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Jessica Hulett
August 4th, 2021

How Brands Are Preparing for the 2021 Holiday Shopping Season

2020’s holiday shopping season was unlike any other that had come before it. Here’s how eCommerce brands are preparing for 2021.

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As we all remember, 2020’s holiday shopping season was unlike any other that had come before it. And, as brands prepare their Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions to kick off this year’s holiday season, it can be hard to predict what the market will look like.

Here’s what we do know — online shopping and mobile shopping will continue to grow. Consumers are still wary about delivery delays and fulfillment issues, which may make them buy earlier (though probably not as early as last year). And customers want personalized shopping experiences.

As part of our Amazing Women in eCommerce Online: Holiday Edition event, we spoke to four inspiring, innovative women on the cutting edge of eCommerce about their top strategies for a successful holiday season. Here’s what what we learned.

Timing is everything when it comes to holiday promotions

When it comes to timing, earlier isn’t always better — for brands or customers. And there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to rolling out promotions.

“I think for smaller brands, it’s really important to be strategic with what timing can you afford,” says Kelsey Moreira, Founder and CEO of edible cookie dough brand Doughp. “What level of deal could you be offering at what time during the year? It’s just not going to be realistic for many small brands to offer 30% off for the entire month or something along those lines.”

“Think about who that end user is… And I think they’ll give you a little bit more guidance on where that should be,” says Michele Peters, Global eCommerce Marketing Senior Manager at UPS. “A good example of that is if your target audience or your consumer base is someone who’s very flexible and has the ability to continue earning extra income, then they may have budgets that allow them to take advantage of those sales earlier. If that base is more someone who’s maybe salaried or fixed income, it doesn’t matter how early you start promoting and campaigning — they already pretty much have a set budget that they can spend and when those funds would be allotted and available for them to spend.”

Black Friday is changing, and brands need to change, too

Consumers’ appetites for the mad dash traditionally associated with Black Friday may be waning, as employees and customers alike opt for family time on Thanksgiving. And brands are starting to see the writing on the wall.

“I think what we’re seeing is more and more brands leaning into a cause greater than themselves, right? Greater than meeting the bottom line,” says Max Summit, Brand Consultant, VP Marketing and Creative at The Hair Routine. “A great example of course, is Patagonia, who a while back made a very bold move to shut its retail stores on Black Friday. And what that did was I think it sent a very clear message that this model just isn’t sustainable.”

“I would recommend that brands think of how can they can be creative to take advantage of sales opportunities,” says Peters. “Really making it more about your social presence and less about trying to figure out how many sales we can make in a tight 24 hour window. And I think if you show that you’re being compassionate to your employees, your followers will also understand that.”

Use your data to drive personalization and optimization

With recent and looming changes to cookies and consumer data collection, it’s important to have a strategy in place to collect the data you need to drive strategy. Having a holistic view of your customer data helps you use those metrics to deliver better personalization and optimize your website.

“Instead of just looking at inventory or looking at what you want to promote as a business owner, really focus on: ‘What does my end user want or need?’” says Peters. “This is a time to use your data, whatever data method that you’re using to track the buying behavior of your consumers today. This is the time to actually put that in action. Just thinking about, ‘How can I leverage eCommerce platforms and if I have that omni presence, then how do I make that buying experience unique across all platforms — from a retail, in-person strategy to an online strategy — so that my buyers are getting exactly what they’ve already showed interest in?’”

“I think one other area on the data train here is to A/B test the absolute you-know-what out of your website,” says Moreira. “You want to be sure that you have it optimized to a T before this timing is going to start. So take prep time to be able to drill down to like, ‘Is the button the right color?’ Making these micro changes in the end does drive a higher conversion rate or a higher AOV, and are going to really change the game for your business at the end of the year.”

“We spent the first quarter of 2021 working on a customer data platform implementation, says Somia Farid Silber, VP of eCommerce at Edible Arrangements. “And now we have all of our active customer records sitting in Microsoft Dynamics Customer Insights. And this has been a really great way for us to get more granular with our segmentation and create tailored experiences across different channels, whether it’s through email flows or promotions.”

For new brands and established ones, purpose is paramount

​​Almost 80% of all Americans believe that companies have a responsibility to positively impact society. And many are willing to put their money where their values are. For brands who want to stand out during the holiday shopping season — a time associated not just with commerce but with giving — brands will have to offer more than discounts.

“I’d say do business with a purpose,” says Peters. “So, instead of trying to say, ‘Can I get my product in front of thousands and thousands of customers’… say, ‘I’m really concerned about supporting this cause or these efforts.’ And when you tie a good product to a good cause, you’re going to attract a certain type of following, a certain type of database, a certain type of customer, and then go from there.”

“I think purpose-driven work is so important for early stage companies,” says Summit. “As a consultant, I always like to ask my clients, ‘What is it that your brand is uniquely qualified to give to this world that other brands can’t?’ Because I think once you understand the answer to that question, it becomes very easy for you to build out these different diversifications of programs, whether it’s ambassador programs or community-based programs or mission-driven work impact work.”

“We have this philosophy called the five Ps,” says Silber. “It’s our promise, our products, our places, our people, and our purpose.”

Holiday shopping strategy needs to go beyond customer acquisition

The probability of selling to an existing customer is 14 times higher than the probability of selling to a new customer. Brands typically see a higher number of first-time customers on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and into the holiday season, and it’s important to have a strategy in place to retain them.

“First things first: Get your retention marketing set up,” says Moreira. “There’s a lot you can do on top of a loyalty program, which is ideally built into email flows and retention marketing… text message marketing has also been really incredible for us… If you don’t have a pop-up coming up on your site to capture somebody’s email, just do it — do it today. There are tons of apps that can help you with this. When I see someone missing, it’s like you’re letting people who have found your site really fall through those cracks without capturing their email and being able to send browse abandoned ads to them.”

“In addition to that retention strategy, which is probably number one, should be the consumer experience,” says Peters. “How do you address an unhappy or an unsatisfied customer? What does that feel like? What does that look like? And what does the return process look like? Can they call someone, can they chat with someone? You know, really understanding the customer experience and making them feel like they’re needed… from beginning to end to post-purchase, that’s how you really convert a customer.”

Though some of the old rules still apply for eCommerce brands devising their holiday marketing strategy, times they are a-changin’. The bottom line is to always think of your customers’ wants and needs. The rest is building out a strategy with the right tools to support that goal.

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