Insights from the holiday 2016 online shopping season that will help marketers improve their results in 2017.

Sandrine Thompson, Strategy & Insights director, CJ Affiliate

Sandrine Thompson, Strategy & Insights director, CJ Affiliate

Planning for holiday 2017 is well underway for many proactive marketers, particularly in the retail industry. Holiday is the biggest shopping event of the year and a major growth engine for U.S. retail. In 2016, U.S. holiday retail sales rose 4.7 percent to $658.3 billion and e-commerce transactions grew by 12 percent. This trend is likely to continue in 2017, but retailers will still face significant challenges driving growth in a market that’s driven by price and convenience. It’s more critical than ever that these marketers innovate and evolve their approach to succeed this holiday.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be complicated; there’s a lot to gain simply by analyzing what occurred last year and applying those insights to strategies this year. My team recently looked at global retail sales, data and intelligence from holiday 2016 and identified the top e-commerce trends that have major implications for retail marketers this holiday season:

Orders on mobile devices accounted for one-third of all holiday orders made via affiliate last year.

Consumers are making purchases based on shopping rather than loyalty. The proliferation of technology has created infinite choice for consumers. According to McKinsey, most purchases today are driven more by price and convenience than brand loyalty, which makes it important that brands be top of mind for shoppers during the early consideration phase before peak shopping even begins. This becomes even more important when you consider the fact that consumers shopped less frequently, yet purchased more each trip last holiday season. 2016 data shows that online basket sizes averaged $117 compared to $104 in 2015, a 13 percent increase; at the same time, growth in orders was a relatively modest 1 percent. (This and other unattributed data in this article comes from CJ Affiliate’s 2017 Holiday Intelligence Report, which covers trends and data from its network of 4,000+ advertisers.)

Holiday success is increasingly tied to a strong November. Peak Week, or the span of days that stretch from the Monday before Thanksgiving and Black Friday to Cyber Monday, continues to exert a strong influence. Retailers across all markets in CJ Affiliate’s global network experienced their highest volume sales days during Peak Week. Growth in orders and revenue during Peak Week has resulted in November 2016 accounting for a greater share of overall holiday sales than the prior November.

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Late December shopping is emerging as a key shopping period. E-commerce typically dips the week before Christmas due to limited shipping options. But in 2016, shoppers demonstrated a willingness to delay online shopping late into December. Between Free Shipping Day (December 16) and Christmas Eve, order volume increased 25 percent year-over-year, compared to 5 percent year-over-year growth in the first half of December. Consequently, the week leading up to Christmas is becoming a key shopping period for online channels as well as offline.

A greater share of holiday revenue is coming from mobile. Mobile has emerged as a critical shopping tool and key driver of holiday revenue due to improved mobile sites and checkouts, which are driving more conversions and higher basket sizes. Orders on mobile devices accounted for one-third of all holiday orders made via affiliate last year. In the U.S., a whopping 78 percent of all mobile orders were made via smartphones.

Drawing on these trends and insights, here are three affiliate marketing tactics that retailers gearing up for holiday can implement right now:

  1. Plan social and content plays that tap mobile consideration and purchasing. Retailers need a strong mobile presence this year as the use of smartphones continues to grow more than any other device. The best way to do this is to secure media placements that will boost your brand’s exposure in front of “mobile-first” consumers who are constantly on their phones checking email or scrolling through social networks. Within the affiliate channel, advertisers can purchase an ad placement in publisher emails that are sent to their audience, or a posting on a publishers’ social promotion efforts. Ebates.com, for example, has a robust package of ad placements, including email and social media postings, which they sell to advertisers to give them an edge against their competitors by getting in front of Ebates shoppers. These ads are effective in generating engagement and sales, particularly on mobile. Here’s an example of how this might look: An advertiser could negotiate (because placements are not always secured with a flat fee and often involve negotiation) with Business Insider to feature one of their products that’s perfect for gift-giving in an upcoming “Business Insider Pick’s” post, which are promoted on their Facebook page. This type of social play – aimed at getting a brand’s products into the early consideration phase of the shopper journey during the holiday season – can reach a lot of consumers on mobile.
  2. Go big in November. With the month of November so closely tied to the success of the overall holiday season, be ready to kick off your advertising and promotions early, and do a full-court blitz during Peak Week. Retailers should provide compelling offers, such as free shipping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and then amplify those deals through placements in publishers’ Peak Week emails. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the largest sales days of the season, but consumers are also shopping on the days before and after, including Thanksgiving Day and the Sunday before Cyber Monday. Keep that in mind when planning the timing of promotions.
  3. Plan prominent placements during the last week of holiday shopping. Ramp up affiliate marketing in late December to capture order and revenue growth, and focus on promotions that cater to last-minute shopper mindsets, such as retail gift cards and stores with fast shipping services or in-store pick-up. Affiliate marketers can also tap into consumers’ shift away from accumulating material goods to accumulating experiences by offering gift certificates for “experiences” like food and wine club memberships.

With a thoughtful approach that incorporates learnings from last season and new tactics for 2017, retailers can drive greater returns this holiday season.

CJ Affiliate by Conversant operates the affiliate marketing network formerly known as Commission JunctionIt is the affiliate network used by 254 of the Top 1000 online retailers in North America, according to Top500Guide.com.

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