We’re here — we’re in the final holiday shopping week, when consumers are in a flurry and brands are grasping for those all-important last minute dollars. We’re going to see a ton of “TWO HOURS LEFT TO ORDER!” and “LAST DAY FOR CHRISTMAS SHIPPING!” messages popping up everywhere this week — likely on your site, too. Without a doubt, emotions are running high and, for your brand, it’s a good time to take a quick look at the tactics you’ve integrated this season and see what’s working and what could use a quick upgrade. But, above all, it’s essential to take a step back right now and make sure you don’t fall into an all-too-common trap: becoming a digital Grinch.
Although there’s no question you and your brand have strived to deliver incredible holiday experiences so far, now is the time of year I see the ho, ho, ho turning into some behavior that’s as cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel. If customers are still shopping they’re no doubt anxious and emotional. They feel behind, they feel judged, and they feel like they aren’t going to get it right — and that’s not a good way to head into the holidays. My advice to you? Play nice. Deliver experiences that surprise and delight and you’ll be in a better position to engage and convert, not just now but long after the last stocking’s been stuffed. Go Grinch and, sure, you might scare up a few incremental dollars, but you’ll likely miss some serious moments as you veer from optimization success and into the creepy zone — and that’s something smart shoppers won’t touch, even with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole. Some things to look out for?
It Came Without Ribbons — How Could it be so?
Even the Grinch knew the value of personalization. Remember when his gift arrived? He couldn’t fathom such an impersonal but personal display of seasonal spirit — the bright, sparkly Christmas gift came without tags, packages, boxes, or bags. A total miss, from a personalization perspective.
Although personalization isn’t unique to the holiday shopping season, there is a greater overarching need and, in turn, massive customer and brand benefits associated with delivering spot-on experiences. Shoppers are time-crunched, those last milliseconds become even shorter, and the need to engage in those real-time micromoments skyrockets. Your messaging, promotions, recommendations, and anything else you put front-and-center needs to resonate instantly and in a big way — and, if not, she’ll take her list elsewhere right now.
To capture these all-important consumers — and not Grinch on their shopping plans — be sure that you’re tapping into individual personalization capabilities, personas, and, even, for the unknown user, basic targeting clues like her source, keywords that drove her from search, and other behavioral data you can cull from “go.” Even as she decides to brave real shopping in shops of Whoville, use location data to give her that super-relevant mobile experience that will get her in and out of the mall as quickly as possible. That pang of connectivity is particularly powerful during the holidays, and if she senses you can help her tackle some of the heavy holiday lifting, she’s more inclined to engage and convert — and, given this season’s break-neck shopping pace, she might even do it more readily than during the warmer months.
In that vein, a quick disclaimer: holiday shoppers can look a lot different than year-round loyalists. So, although he may be all about the latest gadgets and tech gear pre–November, once holiday shopping hits he might look different — positively unrecognizable, even. He’s shopping for the kids, the wife, the parents, the co-workers, and, likely, none of them are hankering for the same go-tos as he is. It’s almost double personalization — it’s remembering and recognizing your consumers while, at the same time, giving them some (curated) room to pivot toward their seasonal needs. As long as you can react and instantly get in-step with them, you’ll be paving the way for a powerful, lucrative, and mutually beneficial seasonal relationship — and, come January, will be able to pick up right where you left off … tags, packages, boxes, and bags included.
Don’t Fib — It’s That Simple
Another Grinch-like quality to avoid? Trying to mislead or even deceive your consumers. Remember how the Grinch tells Cindy Lou Who that he’s Santa Claus, who’s come to repair a defective Christmas tree? From a marketing perspective that’s the quickest way to elicit plenty of boo hoos from your seasonal shoppers — and, even, drive away the most steadfast year-long buyers.
So what “fibs” am I talking about? For starters, there’s personalizing for inventory availability. Getting this wrong could drive away tons of customers and, ultimately, cost your brand untold revenue. Seeing that a product is in stock and ready to ship now is one of the most important factors driving online purchases during the holidays. If you’re sold out, backordered or can’t get that must-have item out the door fast, don’t give false hope. Product recommendations that hinge on sold-out or tough-to-get items, for example, could lead a customer down your sales funnel and to disappointment. That’s not to say you should overhaul your inventory management, but don’t put as much emphasis on products and services that, simply, that targeted customer wants and can’t have on his timeline. This gets even more problematic the closer you get to the big day — if it’s crunch time and you tell me you’ve got the gift I need and then you don’t, you’ve become a holiday shopping Grinch, at least for me.
Some other examples? False senses of urgency. Those timers reminding me it’s my last chance to buy or my gift won’t get there on time? They’re great and can yield some serious results. But if I go back a day after the “deadline” and see that same timer with that same time I’m going to want to stuff some serious coal in your stocking. If you lured me in under false pretenses yesterday, what can I trust today? Same goes for those “ultimate” sales. If this is the last day to save, the biggest sale of the season, the final day for free shipping, or some other call out that’s too compelling to ignore, don’t undercut my holiday shopping win with a lower price, better deal, or higher value tomorrow. What can I believe? You just told me this was it! Grinch.
The solution? Being data-driven, especially this week. If you are, then you won’t fib — it’s as simple as that. Your automated personalization system can determine the best products and services to show, and can opt to exclude items with low inventory or declining size selection, for example. Sure that customer can still find the must-have sneakers or hoverboard or headphones on your site, but you aren’t teasing them with it only to yank it away when they try to buy. You can better track and optimize your promotions and offers, ensuring there’s no misleading or misrepresenting permeating your site. Think of it as relying on the data to keep you honest — because no one likes a fibber or a false promise, especially when the holiday clock is ticking.
And Don’t be a Creep, Either
Remember, creepy is never relevant, and relevant is never creepy. And this is, for sure, not the season to be creepy—but every season it happens.
So why do otherwise savvy, sophisticated and relevance-focused marketers find themselves veering into iffy, Grinch-infested waters? Because, simply, it’s just so tempting during the holidays. Shoppers are pressed for time, they want what they want yesterday, and you’ve got the tools, products, and services in place to make sugar plums dance in their heads. But if you come on too hard too fast you could have the opposite effect — you quickly become the bad banana with a greasy black peel. It’s creepy and it’s never relevant.
That aggressive, hyperpersonal come-on is the biggest creep example I see during the holidays. Brands are experiencing these massive influxes of anonymous shoppers — about 41 percent will try a new site during the holidays — and are trying their best to align content to prospective buyer. So the emails start, and maybe they call out a specific family member’s name. Then the geotargeting—but maybe she doesn’t remember giving you the OK to come at her on this highly personal platform. And then the retargeting that just doesn’t quit. Or maybe worse — all of this happens at once.
Your strategy should be simple. Instead of assaulting their senses, their devices, and their inboxes, let shoppers ease into the experience with you, driving increasingly relevant touch points as they wind through the funnel. You’re still personalizing to consumers’ unique wants and needs, but you’re making them feel in control of the experience — it’s curation-meets-choice, which can yield some incredibly powerful results.
Even the Grinch Learned Something During the Holidays
The Grinch called Christmas the thing he hated most of all but then — boom! — in the end (spoiler!) his now-oversized heart practically bursts as he carves the roast beast while singing and celebrating with his now-beloved Whos. And here’s the thing: during the holidays, customer needs, wants, and overarching expectations can change just like that, and you can always stand to learn, grow, optimize, and evolve. One minute your customer is leisurely browsing toys. The next he’s searching for something truly unique — and a great deal to go with it. And a few days later he’s rushing from experience to experience, platform to platform, looking for those last minute finds — and he needs free, fast shipping now. How will you pivot and, above all, deliver?
It’s one of the personalization challenges that pops up every holiday shopping season, without fail. The solution? Just like the Grinch didn’t know he’d be a holiday hero, you won’t know what’s going to hit the mark without rolling up your sleeves and testing. Many brands steer clear of testing during the holidays — especially this close to — for fear they’ll miss the mark and lose those overflowing shopping carts. But I’d argue it’s actually the best time to test. Not only will you be able to optimize and personalize based on your loyal shoppers needs at a time when the wallets open a little easier, but you’ll be able to cull critical data on anonymous consumers that will carry you through to December 25 — and, even, that can be revisited when those now-familiar faces pop back up next year. Keep in mind that half of shoppers are open to trying a new e-commerce site during the holidays, and about two in five actually do. That means lots of unknown consumers bombarding your digital platforms from now until the New Year.
What to do? As always, leverage your existing data and best practices to mitigate risk and take smart, calculated leaps that enable you to push the envelope and drive strong ROI. Take it from the Grinch — for years he went about the holidays exactly the same, until he decided to test drive a more celebratory spirit. And what happened? His heart grew three sizes in one day, just like that. With some optimization know-how and well-planned, well-thought-through tests, you might just grow your revenue a few sizes, too. But at the same time, don’t push the envelope too far when it comes to creating urgency and scarcity. The strategy works, but only because it hinges on consumers’ deep-seated anxiety and holiday panic—and with a super stressed-out shopper, it’s just not the right thing to do. Test and find out what works best — and that could be a countdown timer. But if you find yourself with a brain full of spiders and garlic in your soul (or, simply, filling your already-emotional customers with fear and panic), pump the brakes, Mr. Grinch. If it’s not helpful and it’s not nice you’ve gone too far.
My takeaway for this final week of holiday shopping? Avoid any and all Grinch-inspired tricks and tactics between now and the holidays. It’s tempting, I know — and I also know none of you would intentionally be a Grinch. But as emotions start running higher and higher and brands see serious potential for driving incremental revenue, Grinch-like tactics can start to creep into your marketing mix. But you can dodge them — and the temptation — if you personalize without getting creepy, avoid the fibs and false promises and keep testing. Sure, the Whos still rallied around the Grinch after he ruined Christmas, but here’s the thing: digital marketing isn’t a Dr. Seuss book (though it would be fun, wouldn’t it?). Mislead, misinform, and miss the mark when she’s trying to check off her list at lightening speed and you’ll not only lose out on the conversion but, chances are, you might lose on making that seasonal shopper a long-term loyalist—or, even, convince that loyalist to find another destination that’s not so Grinch-like.