Planning and executing an e-Commerce strategy always feels a little like throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. Using data from a particularly busy shopping season, like holiday 2016, which saw $7B in sales over Cyber Weekend, retailers can take some of the guesswork out of their strategy and execution. After reviewing the habits of online shoppers during that period, we saw three major trends that have proved to be markers for success this year.
Let’s start with the punch line: retailers that invested in leveraging extended or enriched product attributes stood to gain about 7%, and as high as 15%-20%, of additional gross margin during the holiday shopping season. Retailers that enabled their shoppers with rich product attribution (such as details regarding product features, benefits to using the product, formal or informal attributes, or ways to use the product) saw significant performance lifts in comparison to those that relied on standard attributes (such as price, color or size).
This leads us to our number one prediction for success: shoppers will be more driven to a purchase through web site navigation, meaning leveraging better data could help drive a much more profitable merchandising strategy.
When it comes to creating and executing a campaign based on this prediction, let’s imagine a shopper visits your web site looking for “4th of July themed plates.” You may have dinner plates specifically designed for the 4th of July, but you may also recommend plates to that shopper with red trim, blue stripes, or silver and blue polka dots as well. Retailers that use rich product attribution and tag appropriate products with the right attributes (such as 4th of July, informal, outdoor use or reusable) are better equipped to support thematic searches like this one. They are more likely to deliver against what a shopper is looking for, and thus may not have to discount as heavily below MSRP when a themed product doesn’t sell. Not to mention, they’ll enjoy a higher profit per sale.
Prediction number two: Shoppers know the system and will play the game to get the best discount when it comes to holiday or seasonal sales. Have you ever been working on checking off a list of holiday gifts for your family, found the perfect thing for each person and then decided to hold out until it was either a) discounted, or b) you got a coupon in your inbox? You are exactly the savvy shopper we’re talking about. However, based on our findings from Christmas 2016, a lot of these savvy shoppers gave in and purchased by the second week of December.
Retailers that understand this habit will enjoy significant conversion lifts. Merchants who held out on major promotions until closer to Christmas 2016 were rewarded with extra gross margin that would have otherwise been lost if they pulled the ‘coupon trigger’ too soon. In fact, the portion of total sales that included no discounted products rose from a low of 28% to a holiday high of 42% during the first and second weeks of December.
Our third prediction for this year is that shoppers prefer quality to quantity when it comes to coupons. We often see too many promotions and deep discounts that erode margins, while not enough drive shoppers to other web sites.
Retailers should consider the fact that shoppers typically visit a web site with a specific purchase in mind — such as a non-iron, wrinkle-free shirt for dad, a tablet for mom to edit photos and send email, or a set of satin polka-dot pajamas for grandma. Limiting shoppers to discount-centric options with basic navigation on a web site hinders their ability to quickly and easily browse relevant options. By leveraging shopper-centric terms and attributes in targeted outreach, folks are more inclined to click through because they feel confident, knowing they’ll find what they’re looking for.
By using key holiday shopping events through the year to evaluate customer shopping patterns, retailers can create more effective campaigns and offer fewer discounts, ultimately driving increased sales, improved customer satisfaction and repeat business. Rich product attribution is essential in enabling shoppers to find exactly what they’re looking for and driving strong results during the time retailers want it most.
Before acting as the CEO of Edgecase, Susanne Bowen served as CEO of PeopleAdmin, a leader in cloud-based talent management solutions. She has also served as President and CEO of Nellymoser Inc., a mobile delivery platform, Chairman and CEO of Webhire Inc., a pioneering talent management solution, Executive in Residence at venture firm SoftBank Capital and Executive Vice President of Sales and Services for Workscape, Inc. Brown holds a BS in Business Administration from the University of Southern California. She chairs the Austin Technology Council’s Foundation and has been active in community organizations assisting women leaders, serving as a Director and Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee for The Boston Club and as a member of the Commonwealth Institute.