Memo to Retailers During the Holiday Season: Seek Online Customer Engagement

The holiday season annually represents, perhaps, the most crucial time of year for marketers everywhere. Deciphering shifting consumer behavior, attitudes, channel preferences, and finding customer engagement are all keys to successful holiday results.

Loyalty360 talked to Ronda Slaven, Vice President, Research & Thought-Leadership, Synchrony Financial, to find out what key trends were revealed in Synchrony Financial’s 2017 Holiday Study.

What was the biggest takeaway from the 2017 Holiday Study and why?

Slaven: There are really three key takeaways this year. First, we saw a tipping point where, for the first time ever, consumers report that more of their holiday shopping will be done online than in-store. We’ve been watching this trend for some time and predicted this tipping point would be coming soon. We are now at a point where retailers that haven’t evolved into this new reality will have a hard time playing catch up with customer expectations.

Secondly, we see that shoppers report that the majority of their in-store shopping will NOT take place at a mall. In the past, research showed that shoppers like to hit the mall to get in that holiday spirit. This year, we see shoppers report they will shop more standalone stores, such as mass merchandisers, discount apparel/home stores, sporting goods, and toy retailers. Some of this may also be attributed to the successful growth of Small Business Saturday (13 percent growth from 2015 to 2016.)

Thirdly, tech-enabled gifts will be hot this year. We see that five out of 10 shoppers say technology will play an important role this holiday season. From robots and toys that teach kids how to code, to apparel with built-in charging stations, the tech will not only enable the shopping experience but will also become central to gift giving this year.

What was the biggest surprise from the study?

Slaven: The biggest surprise this year is that fewer shoppers say they will shop Black Friday or Cyber Monday to find the best deals. Shoppers are realizing they can find a good deal all year long and retailers have also created sale “weeks” this year, driving value leading up to the primary holiday shopping days. In the end, it appears that these previously coveted shopping days will be less relevant this year.  

Based on your study, how have customers changed or how are they changing?

Slaven: Over the past few years, we’ve seen that shoppers are fundamentally focused on the same things: Value and experience. However, this holiday season we do see customers reporting they will behave differently. For example, customers are shopping later, placing less emphasis on key sale days and relying more on the online channel for last-minute shopping.


What trends do you see connected to customer engagement/customer experience that marketers should focus on?

Slaven: One thing we saw this year is that there is a significant opportunity for retailers to leverage the mobile experience to drive real-time engagement and convert web traffic to more sales. For example, 36 percent of holiday shoppers say they will use a mobile device to shop because they can more easily link email offers and promotions directly to their online purchase. This focus on simplified experiences is key to driving engagement this holiday season.

How should marketers manage these growing expectations/demands from consumers, especially during the crucial holiday season?

Slaven: It is imperative that retailers button up their online and mobile experiences; 64 percent of survey respondents say they have downloaded a retailer app, for example, but 41 percent have deleted that app because of a poor experience or lack of value.

It’s these types of experiences that retailers need to ensure are optimized going into the holiday season. Across many of our different studies, we also see that consumers, in particular, younger shoppers, are placing more emphasis on in-store experiences. There is an opportunity to drive in-store traffic holiday season by offering unique experiences.

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