As digital retailers race ahead into the 2015 holiday shopping season, they are hoping to take advantage of one recent trend, while slowing down another.
Research outfit eMarketer recently released its updated 2015 e-commerce holiday shopping forecast, a report that touched on both last season’s unprecedented mobile traffic and the on-going difficulties in meeting online customers’ expectations for home delivery.
The topics are likely to take center stage this week as more than 5,000 digital retailing experts and practitioners assemble in Philadelphia for the annual Shop.org Digital Summit. The Summit will feature presentations and roundtables on holiday readiness, making the best use of available data and breaking down silos to create a seamless shopping experience for customers who shop in stores and on laptops, phones and tablets. And the topics will not doubt be the focus of hallway conversations and dining table debates.
In the area of mobile, last year’s stunning traffic and sales numbers show no sign of letting up. And retailers are increasingly focused on the power mobile has to drive sales in stores.
In a recent webinar, eMarketer’s Yory Wurmser said that based on existing data and industry interviews, the research firm was predicting a 32 percent increase in mobile commerce sales in 2015.
One fifth of e-commerce is mobile
“M-commerce is really starting to take off,” Wurmser said in a recent webinar. “More than a fifth of e-commerce sales are going to be on m-commerce — 22 percent of e-commerce will be m-commerce. It will probably be even higher during the holidays. M-commerce as a share total of e-commerce usually peaks during the fourth quarter.”
And eMarketer’s “Holiday E-Commerce Preview 2015,” cites Deloitte Digital’s ongoing monitoring of mobile influence to make the point that the channel is huge, whether consumers are buying on the devices or just using them as part of their shopping strategy. This year, 64 percent of in-store sales will be influenced by digital devices, Deloitte says. And the eMarketer report says more than half of that digital influence will be attributed to smartphones.
To get an idea of where this is going, consider that eMarketer says nearly 71 percent of digital buyers will buy on mobile this year. In fact, 11.1 million more consumers in 2015 will buy something on their smartphones than did so in 2014
“I see mobile becoming the dominant sales driver over time,” Deloitte’s Jeff Simpson told eMarketer. “That doesn’t mean sales will happen on the mobile platform, but (mobile) will be the largest driver of sales.”
Digital retailers, then, will need to pay close attention to the mobile experience they are providing and they’ll need to develop ways to keep track of consumers who opt in as they move among several devices. Otherwise, a shopper’s experience could be marked by frustration and bewilderment.
The holiday season is a high-stress, but also high-potential season for retailers. The fourth quarter can account for as much as 40 percent of a retailer’s sales, though the figure varies widely by retail sector.
Holiday season brings huge opportunity
The huge opportunity that comes with the holiday season also means that any misfire or strategic error is magnified. In-store merchandisers work to not only have the season’s hot sellers in stock, but to have enough of them — and by enough, they mean not too much.
Online merchants turn to a combination of analytics, past experience and instinct to figure out which products they should be showing what customer and strive to stay on top of changes in inventory, tastes and they ways customers describe the season’s big sellers.
And just as a misfire can cause great damage, finding an advantage or seizing a trend can have outsized benefits. That explains, in part, the focus on mobile. News story after news story rolled out last year about the prominent role of mobile; about how mobile in some cases was accounting for more digital traffic than were desktop computers.
And of course, a digital retailer’s job isn’t done when the sale is made. There is still the matter of getting the goods to the consumer — or increasingly the matter of getting the consumer to the goods.
In-store pickup will be key
eMarketer says that both consumers and retailers have an interest in adopting the buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPUS) model. For consumers, it eases the stress of trying to beat shipping deadlines and the worry of gifts not arriving in time for Christmas. Wurmser pointed out that a Blackhawk Engagement Solutions study found that 86 percent of consumers would pick up an online order in-store to save $10 on a $50 item and that 78 percent would do so if it meant getting their item three days earlier.
Moreover, the study found, 45 percent had actually engaged in BOPUS in the previous six months. A UPS study yielded similar findings with 48 percent of respondents saying they had picked up in an order in a store. And 41 percent of shoppers who had had items shipped to a store said they planned to do it more in the near future, according to eMarketer.
For retailers with brick-and-mortar outlets, the trend has its own advantages. First, it’s a way to differentiate themselves from Amazon, which has no stores. And it is a way to hedge against falling foot traffic. The eMarketer forecast says visits to stores was down between 8 percent and 15 percent from February to June 2015.
The payoff: 45 percent of shoppers who stop in to pick up an online order, buy something in addition while they are there.
“Retailers have to make the ‘buy online, pickup in store’ the reason why you go to them in many cases,” Chris Mason, CEO of Branding Brand, an m-commerce platform, told eMarketer. “I almost think that as a retailer, if you have (it) you’re toast.”
Toast. Such an unpleasant image. Particularly as retailers head into a shopping season that they all hope will run smoothly — like butter.
Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.