Until recently, merchants could succeed during the holiday season with a one-size-fits-all approach. Holiday gift guides and email campaigns shared uniformly across touchpoints, Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals broadcast widely, and store shopping experiences focused on catering to the masses have all been the norm.
Now, however, changes in the commerce landscape necessitate a new holiday scenario altogether. The rise of mobile shopping and social media mean that shoppers are seeking to connect with brands more fluidly than ever, while the sheer growth of the eCommerce market means that shoppers have more choices than ever and can navigate quickly away if brands fail to match their unique criteria for holiday deals. Attention metrics such as product views and time on site have all faltered over the past two years, while the bounce rate – the percentage of visits ending after a single page – has steadily risen, according to IBM.
These factors have combined to create a heightened expectation among shoppers for relevance and immediacy during the holidays. More than half of shoppers now expect holiday promotions to take into account their past purchases, browsing behavior and preferences, according to marketing services firm Listrak.
So far, though, these expectations for individually relevant shopping experiences are being largely unmet. Less than a quarter of merchants believe they have enough data to truly personalize their shopping experiences, research firm The E-Tailing Group found. Not surprisingly given these figures, close to two-thirds of consumers say even their favorite brands don’t understand them and fail to deliver relevant experiences, according to IBM and eConsultancy.
Facing these daunting overall conditions, it’s perhaps unsurprising that close to half of merchants say they’re unprepared to deliver an effective multi-touchpoint experience this holiday season, Listrak found. That’s too bad, because this year more than ever it’s possible for merchants to capitalize on new technologies to deliver individualized experiences using automated routines, so that merchants can focus the efforts of holiday staff on delivering the responsive service that can differentiate brands and win valuable trust and loyalty.
In fact, throughout the customer lifecycle, there are opportunities to personalize holiday shopping. Even now, as the calendar edges into September, merchants can put systems into place to create the illusion of a one-to-one shopping experience. Key junctures in the purchase cycle include:
Discovery. As shoppers find their way to brand sites and narrow their product searches, merchants should cater to their specific criteria and concerns. Opportunities to prove brands’ relevance to shoppers begin with the first interaction As holiday gift seekers begin research, merchants can cater to their needs – both stated and implied – by presenting engaging content, products and services that speak to individual needs and criteria.
One way to demonstrate relevance is to syndicate gifting content elsewhere on the eCommerce site, spotlighting individual selections from the gift guide alongside other relevant products and creating a tailored view of gifting options based on browsing behavior.
MarketLive merchant Cost Plus World Market seeds gifting content within a themed category displaying bakeware, cake mixes and other items related to cupcakes. A promotion for gift cards and for a referral program – whereby shoppers earn credit if they invite friends to the site who go on to purchase – along with a free shipping promotion are relevant to gift hunters who might be perusing the category, which is full of present-worthy picks.
Consideration. In some ways, the industry’s focus on the conversion rate has blinded merchants to the true nature of eCommerce purchasing. Hand-wringing about the stubbornly low percentage of visits that end in orders has encouraged a focus on short-term, single-session tactics to convince shoppers to buy immediately.
But in fact, the 97% of shoppers who choose not to convert within a single session are potentially more valuable than those who stick to a single touchpoint for their transaction: those who consult a brand’s digital offerings and visit stores are 20% more likely to buy, for example, and those who consult social media as part of their research are 29% more likely to make a purchase within a day, according to Deloitte.
For the holidays, then, the challenge isn’t how to persuade shoppers to buy immediately, or dissuade them from hopping touchpoints in their search for ideal gifts; rather, brands must strive to deliver consistent, personalized experiences that acknowledge the shopper’s circuitous path to purchase and even welcome usage of an array of brand resources.
Purchase Support. In a world dominated by Amazon-style self-service customer care, individualized and responsive customer service is increasingly a brand differentiator — and a crucial building block for future loyalty. Satisfactory resolution of customer service inquiries lead 92% of shoppers to continue their relationship with the brand, and has considerable impact on word of mouth as well, with 86% of consumers saying they’d be willing to recommend the brand after a successful first customer service interaction, according to the Harvard Business Review.
The hectic holiday season presents merchants with a golden opportunity to demonstrate the kind of one-to-one, proactive customer service that can forge lasting brand connections. Store associates play a crucial role in delivering one-to-one holiday shopping expertise; the call center continues to be a popular option for shoppers seeking to interact with brands; and the new front lines of customer service — live chat and social media — deserve attention as well. Wherever holiday shoppers connect with online support, expectations are sky-high for instantaneous, efficient, and relevant service; on social media, for example, the majority of consumers expect brands to respond to social service requests within an hour, according to Edison Research.
When a customer tweeted about an item being out of stock, MarketLive merchant, Wilson’s Leather responded swiftly to explain the situation and promised to keep the shopper in the loop; the tweet was posted on the retailer’s main feed so that others with the same question could see their plight addressed. The symathetic “hang in there!” humanizes the brand.
Download MarketLive’s latest holiday eBook for further opportunities to deliver individualized shopping experiences. What one-to-one strategies are you deploying for the holidays, and why?