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Inside the Holiday Shopping Spike: How Retailers Can Turn Holiday Sales Into Year Round Success

By Sharon Shapiro | August 21, 2017

7.5 billion = Number of people in the world

264.17 billion = Gallons of water in the Atlantic Ocean

923.15 billion = Expected sales in the US during the 2017 holiday shopping season

With US holiday sales forecasted to reach nearly $1 trillion this year ($83 billion of which will come from eCommerce alone), it seems retailers are staring down a barrel of opportunity.

But what happens after that two month window of opportunity passes?

We all expect a sales spike during the holiday shopping season and months of preparation go into making that spike as big as possible, but what happens next? Does your retail marketing team take the time to understand the makeup of that spike and look for opportunities to retain as much of it as possible during the rest of the year? If not, you might be missing out. And much like with the rest of holiday season planning, the time to start preparing a strategy to retain more of your holiday shopping spike is now.

Who Contributes to the Retail Holiday Shopping Spike?

First thing’s first, let’s look at what the eCommerce holiday shopping spike typically looks like for retailers across a handful of verticals.

Note: For the purposes of this study, specialty retailers include those who sell items like flowers, food and beverages.

Our data reveals that most retailers see the biggest eCommerce spike during the Black Friday-Cyber Monday window. You’ll note the exception to this finding is for specialty retailers, which makes sense given that we’ve included retailers with perishable items (like food and flowers) in this category.

Alright, so we’ve confirmed that there’s a holiday spike — but we already knew there would be. What’s really interesting is looking at what types of customers make up that spike. For this post, we’ve decided to narrow in on first-time buyers. Specifically we asked: How many holiday shoppers are new customers for retailers?

According to our data, the answer is quite a lot.

While the fact that retailers experience a holiday sales spike isn’t surprising, the fact that first-time buyers actually make up the majority of that spike (accounting for 50-80% of holiday shoppers depending on the vertical and time frame) is a completely different story.

What Happens to the Sales Spike After the Holiday Season?

Now comes the part that often falls by the wayside: What happens after the holiday shopping season? We know retailers see a sales spike in November and December, and we know that spike isn’t sustainable year round, but how good of a job do retailers do when it comes to retaining at least some of the sales spike come January and beyond?

Given the benefits of retaining customers over acquiring new ones, it stands to reason that retailers would be best served by focusing on turning those first-time holiday buyers into repeat customers in order to retain more of the holiday sales spike.

Once again, the data tells an interesting story, with most retailers retaining 10-15% of first-time holiday buyers in the six-plus months since the 2016 holiday shopping season.

Jewelry and apparel retailers are the exceptions here, with jewelry retailers retaining 5-10% of first-time holiday buyers and apparel retailers retaining 15-25% of first-time holiday buyers. And these exceptions make sense, as jewelry tends to be more of a gifting purchase and apparel tends to be more of an everyday purchase, especially with the rise of fast fashion.

3 Tips to Boost Retention Among First-Time Holiday Buyers

To recap: Retailers see a spike in sales during the holiday season. According to our data, the majority of that spike comes from first-time buyers, and most retailers retain only 10-15% of those first-time buyers.

This situation presents a big opportunity, since we can assume that if retailers can retain more of those first-time buyers after the holiday season, they’ll be able to retain more of the holiday sales spike throughout the year. While it’s unrealistic to expect any retailer to maintain the same level of sales year round as they see during the holiday season, retaining more of the new buyers that contribute to that spike presents a compelling opportunity to use the two month holiday season to give year round sales a boost.

So what does it take to keep those first-time holiday buyers coming back in the year ahead? Start with these three tips:

1) Encourage Gift Buyers to Treat Themselves

If you can identify which of your holiday shoppers bought a gift (for example if they purchased a gift card or checked a box not to include the receipt), follow up with post-purchase messaging that encourages them to treat themselves.

Normally post-purchase messaging would encourage buyers to make another purchase by sharing related products, but if you know someone bought a gift, you should tweak the content of the email to make it more relevant. For example, you might include messaging like “You deserve something for yourself” and share your best sellers.

2) Turn One-Time Gift Buyers Into Repeat Gift Buyers

The fact of the matter is, some people will never be your customer when it comes to buying for themselves, but these people bought from you once because they have someone in their lives who is your target customer. In these cases, reminding customers to buy a gift at key times can help keep them coming back.

To set this strategy into motion, you might look at people who browsed and purchased around the holiday season or other popular gift-giving times like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day and reach out to those customers with regular reminders to purchase a gift during those times of the year.

Another unique approach would be to offer customers a “gift reminder” by asking them to input the gift recipient’s birthday so that you can send them a reminder to buy a present then too.

3) Capitalize on the Extended Holiday Shopping Season

Lastly, the holiday shopping season keeps getting longer and longer, and you can definitely use that length to your advantage. For instance, you can create an audience of shoppers who bought early on in the holiday season and send them an email encouraging them to make another purchase.

For these communications, you might share recommended products based on other popular gifts, ask “did you forget someone?” or offer free shipping for customers who buy again.

Turning the Holiday Shopping Spike Into a Year Round Advantage

Through triggered emails, targeted audience building, dynamic batch sends and other cross-channel campaigns, it can be extremely easy to follow up with customers after the holiday shopping season is over.

As you do so, it’s important to keep in mind that the holiday season is a unique time of year, and you shouldn’t let a spike in and drop off of first-time buyers between November and January skew your reporting. Our data reveals that the majority of holiday buyers are actually first-time buyers, and while there’s a lot you can do to boost retention among this group, some of them will never come back, and it’s critical to remember that as you review audience insights like customer health. That said, the more you can do to keep those first-time buyers in the fold, the better off you’ll be as you head into the new year.

Ready to put this advice into action? We’ve got six tips you can embrace today to give your email marketing a leg up this holiday shopping season.

Sharon Shapiro

Sharon Shapiro

Sharon leads Bluecore's content marketing program, collaborating with top retailers and strategists to highlight the latest trends in retail marketing, spotlight industry leaders and share advice on how marketers can stay ahead of the curve. She has spent her career building content marketing programs for B2B SaaS companies. Sharon graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in journalism.