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5 Ways Brands Can Make the Most of the Holiday Shopping Season

Growing e-commerce requires balancing core product offerings with accessible technology and human understanding.

Despite a 32% increase in sales since the start of the pandemic, digital commerce is at a critical juncture. Will sales continue to increase, or will they return to pre-pandemic levels as consumers step back into stores?

The pandemic’s “Great Dispersion”—the distribution of products and services over wider areas bypassing gatekeepers and other intermediaries—has consumers recalibrating their futures and asking questions about where and how they should live. This will change how they shop and buy and affect many components of the commerce landscape.

As long-term trends play out, the end-of-year shopping season is fast approaching and requires immediate consideration.

The emergence from lockdown is mixed with rising prices, supply chain shortages and energy uncertainty. While year-over-year holiday sales are predicted to rise, it’s not clear how they will be distributed between digital and in-person sales.

Gartner notes that 71% of shopping now takes place in “micro-moments” split across the day.

For marketers, this has meant increasing the need to grab attention, anticipate trigger points, consolidate information and provide speedy check-outs. Social media has become an important starting point in the journey, with Facebook’s “Discovery Commerce,” for instance, allowing products to find consumers instead of the other way around.

The partnership between social and commerce has coincided with an increase in discounts. Given current economic uncertainty, rising inflation and pressure on consumption, growth in discounting is hardly surprising. An overwhelming majority of consumers say sales and promotions are very important to them, will often search for a better price or wait for a product to be on sale.

The good news is that the need to discount is not equally spread across all sectors. Fashion and beauty brands have skillfully navigated this through implied scarcity and the use of product drops to drive urgency. How can businesses adopt this approach?

There is another factor at work. Is the continued media and regulatory spotlight on the environment and human-made climate change going to impact motivations and alter shopping baskets? Increasingly, consumers are asking for a reduction in waste, with more items being recycled, reused or repaired.

With these questions in mind, here are five strategies that brands can use to take full advantage of the upcoming shopping season:

Be Truly Human-Centric

Success will be improved by a better understanding of consumers’ motivations and emotions as they progress through the commerce journey. It’s easy to concentrate on improving transactional aspects, such as merchandising, findability, cart abandonment and fast checkout. But we need to think beyond funnel-conversion activity to respond to emotional effects and resulting consumer desires. Leading brands are using emotional understanding to create content that promotes their category by capturing attention at the top of the commerce journey; finding consumers with an unmet need makes them less susceptible to discounting.

Develop Positive Brand Friction

Simply reducing consumer effort in the shopping experience until it’s “frictionless” doesn’t make sense. Experience should be sticky and use key moments to remind the consumer of your brand and the value it provides. In a commerce journey, this can be through content that is participative, engaging and immersive—helping a shopper to imagine ownership and activate a loss aversion. Smarter curation of products with emotionally aware choices works. Add magical interactions at key moments, to help orientate progress, maintain momentum and reward completion. I also suggest using emotional design to manage expectations around delivery, packaging and customer service. In doing so, businesses can win the long game, too, with a clear value exchange that nurtures a permission-based relationship necessary for the cookieless future.

Be Outcome-Focused

While e-commerce has blurred the lines within its supporting departments, organizations need to focus on business rather than department KPIs. Commerce teams should be multidisciplinary, combining specialists from data, technology, media, audiences, creative, digital, shopper marketing and category level design. An agile approach is mandatory, with hubs that enable global, regional and local teams to work together to ensure that effective experiences are designed for local and cultural differences.

Embrace Partnerships

The commerce space is full of interesting partnerships across an increasing range of services, from content creation to conversion optimization to intelligent curation and automation. Evaluate the propositions of innovative start-ups to explore how the commerce experience can be developed. Ask how these partners can enable your brand to be at a point of interest, rather than after the trigger point.

The leading social platforms are all operating commerce extensions, enabling brands to be closer to their target audiences by uniting interest with inspiration. Sales via these channels will increase this quarter, boosting revenue by capturing extra attention.

Make Sustainable Choices

IBM research says 57% of consumers are willing to change purchase habits to reduce negative environmental impact, and McKinsey says sustainability is important to 80% of consumers.

Sustainability-minded consumers differ in what matters to them and should be carefully segmented. Many consumers, for example, want to see sustainable packaging but many are not willing to pay more—meaning manufacturers will have to think how they adjust pricing. Why not offer recyclable wrapping paper as an option this shopping season, or provide paid environmentally friendly options, as ways to test demand?

Growing e-commerce requires balancing core product offerings with accessible technology and human understanding. As consumers strive to align their needs with concerns about the planet, marketers need to recognize the nuances of operation and the full spectrum of perspectives involved.

This article was written by Jayna Kothary from Ad Age and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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