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Preparing Retail for Holiday 2020: How to Stay Agile & Drive Revenue

By Matthew Limeri

Your plans for 2020 have most certainly gone out the window (and if they haven’t, let’s talk). With the unexpected nature of this year, time has been… let’s just call it “weird,” and it might be hard to believe, but the holiday season is right around the corner.

Normally at this time of year, eCommerce teams would be knee-deep in holiday planning. But in 2020, many teams are too busy navigating the present to devote all their attention to something that’s still months away. After all, who even knows what the situation on the ground will be like in November and December?

But now, more than ever, your team needs to double down on holiday planning. What exactly that entails just might look a little different than what you’re used to.

No Matter What, the Holiday Season Remains Essential to Retail Success

Even as the world around us changes drastically, one thing is most certain to stay the same: The holiday season will be absolutely essential to retail success.

In fact, holiday 2020 will be even more important for retailers than holiday seasons in years past due to increased pressure to make up for sales declines during the first half of the year. In turn, this pressure will lead to especially fierce competition (even more so than the typical ultra-competitive holiday season) and a greater push for discounts to help beat the competition and bring in revenue at any cost.

But Holiday 2020 Will be Unlike Any Other Holiday Season

The weight of the holiday season as a make-or-break point for the year in retail will hold, but a lot will change this year. Some of the biggest changes we can expect include:

  • A significantly larger portion of sales will come from eCommerce compared to previous years. This trend was already on the rise, but 2020 will deliver more than just a steady increase in eCommerce sales. When measuring year-over-year, the growth will be exponential. Based on this shift, your team must be prepared to drive well over 50% of holiday traffic to your eCommerce site.
  • Consumers will do more comparison shopping as they will have less spending power than years past. As a result, it will become significantly more difficult to win over consumers with a discount, since deals will be everywhere. Differentiating your brand to engage and truly connect with consumers will require deep personalization across channels.
  • Brands will have to prepare for highly agile marketing that can react to the situation on the ground at a moment’s notice. The days of planning in advance as much as possible for the holiday season and not changing course all that much in November-December are over. This type of planning will still hold for things like media buying, inventory purchasing and spikes in website traffic, but that’s it. The brands that will win holiday 2020 will be highly agile — able to adjust their marketing messages quickly so that they can be first to react to changing circumstances around everything from inventory levels to customer demands to external forces.

The last point around agility is a big one, and one that is bound to lead to confusion. Because even though agility is about being able to react quickly and pivot as needed, it still requires planning. To achieve the level of agility required to compete effectively this holiday season, your team must prepare by:

Preparing for Success: 3 Ways to be Agile This Holiday Season

With all of that in mind, how can your team prepare for anything that might come your way this holiday season by developing a truly agile marketing strategy? Start with these three focus areas:

1) Target shoppers relevantly based on inventory

Inventory concerns have characterized much of 2020 for retailers, and the holiday season will be no exception. The best marketing campaigns can fall apart if the inventory they promote isn’t available, as that’s a fast way to lose trust with shoppers. 

You can avoid falling into this trap by leading your campaigns with inventory availability — as long as you do so in a relevant way. Specifically, with a marketing solution that has a living product catalog, your team can run campaigns based on changes in product availability without any worries about data feeds. From there, you can build audiences of shoppers who are interested in the available products based on past behavior and predicted affinities. 

This approach allows you to alleviate concerns around promoting sold out products while remaining highly relevant in your marketing.

2) Automate personalization to drive speed and scale

Timing will be everything this holiday season. That means you need quick and effective ways to bypass long, manual campaign creation and approval processes.

To accomplish this objective, you need technology that gives your team access to real-time eCommerce data and offers AI-driven personalization. This type of solution should help automatically personalize campaigns to provide the necessary speed to launch by feeding that real-time data into AI models that can surface predictive insights, such as product or category affinity and discount affinity. 

Ultimately, this type of solution enables your team to automatically personalize emails based on customer preferences and drive personalization through everything from audience targeting to personalized product recommendations. Critically, this solution should enable your team to do all of this on their own without any additional IT or data resources.

3) Remain disciplined on deep discounting

Relevancy may not always drive the same immediate benefits around conversions as deep discounting, but it is significantly more profitable in both the short and long terms. And that profitability should be the primary focus for brands this holiday season.

Of course discounts are a hallmark of any holiday season, and this isn’t to say you should avoid all discounts if that’s something your brand normally does. However, you need to set guardrails around what types of discounts you will offer, especially based on how they will eat into your margins. This is especially important because deep discounts often breed one-time buyers, who are extremely expensive for your brand to begin with, but even more so if their one purchase has little-to-no profit margin. Instead, your brand should use the holiday season to grow and solidify relationships with customers that will drive repeat purchases and lead to paybacks well beyond December.

While pulling the discount lever will be extremely tempting this holiday season, there are other ways you can attract and engage customers. First, consider personalizing deals based on discount affinity, that way you don’t offer too deep a discount to shoppers who don’t need it to purchase. Second, think through ways you can add value beyond a monetary discount, for example by offering exclusive access and rewards. Finally, remember that a truly relevant marketing message — one that reaches someone with a product of interest in a moment of need — goes a long way to not only driving sales but also growing loyalty.

Are You Ready for Holiday 2020?

The unusual nature of this year is sure to produce a holiday season that is unlike any other, but the brands that can remain agile to take action on data in real-time and create product discovery experiences that engage shoppers at a 1:1 level across channels will be positioned for success.

Does your brand have what it takes? Click here to find out how you can get started.

Matthew Limeri

Matthew Limeri

Matt is a technology consultant with over ten years of experience in MarTech and AdTech across several Technical/Implementation and Account Management roles.