November 16, 2016, 2:35 PM

Why online retailers should push for early holiday sales

The closer it gets to the holiday, the more likely consumers are to shop in store, a survey shows.

Lead Photo

Being the parent of two children—ages 12 & 17, I am intimately familiar with the phrase “waiting ‘til the last minute.” Many a school project—be it a book report or model of the solar system—have been completed by my offspring at both the proverbial and literal last minute.

For retailers looking to have the brightest possible holiday season there is a last minute at play as well. There always is.

Why do I say that? Because we are a society of procrastinators when it comes to holiday shopping.

And how would I know that? Research conducted by Oracle Marketing Cloud and Edison Research over the past two holiday shopping seasons tells us as much.

Best Laid Plans Often Go Awry

In 2014 and 2015 research was conducted to delve into the minds and psyche of holiday shoppers. One of the major findings to come out of it was that while many shoppers say they will do the bulk of their holiday shopping in October and into November, a great number of us wait until December.

See for yourself:

And if you need real-life evidence, watch this video to hear actual shoppers interviewed in October of 2015 and then re-interviewed after the holidays were over.

So why do so many holiday shoppers wait?

Tom Webster, Vice President of Edison Research who oversaw the study says, quite simply the real answer here is there is no one answer. “Some consumers wait for better deals, while others simply take more time to find the perfect gift,” he observed. “And some, of course, put it off simply because they hate it.”

He says the key for retailers is to have differential strategies for all of these segments: compelling bargains for the bargain hunters, and attractive displays for those who use the in-store experience for discovery (i.e., don’t know what they are going to buy until they see it.)

Some additional ideas for retailers to attract all these last-minute shoppers include:

  • Upgrading orders to the next level of shipping options for free during a designated timeframe.
  • Offering bundled discounts on purchases, i.e. if a customer buys certain products, make it a gift set by throwing in a coordinated item.
  • Treat your social media followers to flash sales.
  • Provide bonus offers on gift card and e-gift card purchases. When shoppers buy a gift card, give them a spending coupon for their next visit.
  • Head off online competition by offering a discount if they check into your location and show you at time of purchase

“Knowing how important gift discovery is to shoppers as the season goes on, it might be a good idea for retailers to “simplify” their stores as much as possible,” says Webster. “Creating as much open space as they can to facilitate both movement and to highlight a (potentially) lower number of SKU’s.”

Online Vs. Offline

There may not be as much online competition as you think, however, because the research also revealed that a many shoppers prefer to shop in store vs. online the closer it gets to Christmas.

This video provides the before and after of how much people say they will shop online during the holidays vs. what they actually did after the fact.

Webster believes there are two reasons as to why this dynamic occurred.

“First, there is one segment of consumers that simply loves the holiday atmosphere—the in-store experience is a big part of the holiday spirit for many people,” he noted.

The other reason, he adds—is for gift discovery. “While consumers may opt to shop online when they know what they want to buy, in-store displays are important drivers for those unsure of what to buy for whom. “

Moreover, according to Webster, for the undecided shopper, the closer they get to the big day, the more urgent their need for inspiration, which can lead to increased in-store purchasing late in the season.

Julie Lyle, former chief marketing officer of Walmart and hhgregg and current Chair Emerita at Global Retail Marketing Association, says the reason so many people shopped in store during last year’s holiday season was due to the breakdown of major shipping carriers the prior year, with protracted customer disappointment and the negative press that ensued.

“In addition,” she adds “many retailers aggressively promoted ‘order online for pick-up/purchase in store’ to ensure customers got their items in time, and to drive additional traffic—with the hope of additional impulse purchases–in stores.”

The Bottom Line

Retailers need to be fully cognizant of the mindset of shoppers. Of course, they should always be mindful of their customers, but even more so during the holidays.

There is an increased sense of stress that is inherent in holiday shopping for many and that stress level only increases the closer you get to Christmas. Keep that in mind when planning last-minute strategies.

Keeping it simple may very well go a long way to ensuring retailers have the happiest of holiday seasons.

Oracle is the provider of e-commerce platform technology for 64 of the online retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500, according to


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