E-Commerce Perplexes at Peak Season

Dec 9, 2015

Now that we’re in the thick of holiday season, this is the time for retailers to connect with consumers demanding greater ease and flexibility when it comes to shopping.

According to Statista and the National Retail Federation (NRF), the holiday season can account for as much as 30% of an individual retailer’s total sales. In its 2015 Benchmark Report series, “E-Commerce Holiday Trends,” RJMETRICS found November and December drive 30% more e-commerce revenue than non-holiday months.

E-commerce, something not existing when millennials where born, is now embraced as routine and expected by today’s consumers. While digital may not yet be mainstream in the retail world, the shift from showroom to cyberspace is a response to signals including shopper preference and emerging technology.

Danny Cipollone, director of strategic alliances for Livingston International, explains how e-commerce is changing peak season for retailers. “E-commerce is growing so rapidly. Consumers want to have flexibility,” he says, noting the process of researching, purchasing and shipping can become entirely seamless with e-commerce purchasing options.

Based on consumer patterns and behavior, e-commerce will continue to increase its identity and leverage within marketplace dynamics. Today, high-speed Internet access is everywhere, along with the proliferation of mobile devices. According to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center, more than two-thirds of adult Americans own smartphones and almost half own tablets, which explains why consumers are using omni-channel options to enhance shopping decisions. Facebook research released last month found that 59% of consumers plan to shop differently than they did a year ago including, 40% who say they plan to shop more online.

Use Tools to Give Access
For retailers small and large, using digital tools and formats that evolve will increase sales and growth.  Cipollone says using digital channels enables retailers to get products into other markets, especially globally.  Originally a complementary option, e-commerce was a secondary channel. But now, competition and mobilization demand this be part of what customers are offered.

“It has opened up a footprint,” Cipollone says, “making retail more viable and competitive by giving shoppers greater access, increased options and flexibility.” For smaller retailers with limited resources and a concentrated customer base, adding e-commerce options to their infrastructure may be difficult but worth the effort and investment. “There are examples in place; retailers don’t have to start from scratch,” he says.

Just like in larger retail environments, Cipollone says creating an infrastructure to support e-commerce activity is a matter of smart vendor selection and using appropriate technology to make interaction between the retailer and customer transparent, which has resulted in significant growth for smaller retailers. More notably, an e-commerce platform is the lowest-cost way to expand borders within a consumer audience and additionally opens new markets by creating a better buying experience.

It has been a game changer for larger retailers as well. For the first time in company history, recreational gear retailer REI payed employees to take Black Friday off, something entirely outside the mindset of the holiday shopping enterprise. But REI is showing confidence in consumers’ growing appetites for paperless purchases by pushing more volume to online channels. It’s a move indicating that if a digital program is in place, retailers can satisfy a larger client base and demand more efficiently than in a bricks-and-mortar space.

Engagement Via Social Media
According to research from the Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey, as many as 87% of shoppers say they are typically persuaded by discounts of 20% or more to purchase an item. This may prompt retailers of all sizes to become more social-media proficient and offer the very best deals through their network of followers via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or by having consumers sign up for texts or email alerts.

The trend of price-matching, a once thought viable strategy among competitors, has shown scant success. The same Accenture survey shows only 2%-3% of shoppers take advantage of such offers, compared to 61% of consumers’ shopping habits being influenced by social media. Cited for this increased attention to social media and digital influence is the relevance and connection shoppers have with retailers they follow; the appeal of timeliness; and the trending nature of new products retailers highlight or personalize for them.  

Examples are endless. Reaching a target audience through e-commerce tools and technology vendors provides a rich content experience to buyers who are motivated to engage. Within a purchase decision is the engagement, interaction and relevance between the consumer, retailer and product. Whether it’s purchasing new sneakers for an avid runner, selecting the first bike for a child or choosing a jersey for a sports fan, the experience becomes personalized without ever entering the store.  

Cipollone says not to overlook the other value of e-commerce, which is the data offered. “Use the data to show what worked,” he says. Gathering and thoroughly analyzing the information could turn a holiday shopper into a regular customer. E-commerce technology can integrate customer information, purchase history, browsing activity and insight about shopping habits — information that is useful for changing and modifying e-commerce options.

While shopping this holiday season will have the expected rush and robotic nature of checking everyone off the list, retailers — through well-optimized e-commerce choices —are poised to make even the most frantic time of the year flexible, adaptable and desirable, even for the biggest Grinch.

Tricia Warrick is an Atlanta-based strategic relations consultant who specializes in content development and branding for maximum visibility and impact across omni-channel platforms. For more information or to comment on this article, email Tricia at triciaw31@msn.com.