Looking at the Online Holiday 2014 Shopping Season

Repost Article that Ben Adams and I wrote about discuss some online selling techniques and data from the 2014 Shopping Season. 

Check out the original two part article here: Pt. 1 & Pt. 2.

What's Under the Tree? Looking at the Online Holiday Shopping Season

The holiday season is already underway, and for many marketers it represents the best time of the year to maximize their return on ad spend (ROAS). We decided to take a two part look at the hottest trends you should know for 2014.

Let’s start by looking back at what happened in 2013. According to Google, 2013 was the year the store window went digital. More consumers researched and purchased holiday gifts online than ever before.

Changes in consumer behaviour can be attributed to the rise of consumers using mobile devices for shopping. They have shopped across devices and channels and looked for product information and deals earlier than before. Mobile site traffic reached 38.2% in March 2014, more than double the percentage in March 2012. IBM estimates that 20% of site sales and more than 43% of site traffic will come from mobile devices by end of November 2014. Still not convinced that mobile is the place to be? comScore reported that mobile apps drive half of all time spent on digital.

Spending is on the rise, and consumer attention spans are on the decline. The past two years shoppers spent on average 9.3% more per online order in November 2013 than two years earlier, and 13% more per order in December.

Shopify recently reported that 54% of Canadian businesses still don’t have a website, 64% of sales growth has gone to large enterprise, and mobile is taking over for e-commerce with 50.3%.

Search habits have also shifted in the last year. Google found that searchers were 1.5x more likely to buy than those who didn’t use search, making them a particularly valuable audience for marketers. From a timing perspective, Black Friday was the most popular shopping day in Canada. Canadians are actively searching on Black Friday terms; interest even surpassed boxing day in 2013, and this trend is likely to continue in 2014.

On the advertising side, Google and Ipsos conducted a study in 2013 where they found that online ads influence holiday shoppers more than TV. Display ads, email offers, paid search, and social ads as a whole influence more than TV. About 60% of all shoppers will pay attention to search ads, and 33% will pay attention to video ads.

In another study from Facebook and Salesforce, when reached with Facebook ads, we found that email openers were 22% more likely to purchase.

Kenshoo found that Facebook ads improve the paid search ROAS by 30%.

Shoppers today are savvier than ever before. They are well informed and educated about what products to buy, which brands they want, and what retailers to shop at. Every time they walk in a store or visit a website they are a new, mindful, informed and purposeful shopper. This is very important to note considering when we know that 57% of holiday shoppers don’t have a specific products or brand in mind when they begin their holiday shopping, and 78% of consumers are not loyal to a particular brand. So, as long as you know how to influence the consumer decision, the opportunity is here.

When Google asked a panel of users what channels influenced their purchase, 64% of them referenced YouTube, making it the number one online channel. Twitter, Facebook, and Search all have been mentioned over 50% of the time.

To succeed this holiday season, retailers will need to rely on mobile as the channel of choice. They need to pay particular attention to the context of each interaction with consumer, and they have to engage their target audience way before they step foot in their store or click on their site.

Marketers should also expand their digital shelf through an array of combinations of ad formats — search/social, display/search, video/display, email/social.

  1. Start by creating unique content for the holiday season and making sure your online presence is optimized (you have a website, with the right content, that can be browsed from any device).
  2. Build highly relevant audiences, targeted by a combination of dimensions such as interests, behaviours, location, time, device, etc.
  3. Stand out with unique creative – tap into the power of video, rich media, hyperlocal ads, and native. Offer discounted prices and free shipping. According to Shop.org, these are the two most important factors when shopping online.
  4. Embrace the various channels and options that customers favor to deliver a positive customer experience and ultimately drive sales and brand loyalty.
  5. Quantify the impact of your campaigns by measuring and optimizing in real time, towards predefined KPIs.

The 1 – 2 – 3 Email Combo

Consumers in 2014 are more product savvy than ever before – and predictions have the trend continuing in 2015 – marketers have had to up their game to keep informed consumers looking at their products.

What does this mean for you as a marketer? It means that it’s time to look at where your potential customers are informing themselves about your product. In most cases, the answer will be a number of channels ranging from online ads to news/media articles to social posts to email blasts and more.

One of the troublesome parts about having so many channels of information is figuring out how to be efficient with your marketing efforts. In 2014, marketers shifted their efforts towards a combination approach across several channels rather than trying to get lucky with the big haymaker on one specific channel.

This means combining email with retargeting ads, text ads with social contests, traditional media with online landing pages etc., all in an effort to increase conversions. These combinations need a strategy, development, and vigilance in execution, but the facts show that it’s worth it.

A recent study from Facebook and Salesforce shows that customers who saw an ad before they opened a promotional email were 22% more likely to make that purchase – no small boost.

Who’s Doing It Right?

There are plenty of companies using multi-channel marketing to boost conversions, but most recently I came across a particularly compelling example. Evo – an outdoor rec company – has both an e-commerce site and a retail store. This means their offering not only extends through multiple marketplaces, but also through multiple channels.

In this case, I was shopping online and looking for new boots to pair with my shred-sticks. Here’s the marketing campaign as I saw it unfold:

1. Customer visits site and searches for boot (organic).

2. Searches Google for comparable offerings (text ad).

3. Received promo next day (email)

With one search on the site (I was already a member) I was hit on three different channels with custom ads. It’s a prime example of using search data, email, and user behaviour to push a purchase decision.

Creative Content Is Still King

It’s not just multi-channel marketing and smart advertising that has stepped forward in 2013, it’s also in the creativity behind the marketing efforts. We’ve always seen creative and inspiring marketing campaigns from big brands with big budgets, but the little guys are also upping their game. And they’re doing it without breaking the bank.

How are they doing this? GIFS of course!

I’m not just talking about cats being festive and cheerful or that hilarious fail video your Dad sent you. It’s the use of gifs in a professional manner. A way that shows off a new feature or pulls an emotional response from an image.

A number of tech companies in 2014 have been using this technique on their website and in their eblasts – Intercom and the Evernote use them regularly. Here are a few examples to check out:


Go Forth and GIF

GIFs aren’t a new phenomenon at all, but how we’re using them has evolved. 2014 was a big year for gifs mainly due to advancements in technology and bandwidth. Our customers are using more powerful devices on faster networks than ever before. This allows us as marketers to deliver rich media on multiple platforms without a poor user experience damaging the brands persona.

Now if you’re thinking about tossing some animated gifs into your emails or multi-channel holiday campaigns, that’s good. However, you should keep these tips in mind:

1. Less is More

If you use too many gifs – especially if it’s in a way that screams “look at me I’m cool!” – it will likely come off as cheesy. Don’t be a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man.

2. Know Your Audience

Not everyone is down for an animated email, so before you get your gifs ready to send out be sure that you’re playing to the right crowd. Does this make sense for your brand and who you are talking to?

3.You’ll Need Some Tech Help

Integrating your gifs into your header or styled inline with your text will take some savvy development. Inboxes still don’t like to play nice, so make sure you thoroughly test your emails before they go out.

With all that in mind, you should be able to give your customers the kind of GIF they love. They might even end up loving you too. Especially if you throw down a GIF like this.

And in case you were wondering how I picked that GIF, wonder no more.