ThinkstockPhotos 854241308With the technologies available to consumers today, the traditional strategies for reaching consumers during the holidays need to be updated. Here's how retailers can best plan for the critical shopping season. By Toby McKenna

It wasn’t too long ago that the week window between Black Friday and Christmas Eve was considered the holy grail of retail. But as technology has fundamentally changed consumer shopping habits, focusing your entire holiday strategy around Thanksgiving weekend is no longer a guaranteed recipe for success. In today’s environment, retailers need to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Today, the holiday shopping timeline has significantly expanded. Since the internet opened the floodgates for online product discovery and purchase, people have started researching and shopping for holiday gifts much earlier than late-November, extending the season by several weeks and painting a more complicated retail landscape for marketers to navigate.

As consumer habits continue to evolve, how can retailers stay ahead in order to capture shoppers’ notoriously short attention spans during one of the noisiest periods of the year? Here are a few suggestions:

Forget everything you know about traditional seasonal patterns

Veteran marketers know that today’s holiday landscape is starkly different from when they began their careers. The growth of e-commerce and mobile technologies means that people will begin researching, and sometimes buying, holiday gifts much earlier than Black Friday. In fact, holiday shopping can begin as early as October.

According to 2016 holiday shopper data, the consumer electronics market has changed significantly. Thanks to a series of “early bird” promotions from major retailers in 2016, shoppers began researching, price-comparing and shopping for products a full week or more, ahead of Thanksgiving weekend. Expect more of the same in 2017, and consider pushing advertising and promotions up accordingly.

These changing consumer electronics patterns are especially interesting in the context of another big category of the season: toys and games. Perhaps not surprisingly, toys and games sales see a spike around so-called “Panic Saturday,” or the weekend directly before the December holidays. This scramble for purchase makes sense as toys are more closely linked to December holidays.

Another contributing factor is that parents and relatives tend to find out what toys and games the kids in their families want later in the year, after they write their wish-lists in December. Last-minute gifting is growing, which means that retailers will need to find the right balance for timing their marketing campaigns. Invest too heavily in the early birds, and you risk losing out on the laggards.

Prepare for consumers who are “treating themselves”

As holiday shoppers battle the crowds to find gifts for their loved ones, they’re also looking out for themselves. In fact, according to the NRF, self-gifters admit that approximately 20 percent of their total holiday shopping budget goes to themselves. Because self-gifters are also open to recommendations, retailers should create personalized calls to action and promotions for shoppers who are “treating themselves.”

This self-gifting trend has in part extended the holiday retail lifecycle, as consumers research potential items to pick up with store gift cards and gift money they receive during the holidays. This, coupled with the rush of bargain-hunters who head to e-commerce websites to capitalize on post-holiday deals, means that there are many post-holiday sales opportunities for marketers to capitalize on, particularly for retailers offering apparel and accessories, beauty and consumer electronics, which are traditionally product categories that people like to choose for themselves.

Non-gifts are hot items

While most retailers’ marketing efforts will focus on the big categories for holiday gifts, there are other types of products that will be in high demand this holiday season. Consider CPG, for example. Disposable kitchen products like paper plates and plastic cutlery – these products will be in heavy use for entertaining at parties and family gatherings. Don’t forget to prepare for the utilitarian’s who will inevitably rush to stock up on holiday hosting essentials.

Another trending category to prioritize will be beauty and personal care. Similar to CPG, the shopping windows for these products will not follow the general post-Thanksgiving traffic trends. This is likely due to the personal nature of beauty products and the likelihood that shoppers will take advantage of gift cards and gift money to buy these for themselves in late-December. Interestingly, shopping activity in the beauty category in particular picks up as people begin to prepare their New Year’s Eve party looks.

Finally, the rise of “pet parenting,” or childless millennials who are treating pets as a member of the family, continues to make the holiday season a hot time for retailers. Fifty percent of households have pets, who during 2016 spent more than $66 billion on products for them. As more millennials wait to have children, there’s additional income that is designated for furry friends. Now that millennials make up a large part of the consumer base, advertisers should revamp their approaches to attracting pet parents during the holidays.

Happy shopping!

Technology and shifting consumer behaviors have undoubtedly complicated the retail landscape during the holidays. With unprecedented holiday shopping patterns taking shape to provide new opportunities, and challenges, for marketers. By paying attention to the shifting timelines and priorities consumers have during this hectic time of year, retailers can place themselves at an advantage in reaching their target audiences exactly when they’re in-market.

Toby McKenna is the senior vice president of global advertising for Bazaarvoice. As the leader of Bazaarvoice’s global advertising business, she has led digital sales and marketing teams for over 15 years; her experience spans across media, mobile and e-commerce companies. 

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ThinkstockPhotos 576896768The retail sector is hurting due to the growth of e-commerce, decreased spending on consumer goods, and high debt levels following "going-private" transactions, among others. By Jeffrey M. Pomerance, Esq.

The facts are undeniable. According to Credit Suisse, between 20 and 25 percent of the nation's shopping malls will close in the next 5 years. Established retailers such as Macy's, JC Penney and Sears have announced numerous store closings; clothiers such as American Apparel, Gymboree and Wet Seal have filed for bankruptcy relief, with more on the way. In fact, the number of companies filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases, especially in the retail space, is approaching the highest level since 2008.

The retail sector is hurting, with no immediate end in sight. The causes are many—the growth of e-commerce, decreased spending (as a percentage of total spending) on consumer goods, high debt levels following "going-private" transactions, among others. All hope is not lost, however, as brick-and-mortar companies such as Best Buy demonstrate that retailers can implement a number of strategies to not only survive the meltdown but actually thrive and grow.

Recognize Your Competitive Advantage

Too often, retailers view their brick-and-mortar establishments as merely a cost and detrimental when competing with Amazon and other e-commerce giants who have traditionally offered lower prices to garner market share. Successful retailers such as Best Buy, however, recognize that physical stores, when part of a multichannel effort to generate sales, allow potential buyers the ability to feel and touch products that online retailers are unable to offer.

Customers generally like to ask questions, and prefer to speak directly with a person rather than through a call center or via email. Retailers with brick-and-mortar locations can offer entertainment (either in store or within reasonable proximity) and an experience that cannot be achieved online. Make the shopping an experience that satisfies a client's desire for items and an enjoyable time, and not just the acquisition of goods.

"Servicize" Your Products

Along these lines, brick-and-mortar retailers should seek to provide complementary and supplementary services and support for product sales, which not only enhance the purchase process but can actually generate sales of new products. Best Buy, for example, also offers in-house advisory services through its Geek Squad support function, which generates additional revenues, enhances the customer experience and may in fact lead to new product sales.

Manage Cash Effectively

Too often, retailers seek to regain their footing simply by cutting costs. This is shortsighted and can lead to further problems. Rather, the goal should be to conserve cash by managing it effectively. Reliance on the ability to secure a competitive line of credit, even at a time with historically low interest rates, or seeking additional outside financing in today's market has led many retailers to incur exorbitant levels of debt and subject to large interest payments that result in competitive problems.

Rather, care should be taken to ensure that the appropriate available funds are set aside for creative marketing and advertising, both traditional and online, and for the education and training of the retailer's sales force. To the extent possible, inventory should be obtained on consignment or on account to best manage cash outflows.

Revisit The Company's Capital Structure

Since 2008, many retailers have incurred or been saddled with significant debt, which can significantly hamper a retailer's ability to compete in the present retail environment. Along the lines mentioned above, managing cash is a key determinant in financial viability. Management should be examining their balance sheet and cash flows, and seek if possible to align debt holders with the company's long-term goals. This can occur either on a consensual basis (as in a reorganization of debt to equity) or through the bankruptcy process. Too often, the cash that is used to make interest payments is the cash that, if properly applied, would permit a retailer to successfully perform in a tough retail environment.

Manage Inventory Effectively

Successful retailers offer a good product mix to effectively meet market demand, yet balance the amount of inventory on hand—an intelligent warehousing and distribution strategy can significantly enhance profitability. Best Buy, for example, replaced CD's and DVD's with other more profitable electronic items.

Revisit Your Lease

The significant dislocation in the retail sector permits opportunities to revisit and renegotiate terms. Care should be taken in this regard; landlords concerned about the retail meltdown may view a renegotiation as an opportunity to replace an existing retailer with another, better funded, retailer or another business. Rather, retailers should use the retail meltdown as an opportunity to align landlord and retailer/tenant issues.

Embrace Technology

Modern technology can often help retailers give customers a unique shopping experience. Retail companies have employed, for example, 360-degree changing room mirrors with video-playback facilities and screens which track what people are trying and suggesting alternative outfits, 3D body scanning to help customer finds the right size/shape of clothing, and "magic mirrors” which allow customers to try on items virtually. These advancements in technology provide the brick-and-mortar retailer with a potential competitive advantage over their e-commerce rivals, and may actually be helpful in generating information that aids in inventory mix decisions down the road.

In conclusion, brick-and-mortar retailers can survive and indeed succeed in this otherwise difficult retail market. Price is not the only point of competition with Amazon and the other e-commerce giants. Rather, executing on the strategies outlined above amongst others can actually give a brick-and-mortar retailer a winning advantage over its online competition and generate profitability.

Jeffrey M. Pomerance, Esq. serves as senior counsel at SulmeyerKupetz, a premier financial restructuring, insolvency, business and litigation firm in California. He can be reached at jpomerance@sulmeyerlaw.com. 

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ThinkstockPhotos 179693002In order to acquire and maintain customers, it’s vital for brands and marketing teams to leverage social media and guide customers down the purchasing path. By Jason Beckerman

Social media is ingrained in all shoppers’ lives. Well aware of this phenomenon, marketers are increasing social advertising budgets faster than any segment of the paid media mix. In fact, in 2018 social advertising budgets are expected to swell to over $50 billion.

Retailers of any size and industry must keep this number in mind; it signals the explosive growth of social media marketing—and the impact it can have on retail shoppers. In order to acquire and maintain customers, it’s vital for brands and marketing teams to leverage this massive ecosystem and guide customers down the purchasing path. But before they can do this, they need to ask “Do I have access to and control of my data? What if I don’t?”

Be Smarter (From the Beginning)

To successfully capitalize on social advertising, brands must first own their data. What does this mean? If you own your data, you have total access to all your social advertising data, no matter how many agencies, vendors or partners you are working with. Without data ownership, retailers can’t access the information they need, when they need it. And without that access, they can’t make informed, effective decisions about their social media. A lack of direct access to accurate performance information can lead to business decisions based on incorrect or incomplete data – putting social investments at risk.

Additionally, social is the perfect pair with the first-party CRM data retailers are spending large amounts of resources cultivating. Brands who take ownership of their social data, are able to integrate it with first-party data at scale, innovating in areas like targeting, creative and audience analysis. Without data ownership, marketers are not getting the most of their first-party data and leaving a ton of value on the table.

What Owning Data Looks Like

In short, data ownership provides retailers with both the security of accurate information and the assurance that they won't lose anything when changes are made.

Think of it like this: you know that serving customers social coupon ads builds foot traffic. Based on that information, your marketing team develops a new, winning campaign that drives hoards of customers into stores. Weeks after this campaign, you switch agencies. Your marketing team searches for the performance data from this last campaign, but it belongs to the old agency, and you cannot access it any more. Now you don’t know which targeted groups responded best to which ads, which dates performed best – you don’t know anything specific about that successful campaign. But with data ownership, you retain all the information you need.

Retailers who own their data can mine and map it to create powerful insights. No past learnings or best practices are lost. Adopting measurement standards and leveraging technology can ensure that you are accessing the right information on what was spent, who spent it and how it performed. This creates a holistic, trusted data repository that will enable you to continuously create successful campaigns.

Data ownership can also provide visibility into your social supply chains. Retail brands have one of the most complex supply chains; they can have coupon vendors, ecommerce solutions, creative agencies, and more working on a single social media campaign. With so many players in the mix, brands often face teams working in silos, hidden fees and limited visibility.

With data ownership, retail brands can gain the complete transparency they need into their entire social supply chain, allowing them to make better decisions on both campaign and partner budgets.

Getting the Full Picture

When conducting a campaign, marketers must see the whole picture from beginning to end, and data ownership can provide that kind of transparency.

By leveraging social media to reach audiences at each shopping stage, marketers can exceed goals at every step including delivering prospects, customers and loyalists. However, when brands rely on "wrap-up reports" about campaign performance after the fact, they miss out in the real-time intelligence they need to truly move the needle and drive the best results. On-demand transparency into total performance is critical, and the retail brands succeeding with social are tapping into it early and often.

Retail marketers must take advantage of social advertising technology that provides data ownership and transparency, and is interoperable with any campaign, team, tool or channel. Such technology completes the picture, allowing brands to control data accessibility, assure certainty about investments – and dramatically limit risk.

Jason Beckerman is the CEO and co-founder of Unified.

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