Fighting Comp: Are Early Holiday Promotions a Charm or a Challenge?

By Arthur Tschopp, Listrak regional director
Holiday marketing campaigns appear to start earlier every year, both in-store and online, and it seems that the larger omnichannel retailers are leading the way this year. RJMetrics released a study to remind us that Q4, specifically November and December, can account for more than 30% of total annual revenue, and the holiday-themed promotions tend to lift revenue upwards of 40% when compared to off-season promotions with similar offers.

With these types of performance metrics, it’s no wonder retailers are anxious to get started early.

Christmas in September

My colleagues and I share our consumer experiences with each other and we were all surprised to have recently received early holiday campaigns from some of the larger omnichannel retailers. The examples below show two unique strategies; one head-on Christmas message featuring holiday decorations from Pier 1 Imports (received 9-16-15) and the second from Wisteria (received 9-29-15) featuring its holiday gift guide and lookbook. Don’t misunderstand, I have no objections to receiving solid marketing messages with offers that help me better prepare for the holidays; but, based on years working in the retail sector, I know that leveraging holiday messaging so early can also have its downside.

The challenge is that these types of campaigns will probably drive an increase in top-line sales, especially when companies compare them against the same time period LY when they didn’t circulate an early holiday campaign. And in addition to seeing top-line revenue lift, these omnichannel retailers will also see an increase in comparable sales across their physical store locations.

This attributable increase in comp sales is probably the main reason retailers tend to start their holiday marketing campaigns earlier and earlier each year. You can just imagine how happy retailers are with the numbers – and themselves - when they run their first early holiday campaign.

Hard Act to Follow

So now that retailers are fighting comp and winning with their newly discovered early holiday campaigns, confidence is high for a strong holiday and Q4. However, there may be a surprise right around the corner.

What happens when the consumer is trained to shop early for holiday and ultimately stops or slows down on the more traditional holiday shopping days, i.e., Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc? This consumer behavior shift can create a huge business challenge with eroding YOY comp sales that could significantly impact a retailer’s business during the most important selling period of the year. Remember, the year before, retailers may not have sent an early holiday campaign, thus pushing purchase demand further into the traditional holiday shopping days.

Text Box: 2015 holiday sales are expected to increase only 2.8% - 3.4% over last yearSimple polling indicates that many consumers will shop early and late, or in other words, when there’s a reason (deals); however, we can all agree that there is a ceiling to total retail spending within Q4. According to a recent Study by AlixPartners via Reuters, 2015 Holiday sales are expected to grow 2.8 to 3.4 percent during the November-December shopping period compared with 4.4 percent in 2014. Although projections don’t always come to materialize, if this study has any accuracy, starting early with holiday marketing campaigns this year could only exacerbate an already challenging Holiday Q4 sales comp.
What you can do

Keep holiday shoppers engaged and buying throughout the entire holiday season – even those who purchased early – by ensuring that every email you send to them is personalized to their needs. Remember that people are not only buying gifts, but also for themselves as 57% of shoppers admitted to self-gifting last year. Emails that feature personalized content based on the shopper’s behavior will be the key to reaching and exceeding your holiday goals this year.

Mobile Ad Blockers and What They Mean for Holiday Shopping

by Matt Vollmer, Listrak’s Digital Marketing Manager

By now you’ve likely heard news about mobile ad and content blockers and how they can negatively impact mobile shopping experiences this holiday season. While ad blockers are nothing new to most devices and platforms, Apple’s recent release of iOS 9 means that users may now download and install ad blocking extensions on their iPhones. Given iPhone’s market share and horror stories of big-box retailers’ websites failing to render due to certain mobile ad blockers, the news is hard to ignore.

With mobile traffic and revenue at an all-time high, what impact does this news have on retailers and what should you do about it?

Certainly this is something that retailers should be aware of, but as you ramp up for the holiday season, we encourage you to not make this priority 1. We recommend continuing to focus on keystone acquisition and remarketing initiatives that provide the best short-term and long-term value to you and, most importantly, your shoppers. These initiatives will never fail you.

This isn’t to say that you should completely ignore the potential negative impact of ad blockers on your website's rendering and your shoppers’ experience, but let’s take a closer look at some specifics of why it shouldn’t be your top priority.

  1. Consider the numbers
    Relatively speaking, the percentage of users this could affect will be greatly overshadowed by the YoY increase in mobile-driven revenue. We sampled ten eCommerce retailers in various verticals and they average 350,000 unique monthly visitors. Of these 350,000 visitors an average of 2.7% use iOS 9, which is the first iOS to allow ad blockers. To be fair, iOS 9 was recently released, so adoption rates are still low at this point. However, if we look at the percentage of users who browse using iOS 8 (first released September 2014), this number averages just under 15%. And remember, only a fraction of those using each operating system will even install ad blockers.
  2. Moving targets
    Ad blockers all function differently and some update daily, especially as developers battle for the #1 spot in Apple’s App Store. As updates roll out and new versions are released, a website that may have had blocked elements yesterday may have no issues today. 
  3. We love content
    Shoppers who use poorly-built or oversensitive ad blockers are likely already aware of the negative browsing experience that they create. Chances are, this isn’t the first time they’ve experienced an issue with a website on their mobile device. We’re consumers of content and we’ll remove any barrier that stands between us and what we want, defective mobile ad blockers included.

If you’re a retailer who attracts a high level of mobile traffic, then it will benefit you to review your website traffic data to understand which platforms and operating systems your shoppers are using. Regardless of whether or not mobile ad blockers are a concern to you, you should always be render-testing on the most used devices to ensure a seamless user experience. If you do choose to include ad blockers in your render-testing process, we recommend installing the top one or two rated for the device. Be sure to reference community ratings before downloading and installing ad blockers. The higher the rating, the more likely your shoppers are to choose it.

We know how critical this time of year is to your brand’s success. Having a prioritized plan in place and following that plan will greatly benefit you and your brand’s loyalists. For more information on how to prepare for this busy time of year, check out our recent Podcast series, hosted by our eCommerce experts here at Listrak.

Holiday Insights: The Trick to Creating Spooktacular Halloween Emails

By Donna Fulmer, Listrak market research and media communications manager and Lauren Hoffman, Listrak account management data analyst

According to the National Retail Federation, more than 157 million American adults will celebrate Halloween this year, and each will spend an average of $74 on costumes, candy, decorations and more. Treat your subscribers right to maximize your share of this $6.9 billion holiday.

To help you get started, we took a look at some of our retail clients’ top performing Halloween emails from 2014 to see what worked best:

Entice the Reader
Everyone loves a good mystery. The emails “Happy Hallow-Lean! Time For a MYSTERY Coupon. What Will Your Savings Be?” and “October Mystery Coupon: Unravel the Mystery! Save up to 30%!” converted at rates of 45% and 36.4%, respectively.

Make an Offer
Don’t be scared to keep it simple. Often a straightforward discount is all that is needed to get subscribers to take action. The sales offered in the emails “20% OFF All Halloween Cookies” and “10% Halloween Discount” prompted subscribers to convert at a 53.6% and 28.9% conversion rate, respectively.

Get into the Spirit with Words
Just like the most creative costumes get the most attention at the party, unusual words get attention in the inbox.  Last year the email “It’s Rocktoberfest with real rocks!” had an impressive 41.8% open rate, and even the slightly less unique, but fun “Spooktacular Savings This Week Only!” had a 19.9% open rate.

Offer Up Ideas
Trying to come up with a to-die-for costume or party theme can be scary for many, so ideas are always welcome. For example, the email, “Can’t Miss Halloween Costume Ideas + 20% OFF” was opened by 29.9% of the subscribers who received it.

Help Subscribers Out of a Bind
For busy subscribers, it seems that Halloween just sneaks up on them, and BOO!, there’s little time left to plan. That’s why an email like “FREE Delivery Before Halloween Or Reduced Express Shipping + Extra 15% Off Costumes!” got opened by more than half (50.8%) of subscribers.

Do you have any tricks for effective Halloween emails? Please share them!