It is never too early for retailers to start thinking about the holiday shopping season. While retail marketers will join their fellow Americans this week celebrating Independence Day with fireworks, parades, and cookouts, many will put the flags and streamers away and go back to work having already started planning for the 2019 holiday season that will likely account for roughly 20 percent of annual sales.
According to an Experian survey, 18 percent of marketers surveyed report starting holiday planning in June, with 69 percent in full preparation mode no later than August. The fruit of this labor is approximately half of respondents claiming that they launch a holiday marketing campaign before Halloween.
Many campaigns with a holiday bent are already running. Xanterra Travel Collection, a travel and hospitality company, and RedPoint customer, launched a “Christmas in July” promotion where, starting July 24, customers who book one of more than a dozen destination vacations or cruises will receive 30 percent off. Amazon unveiled its now annual Prime Day in 2015 intended as a Black Friday-style summertime promotion for Prime members. Last year’s 36-hour July sale resulted in $4 billion in sales and 100 million products sold, making it the company’s biggest sales event of all-time. (This year’s Amazon Prime Day is July 15-16th). Other retailers put their own stamp on Christmas in July by offering steep discounts on holiday-themed merchandise. The past few years, Home Depot has rolled out an early July promotion with online deals of up to 75 percent off for Christmas lights and decorations.
Christmas in July is not only about boosting sales during the typically lazy days of summer retail, or keeping a brand top of mind for a customer when the weather eventually turns colder. The purpose of advance planning is to button up a strategy in the summer and be ready to go at the optimal time, according to a customer’s behaviors, preferences, and intent. A retailer that waits until the fall may miss an opportunity to engage with a customer across multiple touchpoints to ensure more wallet share in December. While “Christmas Creep” is very real – which refers to early (think October) in-store Christmas decorations – brands that know everything about a customer will know the right time to engage.
With personalized, relevant holiday campaigns locked and loaded well in advance of the season, brands are primed to engage with customers in the context and cadence of a unique omnichannel journey.
There is No “Last Minute” for a Retail Marketer
According to analysis from Chain Store Age, 73 percent of consumers typically shop retailers who have reached out to them throughout the year. Similarly, only 27 percent said they consider a retailer who only targets them during key periods, such as holidays. A holiday marketing strategy that begins in the summer or earlier primes the pump by creating or maintaining a loyal customer before the holiday rush. A July email offer relevant to purchases a consumer made the previous holiday season, and an August programmatic ad that leverages a consumer’s lifestyle interests will likely give the brand an edge when the customer does begin holiday shopping.
Brands achieve differentiation by engaging with the omnichannel consumer in their preferred channel and sequence, and at the right time. A perfectly placed July email offer, for instance, has a strong likelihood to pay dividends in December if the retailer knows that a July touch, for that unique customer, has over the last three years resulted in a 35 percent increase in holiday revenue. Research from the Aberdeen Group shows an 83 percent retention rating among companies with strong omnichannel customer engagement, versus a 53 percent rating for those without.
Perpetual readiness, in other words, doesn’t mean spinning up a blast campaign in July to roll out on Black Friday; it means recognizing a unique customer’s preferences and behaviors throughout the year. How much of a customer’s annual spend comes during the holiday season? Which are the high-value customers? Which are more likely to churn? A single customer view arms marketers with a head-start, if you will, in developing a holiday strategy because it gives them a consistently updated score, or evaluation mechanism, to determine how the holiday season factors into a unique customer’s patterns of behavior.
Leave the Guesswork Behind in Holiday Retail Marketing
A retail marketer anxious about creating an effective holiday campaign might think they’d have to start holiday planning in January to optimize a strategy on a customer basis. If they relied on manual processes and intuition, they’d be right. Creating an optimal customer experience in the context and cadence of a specific customer journey requires an intelligent orchestration layer; applying advanced analytics to a single customer view provides an automated next-best action for each customer in the context of a unique customer journey.
Advanced analytics can let a marketer know that a three-touch outreach beginning in August results in 15 percent more holiday sales from a customer than waiting until October, for instance. So while it’s vital to lock and load holiday campaigns early for this very reason, a next-best action also provides flexibility for any contingency. Because engagement is always in sync with the customer’s journey, a next-best action ensures that a marketing strategy is continually optimized, in real time, based on whatever action a consumer may take. The risk of creating customer frustration is minimal or even non-existent because the system won’t allow for too many touches if that’s what a journey dictates.
Another reason why it’s important for a retail marketer to start holiday planning early is because using new datasets or new data sources, and moving, cleaning, and structuring data to prepare it for analytics takes time. Doing this advance work provides marketers with a single point of control over data, decisions, and interactions that will ensure perpetual readiness for anything the holiday shopping season throws at them.
Locking strategy, technology, and investments in early also allow marketers to test more immersive, aspirational, or experiential outreach than would be possible by arriving late to the bandwagon. They can dial personalization up a notch, in other words, and see what works – and what doesn’t – as the long summer days begin to get shorter.
The holiday shopping season has always been the biggest time of the year for retailers. With a personalized customer experience an imperative to compete, retailers can no longer get by with a “Happy Holidays!” email subject line and hope to create a differentiated experience. Yet that’s what a failure to plan will produce – a static, generic campaign that consumers will spot a mile away as impersonal. Data-driven retail marketers know better, and start planning for Christmas in July to ensure that every customer receives the gift of a personalized customer experience that will make for a happy – and prosperous – holiday season.