September 20, 2013, 1:37 PM

Christmas in October

Many retailers began prepping their November and December sales strategies this summer.

Lead Photo

Leaves are showing only their first hints of orange and maroon, it’s still plenty warm enough to tailgate and many of even the most diehard Halloween fans have yet to select their Oct. 31 ensembles, but retailers are already focused on tinsel and mistletoe. Or, more specifically, November and December sales.

That’s likely because retailers have a reduced window of time to capture peak holiday spending as there are only 25 days this year between the day after Thanksgiving or Black Friday (Nov. 29) and Christmas, compared with 31 days in 2012. What’s more, weekends are busy times for customers to shop and, unlike last year, consumers have four, not five, full weekends to shop for gifts.

Nonetheless, several research firms are predicting double-digit growth in U.S. holiday online retail sales. Market research firm eMarketer projects 15.1% growth in U.S. holiday online retail sales this year and Deloitte LLP predicts a 12.5 % to 13% increase in U.S. non-store (primarily online) sales. In November and December 2012, e-retail sales grew 13.7% over the prior year to $42.3 billion, according to comScore Inc., which measures consumers’ web activity.

The shorter holiday period has many retailers looking to nab consumers’ attention early this year. 49% of retailers will launch their holiday campaigns before Halloween, according to a just-released survey of 212 marketing executives at national retailers about their cross-channel holiday marketing plans by Internet traffic measurement firm Experian Marketing Services. 70% of retailers plan to use some sort of promotional offer this holiday shopping season. 39% will offer free shipping, 28% will offer a deal of the day, 21% will offer online coupons and 3% will offer layaway.

“Retailers have been extending the shopping seasons with promotions post-recession, so it’s not surprising to see that nearly half of all marketers stated they would launch a holiday campaign before Halloween,”says Bill Tancer, general manager of global research, Experian Marketing Services. “Our consumer confidence data is the highest it’s been since the recession, so we expect the early promotion trend to carry over into the holiday season with Black Friday deals being offered even earlier than last year.”

The majority of marketers began planning their holiday campaigns in the summer months, Experian finds. June earned the title as the top holiday planning month as 18% of the marketers surveyed stated they would start then. Overall, 69% of the marketers polled stated they started planning holiday campaigns by August.

The top three marketing channels retailers will use this holiday season are online display ads (59%), e-mail (55%) and print (46%). Search (30%) and mobile (24%) round out the top five, according to the Experian poll.

While Marketers didn’t rank mobile marketing as a top priority, many said they will be using mobile tactics during the holiday season. Developing mobile-optimized sites was ranked as the top mobile activity by 43% of respondents, followed by creating mobile-optimized e-mail (37%) and using mobile advertising (31%). Geolocation promotions will be used by 15% of marketers surveyed this holiday season, Experian finds.

Retailers in the U.K. may also want to consider beefing up their mobile sales strategies over the holidays.  A survey of 2,000 U.K. online consumers conducted at the end of July finds 64% of smartphone owners plan to purchase more via their mobile devices this holiday season compared to last year. Additionally, nearly all (96%) of respondents will shop online over the holidays, with 48% purchasing at least half of their holiday items on the Internet, according to the research from eDigitalResearch and U.K. e-retail association Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG).

“We’ve seen sales through mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) grow rapidly over the past few years, accounting for 23% of online sales in Q2 of 2013 with site visits at 34%,” says Andy Mulcahy, editor at IMRG.  “To put in perspective the rate at which confidence in the channel has grown, at the start of 2010, sales through mobile devices stood at just 0.4% of online sales.”

Additionally, one quarter of U.K. consumers  in the IMRG survey say they feel their online shopping experience is ‘significantly better’ or ‘slightly better’ at Christmas time thanks to special deals and a bigger range of products on offer. Just 7% feel that it gets worse. However, many don’t feel the same about store shopping. 42% feel that their in-store experience deteriorates during the festive period with busy stores, long lines and a limited number of staff to deal with the influx of shoppers.

Another holiday shopping forecast suggests shoppers in North America feel the same way about trekking to stores in November and December. North American shoppers will visit fewer stores this holiday season, predicts ShopperTrak, which monitors traffic and sales at major malls and retail chains. Store sales will rise a slight 2.4% during the holiday season compared to a year earlier, ShopperTrak predicts. That’s less growth than the 3% year-over-year increase in store sales last year. Store traffic, meanwhile, will fall 1.4% the firm predicts, compared to a year-over-year rise of 2.5% in holiday 2012

Retailers who dig into shopper behavior across stores and the web and use it to better serve their customers across shopping channels will be in the best position to squeeze the most sales out of the holiday shopping season, says Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail and distribution sector leader.

"Consumers are seeing positive signals from the economy which may buoy confidence heading into the holiday season this fall," she says. "Retailers that merge consumer data from their e-commerce and in-store businesses to gain a more holistic view of their shoppers will be strategically positioned to capitalize on the upcoming holiday season.  They will also be better prepared to more appropriately target consumers—whether in-store or online—with the right marketing promotions to drive traffic and conversion."

Toys ‘R’ Us is one retailer seeking to combine its vast network of nearly 900 U.S. stores and its $1.1 billion global e-commerce business to make shopping quick and easy this holiday season.

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