Gear Up for the Holidays by Thinking Beyond the Usual Shopping Days

By Aron Hsiao  on October 17, 2017

This year, shopper surveys are finding what many sellers were already starting to suspect—Black Friday and Cyber Monday are beginning to lose their relevance.

Both Accenture and Market Track have published data that suggests that shoppers are increasingly just not feeling it when it comes to waiting for the "big days" in holiday shopping. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Online shopping offers good deals and discounts year-round

  • Big day "doorbuster" discounts are increasingly being matched by everyday e-commerce discounts

  • Inventory for big day items is often frustratingly limited relative to demand

  • Selection is also limited to a few brands and items

Shoppers are increasingly wondering why they need to brave crowds—either in-store or online—when e-commerce offers great deals and broad selection all the time. (Image: © Pavlo Vakhrushev / Fotolia)

Put more simply, shoppers are wondering what's in it for them. Why wait for one or two days to compete with everyone for a small number of markdowns when nearly anything you're after online will be similarly marked down sooner or later?

Doesn't it just make more sense to target the products you want over a longer time span, then make the purchase when the price is right? Shoppers seem to be saying yes.

What This Means for Online Sellers This Season and Beyond

For online sellers, this means that a new set of winning holiday season strategies is likely to emerge over the next few years. Here are its rough outlines.

  • Start your holiday sales and promotions earlier. Don't wait for the big days; by then it'll already be too late to reach a number of shoppers that are making their purchases whenever the right price is offered. Instead, adopt your holiday posture, pricing, and strategies as soon as consumers begin to think about holiday shopping The appearance of seasonal decor in department stores is a good index for this—as early as October.

  • Focus on new timelines, not traditional ones. There's nothing magic about Black Friday other than the fact that people have traditionally been off work that day, which made it an ideal holiday shopping day. E-commerce, doesn't require in-store time, so this circumstance is becoming less and less important. The future likely belongs to Green Monday—generally the last guaranteed day for e-commerce purchases to arrive by December 25th.

  • Shipping promotions are the new markdowns. As online sales continue to grow in seasonal importance, fulfillment is more and more critical to shopper needs and satisfaction. Free shipping and promotions that involve free or heavily discounted expedited shipping are becoming key differentiators. When shoppers can get great prices at a dozen online stores, they'll go with the one that delivers the product most quickly, reliably, and inexpensively.

  • And selection is key, too. With shoppers buying more and more online for the holidays, fulfillment gets complex and expensive very quickly. This will influence a growing number of shopping decisions. Single item price is coming to be less important than the total cost of a basket of seasonal purchases—and the ability get as many of them into a single shopping cart and shipping carton as possible.

  • Good service and holiday-shopper-friendly policies round out the picture. With online goods now often being the bigger share of a shopper's holiday purchases, questions like customer service and easy post-holiday returns are coming to the fore. Online shoppers are beginning to show pickiness about shopping sellers with generous gift return and exchange policies. This, too, will become a key differentiator for sellers able to meet the need.

In Other Words, Get Started Now

If you're like many independent sellers, there's a lot to be done to make the most of this holiday season. Black Friday and Cyber Monday remain important, yet an increasing share of the pie is out of reach unless other strategies come to the fore, too.

Shifting from a more traditional "Thanksgiving break doorbusters" approach to the more forward-looking strategy outlined above isn't something that can be done overnight—but success over the next eleven weeks, and over the next few years will belong to the sellers that are able to make the needed changes and take new holiday shopping realities in stride.

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