November 22, 2016, 6:46 AM

Black Friday and the decline of the one-day sale

More consumers are shopping online at their own pace and checking their smartphones when in stores.

Lead Photo

Your holiday strategy is, increasingly, a marathon, and no longer a sprint to Black Friday. Holiday sales are now a long-term affair. Shoppers have an increasing number of choices and control over where and how they shop. Retailers made just $51 billion on Black Friday in 2015, down from a peak of almost $60 billion in 2012, according to LPL Research. The market has seen an increase in customers shopping online at their own pace. Shoppers are searching for presents on every screen they own as well as in-store throughout the season.

Your success is less about the large, in-store crowds you can gather, and more reliant on the customer experience of shopping you can create and relevant of the product information that you can surface across every channel. It is now only through a continued and steady approach that retailers and brands can expect to win customers dollars and long-term loyalty during the holidays.

Consider the full scope of days and months that consumers are doing their holiday shopping, not just the Back Friday and Cyber Monday dates. What kinds of information is most relevant to your buyer types? Here are some behaviors to expect from this year's holiday shopper:

  • Bargain hunters started months ago and are now watching for price dips. The NRF reports a record high number of shoppers (34 million) kicked off their holiday shopping in August and September. This group seeks out sales, uses coupon sites and other deal sites before traditional holiday scramble sales kickoff. In December they may have a short list of items. They want to be confident they are purchasing things at the lowest prices available.
  • In-store shoppers want interaction time with experienced staff with brands they love. US retail foot traffic down 10% YOY, so it's no surprise that this year hundreds of brick and mortar stores will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. In-store retail is by no means dead, it’s nature is merely changing. More shoppers are going to stores armed with digital research expecting a tailored, immersive and curated experience from retailers they already have loyalty for.
  • Online shoppers will be comparison shopping throughout key weeks. Retailers and brands are extending their sales promotions to start on Thanksgiving and run through the week of Cyber Monday this year. Amazon, Best Buy, Kohl all have a Cyber Monday Deals Week which continues through Dec. 5. Both Target and Walmart also have a similar deals week with some exclusive deals expiring earlier. Your buyer will have digital access to all their options and make decisions based on the combination of factors that they find and compare online.
  • Last-minute shoppers expect fast online delivery and shipping. Fifty-four percent of US retailers had a last-minute delivery cutoff date of December 21 or later in 2015, up 38.9% the previous year. In fact, 3.2% of retailers and merchants surveyed were able to fulfill online orders as late as Christmas Eve. For these last-minute shoppers, shopping options are table stakes for doing business. They will also want a shopping experience that gives them confidence that what they are buying is the correct item. Consider using images that include sizing or usage guides and ensure that the initial thumbnail and product title they see is accurate and clear.

Success comes down to whether you can implement the systems and process to serve your consumers. The first challenge: Know what a shopper may be looking for at a given moment and deliver the best answer through discoverable, browsable product content year-round. To support great browsing capabilities for shoppers, retailers need substantially more product attributes available to power it. This requires collecting accurate, consistent and relevant product content and getting it to market quickly. Today retailers have a hard time collecting rich attribution and detailed product content from suppliers. Creating easy ways to automate that exchange of information is critical to powering your holiday sales and beyond.

A second challenge for retailers is how to enrich and optimize product content at the very moment shoppers turn to a digital screen to discover, research, or make a purchase—you make the best impact. Treat the holiday season as an ongoing quest for improvement instead of a one-day sales success.

Updating content and optimizing regularly is difficult. Today many retailers are not fully equipped to react as quickly as the market changes and the digital consumer demands. The one thing retailers can do once this holiday season is over is think about how to create a ongoing, real-time content refresh. The capacity for continual optimization of product content and sales offers that will help grow your business in the future. Brands are heavily motivated to help here, but retailers must provide the systems that enables them to participate as possible in holiday merchandising optimization.

Black Friday will remain an important part of the holiday promotion calendar, of course. But that is one leg of your ongoing distance run. With a continuous optimization model, retailers must use what they learn from Black Friday to help sales through the rest of the holidays shopping season.

Salsify helps brands and retailers create, manage, optimize, and syndicate their product content.

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