Hint: Sooner Than You Think!
The Holiday Season… It’s a period that is often unofficially considered to begin on November 1st, as we edge closer and closer to Thanksgiving which kicks off the festivities. Indeed, if you look at holiday season spending reports, data will usually be collected for the November 1st to December 31st period.
But how about Christmas? When does Christmas really begin? We’re a nation of planners, a nation that gets excited about all things festive, a nation that can’t keep our Christmas energy under wraps, and a nation that truly believes that planning for Christmas early can make us happier. We are most definitely a nation that likes to get the party started early. But the big question for online retailers is – how early?
When do customers start thinking about Christmas?
Research shows that customers get started early. Around 40% begin Christmas shopping before Halloween, and of this 40%, around half will begin their Christmas shopping in September… or even before! A further 40% will start buying gifts for friends and family in November, while another 15% will start once the calendar flicks over to December. Just 3% of Americans leave it until the very last minute. Customers aged 60 and over are statistically more likely to shop for Christmas gifts through the year, perhaps keeping an eye out for great deals for their grandchildren and other members of the family.
But this is when customers start BUYING… what about when they start PLANNING? Ecommerce websites are shown to be the preferred choice for pre-purchase research in the run up to Christmas, according to the Deloitte Holiday Retail Sales Consumer Survey 2018, which means customers may be looking online for Christmas gifts much earlier than you think. In fact, while Google searches for ‘where to buy’ don’t really start to increase until early December, searches for ‘gift ideas’ usually pick up in early August! This shows that the average customer likes to start their Christmas shopping research during the summer.
The Early Bird Catches the Worm
As we can see, the average customer starts thinking about Christmas pretty early, with Christmas-related Google searches beginning to pick up around the end of August, and really becoming more specific and direct around the start of December, following on from the Thanksgiving / Black Friday weekend.
Does that mean that online retailers should start gearing up for Christmas at around the same time? No!
By the time customers are ready to think about Christmas, online retailers need to be ready for them. This means retailers need to begin getting ready for the big event much sooner than their audiences. And let’s not forget that Deloitte’s consumer survey found that early Christmas shoppers are the biggest spenders! In fact, early shoppers spend $370 more on average than their late shopping counterparts.
Preparing for the Christmas Rush
While getting ready for the Christmas rush may sound hectic, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, although there’s plenty to do – such as making sure your product descriptions are detailed and comprehensive, in order to help your customers make an informed purchases – it’s a good idea to start off by making sure your business is fully prepared to handle increased sales volumes successfully at this time of year.
Here are three aspects to take into account:
1. Inventory Management
At this crucial time of year, you can’t afford to disappoint your customers. That’s why manual and outdated methods of inventory management simply won’t cut it. Instead, you need to look at automated solutions; solutions which not only keep track of orders made through multiple websites (especially important if you’re selling across various channels), but which also provide real time stock updates.
Real time stock updates aren’t just beneficial in terms of your own inventory management; they’re also important pieces of customer-facing data. Low stock creates urgency, and urgency is one of the most effective tools for boosting conversions.Right now, customers are very much experiencing ‘FOMO’, or ‘fear of missing out’, making real time stock updates all the more important for online retailers.
2. Process Efficiency
With more people looking to make purchases in the run up to Christmas, online retailers can generally expect to see more sales – as long as they’re listing and marketing their products in a way that attracts and engages their target audience. While increasing orders and sales is certainly good in terms of profits, some businesses may find that they are overwhelmed with the orders, and are rushed off their feet.
Despite the chaos, it is essential for online retailers to continue offering a satisfactory service to their customers, and this means picking orders, shipping orders, and invoicing efficiently. For many online retailers, it is simply not possible to do it all, and to do it all well. So don’t. The more predictable and mundane of ecommerce tasks can easily be automated, freeing you up for the more important tasks.
It’s no secret that customers put a lot of effort into finding and purchasing the perfect Christmas gift. They may compare products across a number of websites, and across a number of retailers and manufacturers, too. This pre-Christmas research can sometimes get a little complicated, so it should come as no surprise to learn that some online retailers experience more queries at this time of year.
Of course, with ecommerce it’s not easy for customers to see the product in person, or to hold it in their hands like they could when shopping in store. That’s why online retailers need to be prepared to answer any questions quickly and accurately, helping prospective customers to make a purchase. Again, automation is key here, and a centralized messaging system for all channels can make a huge difference.
Online Retailer Influence
While you may think that these three aspects — inventory management, process efficiency, and communication — may not make much of a difference at Christmas, research says otherwise. In fact, Deloitte found that when customers start their Christmas shopping, 30 percent of their planned purchases are still being finalized, and 20 percent of purchases are actually completely unplanned.
Your pre-Christmas planning could have a huge impact on customer behavior. What you do now in preparation for the holiday season could greatly influence purchasing decisions at the time, helping your ecommerce business to stand out from the competition and placing you in a prime position to thrive.