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Unwrapping a Successful Holiday Season

By: Scott Davis
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Across the world, merchants are putting on their game faces and hoping months of planning will result in a solid fourth quarter return. For shoppers, the holiday season can feel like a sprint to the finish, with rapid-fire promotions and a seemingly endless array of possibilities, available in person or online. This year, shoppers and merchants have a compressed timeline as Thanksgiving comes nearly a full week earlier than last year, shortening the window between the critical Black Friday weekend and Christmas Day.

Forecasting the mood of shoppers for 2019 shows both opportunity and a few headwinds. In September the Conference Board reported a 9% drop in consumer confidence, after a more modest decline in August. Among other factors, the board cited concerns over ongoing tariffs. The National Retail Federation found 79% of consumers it surveyed in September were concerned tariffs will cause prices to rise.

Even so, the NRF predicts holiday sales for 2019 will grow between 3.8 and 4.2% over 2018, thanks to job growth and higher wages. Ecommerce is likely to remain a bright spot again this year, after a stellar performance in 2018, with a more than 16% YoY increase from the year before as reported by Adobe.

Put a (mobile) Bow on It

Needless to say, the competition is keen and unwrapping a successful holiday season means retailers need to pay attention to strategy, beginning with the customer journey. Is your site optimized for mobile devices? reports sales on mobile devices were up nearly 32% in the U.S. for the 2018 holiday season versus the year before. Merchants who don’t meet customers where they are, will find their sales going elsewhere. The need to offer integrated and personalized shopping experiences across channels has many brands looking to API-based solutions to provide a best-of-breed technology stack. Modular solutions give merchants the flexibility to stay ahead of shopper demands and the ability to engage customers with a truly customized experience.

Go Global, Think Local

U.S. shoppers aren’t the only ones caught up in the excitement of Black Friday weekend, which is now extended into Cyber Monday and rebranded as the “Cyber Five.” Australia saw a 152% increase in Black Friday global ecommerce sales in 2018, and France turned in an eye-popping 265% increase YoY.

It takes more than a storefront in another country for truly effective cross-border ecommerce. The local experience is critical, from understanding cultural nuances to being conversant in local tax laws, preferred payments, as well as establishing relationships with local banks for billing optimization, and working with local entities to make sure all those orders are fulfilled.

The beauty of gaining an Onshore Advantage™ for selling globally is your holiday calendar expands. A global promotional calendar means adding Boxing Day for Australia and Canada. Singles Day for China or Three Kings Day, which is celebrated in many Spanish-speaking countries. These offer additional opportunities to increase sales and engage customers in a culturally relevant way across the globe.

Avoid the Holiday Hangover

The harsh truth about those eye-popping Q4 results you work so hard for every year is the meager Q1 that often follows. Lean into it with strategies to please and engage your customers. Start by cleaning house. Move old merchandise with a promotion that can clear your books and win new shoppers in the process. The holiday season likely brought you some new shoppers you can continue to communicate with and engage throughout the year. Make sure your return policies are customer-friendly, so you don’t leave customers with a negative impression. Finally, leverage the special days that do pop up on the calendar during Q1 (hello, Super Bowl?) to offer special promotions and draw in customers.

For merchants, this might not be “the most wonderful time of the year” in the way the holiday song envisions, but it is the most critical. With planning, and understanding how to extend your customer engagement, you can position yourself for success in Q4 and well into the New Year.