Despite a shorter shopping season and consumers still concerned about the economy, U.S. holiday sales for 2013 ultimately came in at $601.8 billion, representing 3.8 percent year-over-year growth and in line with NRF’s holiday forecast. Online holiday sales totaled $95.7 billion, a 9.3 percent growth over 2012. Now is the time to find actionable insights in these results.
The latest Shop.org eHoliday post-holiday retailer and consumer survey, conducted by research partner Prosper Insights & Analytics, offers a fascinating glimpse into how the season unfolded for retailers, what mattered to consumers, and how, where and when holiday shoppers spent. In particular, retailers had numerous thoughts on what they’ll invest in this year and the one thing they plan to do differently for Holiday 2014. Advice they offered includes:
Mobile execution must be flawless – and is a top priority this year. “Mobile/tablet is very different but clearly where growth is headed,” one retailer said while another cited “significant shift in device usage” regarding mobile’s impact on this past holiday season. Little surprise that mobile was among the most frequently mentioned areas where retailers plan to invest in this year, along with better site experience and apps.
Shipping and fulfillment will evolve further – and need more planning. Forrester’s Sucharita Mulpuru expects “last mile” strategies to be a key focus this year for retailers. The late-season shipping delays seen in the U.S. highlighted that fulfillment is just as important to the customer as the front-end shopping experience. Fulfillment capacity, additional shipping options to extend the holiday season and improved logistics for drop shipments from vendors are areas retailers said they will target for investing this year. Multichannel retailers also are exploring how they can leverage stores to hedge against over-reliance on any one shipping method, including ship-from-store (42 percent) and ship-to-store (27 percent), among other areas.
Marketing and promotions strategies require proactive analysis and management. With consumers still focused on stretching holiday budgets amid continued economic uncertainty (and demanding “discounts, discounts, discounts,” according to one survey participant), retailers understand that a successful holiday season includes proactively managing marketing and promotion programs. During Holiday 2013, vehicles such as affiliate marketing, paid search and emails to boost conversion worked hard for retailers. Looking ahead, retailers say they will do a number of things differently in this area. Plans include beginning promotions earlier in the fourth quarter, changing promotional strategy or simplifying the promotional message for the holiday period.
Assortment and planning are fundamental and cannot be short-changed. Assortment ranks high among factors that are most important to consumers in choosing to do business with a retailer. On a scale of one to five, with five being “very important,” consumers rated broad product selection at 4.2, availability of brand-name products at 3.9 and unique products that can’t be found elsewhere at 3.7. Plans for 2014 include better inventory management, better evaluation of merchandising mix prior to the holidays, better inventory planning for promotions and more detailed forecasting and planning.
See more of what we learned in the full consumer and retailer post-holiday survey results, now available for Shop.org members to download.