Christmas tunes have been playing in coffee shops for weeks, mince pies hit the shelves months ago and the much-loved festive TV adverts are in full swing. I’m sure I am not alone in thinking that these things all appear to be happening earlier each year.
But while retailers and brands are grabbing the opportunity to target consumers earlier in our offline worlds, online they are failing to fully capture their attention or influence the purchase decisions of these ‘long listers’, despite the highly targeted and creative potential of this channel. With PWC research revealing that shoppers intend to spend 26 per cent more online this year, which will be an impressive addition to the £8 billion consumers spent in December last year alone, this certainly is a huge missed opportunity.
Timing it just right
Brands need to understand when their customers are browsing and when they are buying so they can time their campaigns for maximum impact. Generally speaking consumers research higher value products earlier in the year and leave smaller items until the last minute, but it differs from category to category so there is no “one size fits all” approach.
You would be surprised how early people do start however as our most recent research shows that there were over four million searches for “Christmas” on eBay between June and August alone this year. This isn’t to say we want to see banner ads featuring Santa in June, but this initial phase of “long-listing” is a particularly good opportunity for brands to engage customers in the Christmas shopping cycle. This is because when consumers initially compare products and prices, which is very easy to do online, they tend to be less committed to one gift idea, have less brand loyalty and therefore should be more receptive to relevant adverts.
But even though people are starting to think about Christmas as early as June, many still leave their actual purchasing closer to the big day (in the last two years, eBay’s busiest shopping day in the UK shifted from November 14th in 2010 toDecember 4th in 2011), largely due to advancements in online retail delivery services. Not only do retailers and brands need to be prepared to meet this demand, by being savvier about how they leverage their brick and mortar assets for example, but it also means they have more time to influence purchase decisions.
With the creative use of accurate data, brands are developing highly targeted online campaigns to reach particular audiences at this time of year. This goes beyond targeting based on gender and age groups – useful for honing in on young males or parents – but also enables brands to act on observed purchase behaviour rather than inferred. For example, if we’ve observed on eBay that someone has bought a game console, it is possible that they can be served ads for video games and accessories. Clever analysis of data and observed behaviour could also decipher that they like doing up cars as a hobby and show relevant ads for car parts as well.
To Christmas, and beyond!
Just because the shops are shut on Christmas Day, doesn’t mean people stop shopping. In fact, last year 12 per cent of all Internet visits were to shopping sites, according to Experian Hitwise, as, I would imagine, consumers sought respite from cheesy Christmas programmes and turkey overload. The period between Christmas and New Year has also become vastly competitive, on and offline, forcing retailers and brands to be even more creative in an attempt to grab share of wallet.
To truly stand out from the competition, retailers need to move their thinking from being channel specific, loosely comprising of stores, online and mobile, and rather think more about a more holistic, multichannel strategy as new technologies continue to blur the lines. Mobile, for example, allows consumers to have a virtual store in their pockets, creating a new kind of consumer – one who wants to shop anywhere, anytime – and will result, we predict, in eBay selling a third of our key Christmas items through a mobile device. So-called ‘third wave’ technologies, such as augmented reality and image recognition, also offer retailers new ways to engage consumers and deliver an exciting brand experience. Yet despite some online retailers and brands having wised up to the potential that these channels and technologies bring, there are still many more missing out on the opportunity.
To capitalise on Christmas these days, brands need to fully align their campaigns with the way consumers are browsing and purchasing in light of the growth of online retail and m-commerce. For most brands this means starting earlier in the year, maintaining the momentum post-Christmas, tailoring ads to complement each stage of the Christmas shopping cycle and adopting a multi-channel approach to engage with consumers. It will be interesting to see, once the holiday madness has settled, who has got this right.