Holiday Shopping Goes Mobile: Lessons for Marketers and Companies amidst the Shift in Shopping Patterns
by Jen Kindred
Write Comment December 10th, 2014 Cultural Trends · Events · Marketing · News Response
Photo credit: Sense Networks
Ah, December… a time for reflections and predictions. Marketing and PR professionals are especially fond of this annual season of round-ups and forecasts. It gives us a chance to take a step back and think about what we’ve learned, to note patterns and emerging trends, to take a deep breath and prepare for the rush of work that will land on our laptops in January. Here in Silicon Valley, the holiday season has us thinking a lot about mobile technology, among other important topics. How has the rapid expansion of the smartphone universe impacted holiday shopping, consumer behavior and family traditions?
Recent news reports about the health of the holiday economy are less than clear; by some reports, retail spending fell 11% on Thanksgiving weekend. We’re still in the first half of December, so the comprehensive picture of retail results remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: mobile is a big game changer. According to MediaPost and IBM, online traffic from mobile devices on Thanksgiving Day was stronger than traditional PCs for the first time, accounting for 52% of all online traffic. Best Buy experienced such an unexpected surge of mobile traffic, their web site crashed.
Black Friday shopping—complete with crowds, bad weather, and parking lot hassles—has lost some of its luster now that similar discounts can be found online before, during, and after Thanksgiving. Some of us, after all, are old enough to remember when Turkey Day was more about family than the frenzied pursuit of doorbuster deals. Perhaps the convenience of shopping from our phones, tablets, and laptops in the comfort of our own homes is helping us reclaim some of the true spirit of the holidays. Indeed, teens and Millennials appear to be one of the most lucrative targets for in-store Black Friday sales; American Eagle, Old Navy, and Victoria’s Secret had a banner weekend.
As with any major paradigm shift, the remarkable changes we’ve seen in consumer behavior over the last few years have far-reaching implications, some of which we are only beginning to understand. When we step back from retail numbers to take in a bigger picture, we see that mobile devices are impacting much more than just shopping trends. In recent years, increasingly dire weather conditions have impacted the shopping season; many retailers started promotions earlier this year to hedge against this risk.
The ongoing debate about the disappearance of the middle class and the struggles of the working class appears to have also had a sobering effect on many Americans’ spending habits. While the overall economy shows promising signs of recovery—lower gas prices, improved jobs numbers, the best consumer sentiment stats in seven years—retailers may have been too optimistic about how this good news would hit their bottom line this season. After many years of economic struggle, many Americans are using the extra room in their household budget to pay down debt, save for retirement, and donate to charitable causes, knowing that tough times may still lie ahead. (For more on this, see IBD’s article about the Principal Financial Well-Being Index.)
According to Entrepreneur, the number of ads and promotions the average consumer sees during the holiday season is equivalent to standing in the middle of Times Square for 10 weeks. Yikes…how much of that can possibly be sinking in, especially in the middle of a dramatic news cycle? Obviously, in the face of advertising overload, the smarter and more personalized the marketing, the better chance it has of reaching its intended audience and converting to an actual purchase.
Mobile is the most obvious choice for delivering more intelligent, customized promotions to targeted consumers. It will be interesting to see how advertising, marketing and PR professionals use the data generated by this holiday season to analyze consumer trends and tailor their approach. And it will be even more fascinating to see how emerging technologies like wearables (Apple Watch), mobile payment systems, 3D printing, and smart, connected products (IoT) converge to transform our buying and consumption habits in ways we have yet to imagine—not to mention how these habits will be influenced by economic, political, and social developments. Looking back and looking ahead, one thing’s for sure: If you’re on the high-tech beat, 2015 will be a busy year!
What do you think? Is mobile changing the way we shop for and celebrate the holidays? Which retailers were able to break through the noise and make you pay attention this year?