Finally, Online Shopping Isn't Just for The Affluent

Somewhere among grey Thursday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the cat-and-mouse rules of online retailing are shifting this holiday season. Stores pushed harder on the time and intimacy boundaries of consumers (“Go ahead -- skip Thanksgiving dinner -- come to the mall!”) And shoppers pushed right back, armed with enough smartphones and online savvy to enable them to sniff out better deals across multiple channels. (In fact, you can follow that confidence right into Best Buy’s holiday ad campaign, which shows smug and snarky moms who are more than happy to show up a definitely offline kind of Santa.)

The results, including a sparkling 33% jump in Cyber Monday sales, are surprising many people. Marketing Daily asked Jeremy Mason, VP/general manager of AudienceScience, the Seattle-based ad targeting company, to explain what’s behind the changes.

Q: So what’s really new this year?

A: We’re seeing that online sales are already 15% ahead of where they were last year, and what’s important is that this is a general trend, and there isn’t one particular income level or audience level that’s stronger. There’s been this assumption of super-affluent people sipping lattes and shopping on their iPads. But the results this year show those demographic assumptions are just wrong.



Q: So who is the typical online shopper?

A: Well, attitudinally, they are different. We know they shop earlier. By income, we found that 30.5% of holiday shoppers earn more than $100,000, and 16% earn between $60,000 and $75,000. But what was interesting to us in our study was that the middle group -- those in the $40,000 to $60,000 segment -- outshops the $75,000 segment by 5%.

Q: What else is driving sales this year?

A: Behavioral targeting, and retargeting. Companies are doing a much better job of matching messages to users. Retailers are definitely getting the idea that getting the right message to the right segment really matters. One size does not fit all. And this year, companies have gotten much more aggressive with retargeting, which means that when a consumer clicks on some element of your advertising, you go back to them repeatedly with a message. It’s a good reminder, and a good reinforcement.

Q: Doesn’t that just annoy people?

A: It can, when it’s overemployed.

Q: What else have retailers done to step up their game?

A: Retailers are doing a better job of collecting a broader set of data. It’s fairly easy to put a standard retargeting pixel on a site, which might tell it who looked at furniture. But more sophisticated techniques mean they are better able to see who looked at a high-end leather couch, or a low-end sofabed. Who might be a college student, and who might be redoing a mancave? Taken together, you begin to get an almost psychographic sense of the user. We’re seeing stores like Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn do a good job with this kind of information. Different products are more relevant to different kinds of shoppers.

Q: Anything else that sets this holiday season apart?

A: The meteoric rise of the “deal of the day” mentality. Based on the success of sites like Groupon, individual retailers are creating their own deals in limited time frames, to stimulate consumers. It could be the economy, or it could be that this emerging trend has tapped into a kind of consumer confidence, the idea that they are going to find their way to an amazing deal.

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