Online retailers essentially live and die by the sales season between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. A good quarter can salvage a year of tough competition and tight margins, but a miss can devastate the bottom line. This year's holiday season is six days shorter than last year's, so businesses are going to have to get creative about making the most of every opportunity to reach customers.
The good news, at least according to a report from Salesforce, is that despite that shorter sales season, overall online sales are expected to grow this year by 13 percent to $136 billion. That report is based on a survey of more than 10,000 consumers and major e-commerce sites.
Here are a few of the ways you can put your business in the best position for a big holiday season:
Get creative on social media.
According to Salesforce, social media is likely to be a huge shopping channel this holiday season, especially for Gen-Z. That demographic is 3.5 times more likely to shop nontraditional channels like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and even voice assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant.
These shopping tendencies might seem nontraditional, but the reality is that younger shoppers are more likely to only shop those channels this year. You'll potentially miss a huge market if you don't meet them where they are. And when you consider that shoppers say they are 68 percent more likely to pay attention to email marketing during the holiday season, it only makes sense to start planning your creative strategy now.
Get ready for customers to start shopping earlier.
The holiday season technically starts later, but consumers aren't planning to wait. Salesforce is forecasting an increase of as much as 19 percent year-over-year growth the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. While plenty of consumers complain that the holiday sales start earlier every year, they still show up to shop.
Your business doesn't have to wait for Cyber Monday to drive online sales. You can take advantage of consumers' willingness to shop good deals by creating opportunities that draw them in the days before Thanksgiving.
Know that in-store pickup will be huge.
There's no question that no matter when the holiday shopping season starts, there are still a large number of consumers who wait until the very last minute. For many online sellers, the deadline for free shipping, or ground shipping, is mid-December. During that time frame, online sellers who offer the ability to order online and pick up in-store will likely see as much as a 28 percent increase in sales during the last week of shopping, according to Salesforce.
Even if you aren't a large retailer with a vast network of stores across the country (hello, Target), you can still find creative ways to reach your local customers. By allowing them to place orders online and stop by your location to pick them up, you not only capture those last-minute sales, you increase the opportunity for secondary sales as they enter your physical store.
Don't forget Cyber Monday.
Your customers have already been conditioned to shop online on Cyber Monday, so why not take advantage of that tendency and offer a compelling sale. Salesforce's report says that online deals average a 29 percent discount, representing a forecasted $8.2 billion in sales in the United States.
If your business sells online, that's an extraordinary opportunity to reach customers who are literally looking for a reason to shop. Actually, they already have a reason; your job is to simply give them an excuse to do it with you. A well-designed holiday shopping season strategy can ensure that your business is set up for a huge win this year.