Retail is in a state of flux. Regimented shopping periods are giving way to fluid calendars and unstructured timelines set by retailers. For example, back-to-school season no longer has an approximate beginning and end point, nor does the holiday shopping period. What used to be waves of promotional holidays created by retailers has evolved into a new model of endless seasonal shopping.
Today’s shoppers buy when it’s convenient and when the right deal comes along, not when retailers want them to. Holidays and other traditional shopping periods will always remain strong but we are beginning to see an end of the traditional seasonal promotion cycle. Demandware’s Shopping Index reflects this trend, with ten out of twelve months accounting for between 5.9% and 8.2% of the yearly order share, most in the 7% range. The shopping calendar has leveled out between January and October as consumers move toward shopping equilibrium.
Let’s look back at recent back-to-school seasons. In the past, retailers decided that summer was the time for parents to stock their student’s backpacks for the upcoming year. However, this is no longer the case. According to Deloitte research, 38% of consumers report that the back-to-school shopping season is less important because they replenish school supplies throughout the year and feel less pressure to stock up during that one period. That same Deloitte study revealed 31% of parents will wait until after the start of the school year to finish shopping—up 5% from 2014.
This is a trend that we expect to see in other shopping holidays, with consumers waiting to purchase items when the right deal comes along. The back-to-school shopping period is extending well beyond the start of school and even into the holiday season as consumers continue to search for the opportunity to get the best bang for their buck.
The same case can be made for the holiday shopping season. Nothing’s stopping a consumer from picking up a few holiday gifts for friends and family at the tail end of summer or grabbing a few gifts in January during the post-holiday sales period. In fact, my wife purchased two Kindle Fires during Prime day last July during the dog days of summer. And the latest NRF data shows that many consumers may have done just that, with two-thirds of shoppers saying they planned to shop the week after Christmas in a recent survey.
Similarly, consumers have extended their Black Friday shopping into Cyber Monday as they look to snag the best deals. According to our 2015 holiday data, Black Friday and Cyber Monday no longer set the pace for the upcoming holidays. In the past few years we’ve seen Black Friday’s star begin to fade. This year, Cyber Monday’s order volume was about 17% larger than Black Friday’s, according to Demandware data, as the season continues to shift and expand across the calendar. Instead, the first six days of the season or “Cyber Six” (from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) dominated in 2015. Given the ways the data is shifting, we may be looking at a completely different digital shopping landscape in a few years.
In order to prepare for off-season promotions, retailers must enhance inventory visibility, tuned their forcasting techniques and provide consumers with the access to purchase whenever and wherever.
Online retailers are beginning to take hold of this trend with manufactured holidays such as Amazon’s Prime Day last July and Alibaba’s Singles’ Day in November. These off-season promotions have been successful in capitalizing on today’s consumer shopping behavior because they allow shoppers to feel as though they’re making the smart choice and getting a better deal by buying out of season.
Personalization is a critical capability to help retailers maximize the year-long shopping season. By aggregating customer shopping data from across the shopping journey, retailers can offer personalized promotions, offers and other messages to draw consumers online or in-store
The downfall of discrete shopping seasons may sound daunting for retailers but it can be a great opportunity if they align their operations to this new reality. Because consumers are no longer motivated by the traditional shopping calendar it opens up a wealth of opportunity for retailers to capitalize. It’s time to ditch the calendar and prepare for one long shopping season.
Demandware is the provider of e-commerce software for 52 of the retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500, according to Top500Guide.com.