopping. This is not newsworthy. What is interesting is the shorter than normal 2019 holiday season, slimmed down to 26 days.  The last time this happened was 2013 and before that 2002.  Most consumers would be unaware of this fact without recent news buzz. On the flip side of the coin, retailers have been acutely aware of this fact.

Most retailers fear the short shopping season could mean lower sales.  However, this is mostly a thought founded in untruth.  According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales do not shrink or expand according to the number of shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The American public has increased their spending every holiday season since 2002 (2008 being the exception).  EMarketer projects US retail sales will climb 3.8% to $1.008 trillion, while US retail ecommerce spending will rise 13.2% to $135.35 billion.  Within ecommerce, mobile is projected to increase a whopping 25.1% and will account for close to 45% of holiday spending.

Although spending is not a concern, according to a recent survey by RetailMeNot and Kelton, 93% of retailers said this shortened timeframe will affect how they approach the season. The primary focus for 75% of retailers is modifying how they offer deals to shoppers this season.  Over half of them will offer deeper discounts and/or start deals earlier this year.  As marketers, we should not be surprised at this nor should we leave discount and offer strategies to the last minute. We should have considered this all year long, by testing different strategies and customer experiences. The key to a successful holiday season is preparation.

Customer experience is not just valuable in November and December but deserves equal attention post-holiday season. During this time consumer buying habits should be considered, like how customers are increasingly more comfortable shopping online. If this is their preferred channel, what benefits can be provided to make their experience a more seamless one. Marketers think in terms of channel optimization, but consumers don’t share the same concern; they just want a consistently seamless experience. Consumers want to know that the information they are providing is used to personalize buying experiences and is safeguarded from a data breach. 

The question then becomes how do marketers do this?  All marketers need to test more.  In fact, we should have an “ever-on” testing mentally.   This can start with something as simple as how we collect email addresses on the website and then start marketing to our consumers.  Do we start our promotional cadence during a welcome series or wait until it is complete before sending our standard campaigns?  A bit more complex question would be how does the check-out flow work and where are we losing customers - Is it when we show shipping costs or somewhere else in the process?  How do we sort products once a known customer gets to the site versus how we sort for unknown visitors? There are infinite amounts of tests that can be performed but it all comes down to a marketer’s commitment and a plan.  This is not just a marketing department commitment but an organizational one necessary for success. 

Throughout the year, marketers should be optimizing each of their channels with the goal of providing the customer with a unified message. No matter how consumers choose to interact with a brand, they deserve a consistent, personalized experience.  It should not matter if we are talking about email, SMS, push, search, social or display.  Each channel has its benefits and needs to be constantly fine-tuned and tested.  Yes, all of this takes time to plan, execute, analyze and re-test.  This is precisely why the festive season is not the time to start testing but the time to reap benefits of a thorough, year’s long testing strategy. 

Within this shorter shopping season, each contact with the consumer is more valuable.  It is imperative to deliver a personalized customer experience; no matter where, when, or how it happens.  However, do not stop once the holidays end this year.  Use this season as the jumping off point to build your yearlong testing plan, ensuring you are able to capitalize throughout 2020 and into next holiday’s longer shopping season. Testing is the key to help grab the ever-increasing holiday spending spree – it just takes commitment to do it.


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Rick O'Herron

Director, Content Marketing

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