If you haven't already started prepping your business for the holidays, now is the time to start. Black Friday is less than a month away, but many consumers start their shopping well before that — waiting too long means missing out on valuable sales opportunities.
"Holiday shopping seems to be starting earlier and earlier every year," said Lisa Graves, senior email marketing strategist at DEG, a full-service digital marketing agency. "Nov. 1 is when the bulk of your customers begin purchasing for the holidays."
To make the 2016 holiday season your best one yet, here are four big marketing trends you can capitalize on right now.
No matter how much of your sales come from e-commerce, it's important to provide a seamless, fast web experience for your customers. A 2015 report from website performance solutions provider Radware found that slow websites mean fewer sales — 57 percent of consumers will abandon a site that fails to load after 3 seconds. Small e-commerce companies can't afford to lose this kind of business during such a busy season, so be sure to address any lags or missing features on your website and identify potential sales trends for the season.
You'll also want to make sure your website is mobile-optimized for holiday shoppers. A report by marketing solutions provider SteelHouse states that retail sales on smartphones have nearly doubled year over year (according to eMarketer), so give your site a checkup to make sure everything is running smoothly.
"We've seen a rise in multidevice shoppers the past two years, which is why the seamless experience is so critical," Graves told Business News Daily.
Holiday season shipping
In an age of Amazon Prime and same-day delivery, consumer expectations for e-commerce shipping are higher than ever. The SteelHouse report found that more than one-third of retailers now list Dec. 22, 23 or 24 as their holiday delivery cutoff.
All e-commerce retailers need to think about realistic shipping times and cutoffs throughout the season to make sure customers get their deliveries before the holidays. Retailers with brick-and-mortar locations also may want to consider adding an in-store-pickup option, said Kevon Hills, vice president of research at e-commerce metrics company StellaService.
"Since later cutoff dates put additional pressure on retailers to deliver on promises in a short amount of time, we also expect to see increased numbers of retailers offering customers the option to buy online and pick up in-store," Hills said. "Retailers with the processes in place to support these initiatives are well positioned to capture last-minute revenue without the risk of not delivering products in time."
Businesses that ship products should also focus on optimizing their packaging and fulfillment processes, said Jarrett Streebin, CEO of shipping solutions provider EasyPost.
"Many carriers have dimensional pricing that fully accounts for compact packaging," Streebin said. "If you work the smallest boxes possible, you can save an enormous amount on shipping. [Also], make sure orders go out within an hour of being placed, and staff up if you need to. The quicker you get orders shipped out, the less backlog you'll have. And make sure to send out tracking numbers so customers know how soon they'll get their packages."
When you're thinking about how to market your holiday promotions, remember that not all customers are created equal, said Jerry Jao, CEO of retention marketing firm Retention Science. You don't want to waste your profit margins sending discounts to shoppers who just look for deals and then move on.
"Segment your customers carefully by lifetime value," Jao said. "It's the brand-loyal repeat purchasers who should get special treatment. Whether it's a special loyalty campaign or an extra thank-you offer for the holidays, any investment you make into your high-lifetime-value customers will bring you higher returns."
Graves agreed, and advised targeting each shopper segment with content that's relevant to them.
"For digital, we focus a lot on holiday procrastinators and how we can drive in-store traffic, gift cards and shipping schedules," she said.
The SteelHouse report recommends A/B testing for specific messaging, offers and creative assets during the holiday season.
"Marketing is a science ... [and] there's no reason to guess," the report's authors wrote. "We're often surprised at the combination that performs the best when we run our own advertising."
Learn more: Using A/B Testing to Boost Marketing Results
Native-advertising campaigns look and feel more natural because they mimic the format of the platform on which they appear. For instance, sites like BuzzFeed publish posts sponsored by brands that read like their standard articles. Jamie Tedford, founder and CEO of Brand Networks, said native advertising will be the trend in social media and content marketing for brands this holiday season.
"We've seen a lot of innovation across each native platform ... and the rollout of new features and capabilities specifically for marketers," Tedford said. "Now, these sites are more than just a place to share interesting content — they are a chance to convert and transact with customers directly on the platform in more relevant native formats."
Learn more: Native Ad Success Requires Research and Strategy
You can find more advice on holiday marketing in the following Business News Daily articles:
- Visual Holiday Marketing: How to Stand Out on Social Media
- How to Put Text Message Marketing to Work This Holiday Season
- 4 Types of Holiday Shoppers and How to Market to Them
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.