Along with changing leaves, football on the big screen and winter fashion filling up the racks, fall inevitably ushers in a rising anticipation for the holidays. For most shoppers, November flags the true start of the holiday shopping season and a two-month frenzy to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list. For the millions of retailers whose holiday sales constitute as much as 30 percent of annual revenue, this time of year represents a critical quarter for meeting yearly sales goals. Second only to gift cards and certificates, clothing and accessories are on 55 percent of consumers’ wish lists, making this an especially busy, and downright stressful, time for the apparel industry.
In 2016, U.S. ecommerce sales topped $115 billion during the holidays, setting a new record. This year, sales are expected to surpass $129 billion. Additionally, Forrester predicts 2017 holiday shoppers will spend an average of $689 online. As a result, retailers are focused more than ever before on marketing techniques to attract new customers and drive more traffic to their e-commerce sites.
A recent BigCommerce survey of more than 1,000 online merchants found that one-third of merchants began planning for holidays one to two months earlier than in years past, with 21 percent kicking off their planning in September. Even more interesting, 8 percent of respondents began holiday planning in January, immediately putting into practice lessons learned from last year’s holiday rush to get a jump on the competition.
With the battle for attention at an all-time high, apparel retailers must look for ways to attract holiday shoppers through all available avenues, and there are new channels rolled out every year. Whether you began planning early or are just now strategizing for the holidays, here are some tips to maximize your online sales strategy.
Expand your online touchpoints. While 44 percent of product searches now originate on Amazon, product discovery takes place across multiple channels, requiring apparel retailers to think about how and where to best reach target audiences. For example, consumers are increasingly using social media channels as a source of fashion inspiration and outfit brainstorming, and this convergence of content and commerce gives retailers additional opportunities to engage customers through new mediums and ad formats. In fact, apparel merchants expect social channels to be key sales streams for them this holiday season, with 22.7 percent pointing to Facebook, 14.8 percent to Instagram and 5.7 percent to Pinterest in our survey.
Data also shows that merchants who sell on at least two channels earn, on average, twice the revenue of single-channel sellers. This goes beyond the traditional brand website and brick-and-mortar store to include social channels and marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay.
Establish a consistent brand to earn repeat purchases. Selling across multiple channels is a proven strategy to rapidly expand your customer base and drive top-line growth. However, as you begin diversifying your channel mix, it is imperative to create as uniform a brand presence as possible, leveraging every touchpoint to create a lasting connection with customers. This consistency across channels will improve brand recall and loyalty, which in turn will result in greater repeat purchases.
Don’t under-invest in creative. The average adult attention span today is a mere eight seconds. During the holiday season, when consumers are inundated with advertising and offers from brands vying for their holiday spending dollars, that eight seconds is likely shaved down to a brief glance. In order to compete, brands need to capture a customer’s attention quickly, which is why striking visuals and creative campaigns are a must-have during the holidays. Surveyed apparel merchants say that visually-dominant channels such as Facebook, email and Instagram prove to be the most successful holiday marketing and advertising channels, with 59.1 percent, 56.8 percent and 31.8 percent (respectively) ranking them in the top three.
Spice up your holiday promotions. For retailers, marketing promotions are as much a part of the holidays as in-laws and eggnog. Seventy-nine percent of merchants offer some kind of discount or promotion in Q4. But not all promotions are created equal. Consumers have come to expect offerings such as free shipping and no longer consider it a compelling reason to buy on its own, forcing merchants to delve further into the promotions toolkit. Rather than offering the same promotions as every other apparel merchant, think through the ways you can excite your customer and separate your brand from the rest of the noise.
Don’t overdo it. When it comes to your online storefront, the holidays are not the time to test and experiment with things you’ve never done previously. Instead, focus on what has worked for you before, highlight your top-selling products and ensure any discounts and promotions are prominently featured. By cluttering your website or giving visitors sensory overload, you run the risk of losing potential customers who, up until that point, had enough interest to land on your page. And that can cause damage that lasts well beyond the holiday season ends. More than one fifth (21) percent of Americans shopping online cite unattractive or difficult-to-navigate websites as a major e-commerce pain point – so don’t over-complicate it.
At the end of the day, the holiday season can be chaotic and overwhelming, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. The holidays are huge for the fashion industry, and not just because it’s ugly sweater season. Invest the time in advanced preparations and promotions that are carefully developed with your customer in mind. Come Cyber Monday, you can focus on having meaningful interactions with your customers, rather than stressing about year-end results.
Cheri Winterberg is vice president of marketing communications for e-commerce solutions provider BigCommerce. She has more than 20 years of experience managing integrated communications campaigns for large global companies, including Microsoft and 3M, as well as startups in the mobile payments and digital security space.