Holiday 2011 first look: messaging to bargain hunters


By now you’ve probably read the early forecasts predicting that the 2011 holiday season will be a subdued affair. The International Council of Shopping Centers predicts a 2.2% gain overall, down from 4.4% growth in 2010. ShopperTrak, which combines economic trends with foot traffic data, predicts 3% growth overall, compared with the 4.1% gain it reported in 2010.

But in a continuing trend, eCommerce promises to be a bright spot. According to Internet Retailer, research firm Kantar Retail predicts a 13.5% increase in online sales. Although that’s a decline from the robust 16.5% growth Kantar reported in 2010, the 2011 forecast still holds out the promise of double-digit growth in an otherwise tepid year.

Forecasterss predict a rush of bargain hunters who will shop frugally and hold out for deals. As Jack Kleinhenz of the National Retail Federation told the Wall Street Journal, “There will be lots of promotions—that’s become the norm.”

To maximize the potential of online holiday sales in 2011, merchants should design their promotions with these savvy deal seekers in mind. That doesn’t mean automatically dropping prices or eliminating barriers to free shipping; it does mean prominently communicating the value of your brand and products wherever shoppers roam.

1. Make it easy to seize opportunities across channels.

Gift guides, shareable wish lists and “save cart”/”print cart” options have long been part of merchants’ holiday playbooks — but with shoppers doing more research than ever in advance of purchasing, it’s crucial to fulfill their need for product and promotion information, in whatever format they seek it.  In particular, don’t neglect:

  • Cross-channel visibility. If you offer in-store inventory lookup, make it prominent not only on your eCommerce site, but on mobile devices, so that shoppers on the go can quickly ascertain where they can find sought-after products and what discounts might be in effect at local outlets. Tie store locator services to your calendar of in-store events and promotions. And for catalogers, devote space in printed materials to encourage shoppers to sign up for email delivering frequent holiday deals and tips.
  • Social-to-store possibilities. Use your Facebook page and Twitter feed not only to drive online sales, but to keep shoppers apprised of the latest in-store holiday happenings. Train social media customer service staff to localize responses and help connect shoppers with in-store as well as online options for resolving their questions.
  • On-the-go discounts. Shoppers should be able to apply email offers on both mobile devices and through the Web site; if the technology is available, allow them to translate a promo code into a coupon they can scan from their phones in stores.

2. Encourage immediate purchases.

Counteract shoppers’ instincts to hold out for better bargains with irresistible promotions early in the season. These offers needn’t slash prices, but can focus on the convenience of beating the holiday rush and the security of knowing sought-after items will be in stock.

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