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BloomReach Relevance Report: Valentine’s Day shopping data edition

Industrial Mop bucket

 

Listen up, significant others of other significant people: When it comes to Valentine’s Day, you’re falling down on the job.

OK, not completely. The National Retail Federation says you still spent in the neighborhood of $18.2 billion on the day of gift-giving that there is really no way around. But that is down from nearly $20 billion in 2016, according to the NRF, which relies on an annual consumer survey conducted before Valentine’s Day.

“Valentine’s Day continues to be a popular gift-giving occasion even if consumers are being more frugal this year,” NRF CEO Matthew Shay said in a written statement.

Frugal. Sounds so much better than cheap. “I wanted to get you that diamond anniversary ring, honey, but I was being frugal. I’m saving money for both of us, really.”

Anyway, at the BRRR, we’ve always found how we spend money and when to be every bit as interesting as how much. The types of gifts that Valentine’s Day shoppers spent on is hardly a shocker. The NRF says the love-struck shelled out for candy, cards, a night out, flowers, jewelry, clothes and gift cards — in that order.

Greeting cards were No. 2? Really people?

Anyway, the BRRR took a look at BloomReach customer data across our e-commerce customers and found that folks really got serious about Valentine’s Day shopping — about 24 hours before the big day.

Chart of overall conversion on Valentine's Day

Overall digital purchases on Feb. 13, also know as Holy Crap tomorrow is Valentine’s Day Day, were at a high for the month. The day racked up 39.2 percent more conversions that the February day with the fewest conversions. What day was that? Feb. 5, which was Super Bowl Sunday.

Super Bowl Sunday. Think of it as the anti-Valentine’s Day.

But, of course, data-wise, looking at all BloomReach retail customers gives us millions of data points when it comes to conversions, but it also introduces some noise.

You could make the argument that people buy all sorts of things for the ones they love on Valentine’s Day. (The BRRR looks back fondly on the mid-February day some years ago when our love presented us with one of those big mop buckets on wheels. Que romantico!)

But the truth is, some BloomReach customers tend to feature products that would be considered more traditional Valentine’s Day gifts. And so we thought it would make sense to look at a subset of customers that shoppers would be likely to turn to for Valentine’s Day gifts.

Yes, there is a certain subjectivity involved.

That said, looking at the subset presents us with the notion that there might well be two types Valentine’s Day gift buyers: The planners and the panic-ers. We’d thought about calling them the thoughtful and the last-minute grabbers, but it sounds so judgy.

We mean, what’s wrong with being that love-struck Romeo or Juliet standing in the Safeway line at 6 p.m. on Valentine’s Day with a bouquet of $20 roses that looks like it’s been through the spin cycle?

Anyway, a look at traffic to e-commerce sites aligned with Valentine’s Day shows a significant spike on Feb. 7, one week ahead of the holiday. (Thanks Google Calendar notifications!) And it shows another spike on Feb. 13., which is, well, the day before Valentine’s Day.

Chart of Feb. 2017 site visits

In fact, Feb. 13 has just a slight edge in traffic over Feb. 7, but both are well beyond any other day in February.

And while the visits a week before and a day before are quite similar, there is strong evidence that many of those looking on Feb. 7, held off on buying. A comparison of conversion rates, a way to look at web traffic compared to purchases, shows a much lower rate on Feb. 7 — less than half — compared to Feb. 13.

conversion rate in Feb. 2017, graph

Another strong indicator of buyer intent — the browse vs. buy index — also shows that Feb. 13 is the day that buyers get serious. And Feb. 7? Not so much. But it introduces a little encouragement for those who think last-minute shopping indicates a certain lack of sincerity.

The browse vs. buy index considers the average number of products that were viewed for each purchase on a given day. The thinking is that the more products viewed, the weaker the intent to actually purchase.

It turns out that on Feb. 7, shoppers looked at 29 products for every purchase. On the day before Valentine’s Day, the number was less than half that — 14, to be exact. That’s interesting as far as it goes, but the romantic in us would like to offer a defense of the Feb. 7 browsers.

Graph of browse vs. buy behavior in February
Couldn’t it be that they were simply being more thoughtful — considering one gift and then another before pulling the trigger? Hey, we can dream.

Speaking of pulling the trigger, what did buying behavior look like in the two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, when we narrow our data down to retailers that seem a good fit for Valentine’s Day shopping?

It turns out that there was a huge spike in purchases on the day before Valentine’s Day. (Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.) In fact, the number of purchases on the day before Valentine’s Day reached 8½ times the number on the day in February (so far) with the lowest number of purchases.

Daily online conversions in February chart

And so Valentine’s Day, it seems, exposes not only the most human of emotions, but perhaps the most human of habits.

You think there’s any chance they’ll rename it Procrastination Day? It’s got a nice ring.

Mop bucket photo by Terry Ross published under Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

 

Santa on a scooter

BloomReach’s reliability delivers happy holidays to online retailers

Santa on a scooter

After a month of looking at what e-commerce data says about consumers, retailers and the economy in general, it’s time to turn our gaze inward.

And honestly, the numbers are good. BloomReach at times during the recent holiday season handled record levels of traffic, while delivering superior service to our retail customers during their most crucial time of the year.

Retailers, of course, expect superior service. And every company promising to increase e-commerce revenue by providing a memorable and relevant experience for retailers’ customers, strives to deliver flawlessly.

Inside BloomReach

    One in an occasional series of stories that look at the people and projects that make BloomReach tick.

But since we put the performance factor out there and gave ourselves a little hat tip in the process, we thought it fair to look back at just how BloomReach performed during the holiday season.

Naturally, data flowing to BloomReach’s servers was substantially above normal, given that the holiday season is the busiest for our retail customers. No matter the season, that wealth of data gives BloomReach tremendous insight into what is happening on the web, particularly on commerce sites, on any given day.

Holiday traffic is a big test for everyone

But the holiday season is particularly interesting and particularly challenging. By one of the most telling measures of activity on our customers’ sites, traffic to BloomReach servers peaked at 300 percent of the traffic on a typical day. That mega-peak was Cyber Monday, not surprisingly, but traffic remained strong throughout the holiday season, as you would imagine.

e-com-traffic2

And throughout the dramatic holiday traffic spikes, BloomReach’s digital infrastructure was up and running with no outages or downtime — with typical (or better) response times.

BloomReach provides tools to help drive organic search traffic, to personalize digital sites, to increase conversions through improved site search and navigation and to provide merchandisers with the insights they need to best tell the right story to their customers.

And during the holiday season, BloomReach was able to deliver those services with reliability that couldn’t have been better.

It’s a huge deal for digital retailers, who generally rank latency — or speed — and uptime — or reliability — as their top requirements when partnering with technology companies.

BloomReach has a unique view into the web

BloomReach’s position as the company that more than a hundred retailers, including some of the largest online sellers, rely on to improve their customers’ discovery and search experience, gives us a unique view into the workings of the web.

The company’s machine-learning technology relies on data from 75 million unique consumers a month. In all, BloomReach captures data from more than 20 percent of all U.S. e-commerce.

And based on all that data, BloomReach is able to get a firm grasp on the trajectory of e-commerce. Company data shows that server calls related to BloomReach’s Commerce Search product increased 2.7 times on Cyber Monday compared to a more typical Monday in September. Again, BloomReach handled the surge without incident, which is key, given that Commerce Search powers site search and personalization on retail customers’ sites.

The holiday traffic spikes were global, by the way, with traffic to our European customers up more than four times at the peak during the long Thanksgiving weekend. In fact, the data shows that Black Friday is a thing outside the United States, given that the peak in Europe hit on the day after Thanksgiving.

usuktrafficspide

Reliability is a key consideration for any retailer choosing a partner to optimize the customer experience on their websites. Downtime means lost sales, frustrated consumers and the kind of poor customer experience that might mean that frustrated customer is not coming back.

A number of major retailers put their faith in BloomReach after head-to-head tests pitting BloomReach against multiple competitors. They included retail giants like Toys R Us and Staples, the largest office supply retailer online and a business that relies heavily on site search. Those retailers’ faith was rewarded over the holiday season, as BloomReach delivered service without fail.

Preparation is the key to a successful holiday shopping season

BloomReach’s peak performance, in the face of peak traffic, was no accident, of course.  We think about preparing for high holiday traffic all year. In fact, given BloomReach’s diverse set of retail customers, we face regular spikes on days like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Singles Day and during the back to school season, for instance.

We torture test our systems in the run-up to the holiday season. We run drills, like first responders exploring ways to avoid the worst. We provision our cloud-based system with the ability to scale up in advance of monster traffic. As a result, BloomReach delivered its service to customers during the holiday season with the same speed it does during quieter times.

It’s nice, of course, to be able to look back at a successful holiday season. But if the season just past taught us anything, it’s the importance of looking forward. With the growth of e-commerce, the next surge will be here sooner than we think; and it will be bigger than the last.

Photo by Mike Cassidy.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.