Just a few years ago, this would be the time of year I’d be giving holiday pregame talks to retailers focused on optimizing specific events — in-store on Black Friday, and online on Cyber Monday. But around the world, the holiday shopping game is already on. The old playbook has been completely disrupted by mobile.
In the U.S., holiday deals started September 25, when Walmart kicked off a 90-day rollback on pricing through December 24. Amazon started its holiday lighting deals on November 4 and is starting its eight days of Black Friday a week before Black Friday. Target started its holiday deals November 22.
Globally, holiday deals started November 11 in China, in what has rapidly become the largest online shopping event in the world. November 11 marks the Double 11 festival or “Singles Day.” University students started it to celebrate their single status, then Alibaba co-opted it as a way to create a version of Cyber Monday. This year Double 11 generated more than $14.3 billion in one day. Global brands such as Nike, Cadillac, Delta Airlines, and even retailers including Costco, Macy’s and Sainsbury used Double 11 as an opportunity to sell Western goods and services to eager Chinese consumers.
Now that Alibaba chairman Jack Ma intends to bring Double 11 to New York and London in 2016, November 11 becomes the new global start to the year-end holiday season.
Big shopping events work, so we’re going to see more of them. Holiday shopping stimulated by December 25 remains the largest economic stimulus for many nations (in the U.S., it accounts for 20% of annual retail revenue according to the National Federation of Retailers). The broader impact of year-end holiday shopping success is that deal days are becoming a seasonal tactic. Amazon launched its own summer shopping holiday this year, called Prime Day on July 15, celebrating its 20th anniversary. While the quality of Amazon’s Prime Day deals triggered some consumer backlash, the event boosted sales 80% higher than a typical July 15, with peak order volumes even higher than Black Friday. Since Walmart responded with its own July 15 deals, expect this to expand.
It’s no longer predictable, or critical, which day consumers start their holiday shopping or which channel they use. They’ve continually demonstrated they’ll shop on their own terms, and increasingly that means mobile. Last year more than 50% of all e-commerce traffic during Cyber-5 — from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday — occurred on mobile devices; 68% of all Double 11 sales were on mobile devices. The smart money is on that growing substantially this year.
In the weeks ahead, retailers need to promote on mobile, and work the mobile connection in-store through deal alerts and product finders. And heavy up on email. Shoppers learn about holiday deals more often from email than from any other channel, including search. Last year, Forrester found that email motivated 42% of digital shoppers, versus 8% for search and websites.
Then measure consumer activity and spending across channels for the entire Cyber-5 period. Single-day and single-channel metrics no longer provide the leading indicator a retailer needs for the crucial weeks ahead.
In the years to come, retailers will need to carefully coordinate promotion around the combined realities of Cyber-5 and new seasonal deal periods. Ultimately, your year will go as holidays go; and holidays will go as mobile goes. There’s no getting around a substantial investment in streamlined mobile experiences, beginning with native mobile web pages that load fast and make checkout easy.