The holiday shopping sprint is nearly upon us and although it’s a short one, all signs point to impending good cheer for retailers and e-commerce businesses. With Thanksgiving Day six days later than last year, nearly a week has been carved out of the shopping season. Even so, Salesforce is optimistic and predicts that U.S. digital revenue will top $136B, marking a YoY growth rate of 13%. 

If total US holiday sales climb even 3.8% – and eMarketer expects that they will – 2019 will be our first-ever $1 trillion-dollar holiday shopping season

How big a slice of the holiday revenue pie are you positioned to take? 

This year, your holiday season success hinges largely upon your ability to deliver the exceptional cross-channel experience and service that constantly connected consumers have come to expect. Shoppers use eight different channels to engage with brands across the shopping journey now, says Google, and Forrester confirms that half of U.S. retail sales are now digitally impacted. Customers are even turning to emerging digital purchase points such as social media, messaging and voice assistant to complete nearly one in ten sales. 

Across the holiday shopping journey, from search and product discovery to point of purchase, consumers crave a truly omnichannel experience. Here are five key areas of focus to help you deliver.

1. Search still the top driver for retail

Google remains the number one driver of both traffic and transaction volume to retail sites. The opportunity to be discovered in search is great, as 48% of shoppers report they are open to buying from new retailers during the holiday season. 

For brick-and-mortar businesses, actually following local SEO best practices is critical. Accurate NAP (name, address, phone) data, claiming and verifying your listings, updating holiday store hours, managing Google reviews, and ensuring the accuracy of listings across the local ecosystem are important tasks that too many retailers are still falling down on

Monitor your local search visibility and compare your Map Pack and organic listings to those of your closest competitors. Are you including photos that help consumers find your store? Do your reviews accurately reflect the products and services you offer? Are you taking up as much real estate as possible in above-the-fold search results for queries relevant to your business? 

Your top mission here is ensuring that when and wherever a consumer finds your business information, it is designed to convert them to an in-store visit – and that it gives all of the information necessary for them to actually get there.

For online retailers, site speed and navigation are top priorities. You need a site that is secure, loads critical elements quickly, and intuitively guides shoppers from one phase of their decision to the next. 

There’s a ton of great content here on SEL to help improve your organic SEO; I recommend this column and this one to get you started. 

2. Your website offers a second lucrative storefront (and not at the expense of your existing one)

As Black Friday draws near, more consumers turn to online shopping. Last year, in-store accounted for more than 60% of US retail sales in early November but as Black Friday approached, in-store was eclipsed by online purchases. Black Friday was when in-store sales hit their low and fell below 30% of total US retail; by the week before Christmas, 73% of sales took place in-store.

However, as Criteo noted in their analysis of this trend towards online shopping for Black Friday, online didn’t cannibalize in-store sales – both types of sales surged, but online to a greater degree.

That means there’s a massive opportunity to build total revenue by improving your online game, and it’s not at the expense of your physical storefront. More and more customers are looking for opportunities to buy online and pick up in-store, especially for those last-minute gifts. According to Salesforce, websites offering in-store order pickup will see 28% more revenue in the last five days leading up to Christmas, compared to store owners who don’t offer this experience.  

Make it easy for customers to find the specific products and services they’re looking for by personalizing offers, images and other content on your site. Barry Schwartz shared a great piece recently on how Overstock revitalized its brand and online sales by focusing on site speed, architecture and UX. Personalization is no longer a nice-to-have; 63% of consumers expect it as a standard of service. Thirty-one percent find it very frustrating, for example, when a brand fails to recognize them as an existing customer. 

3. Content will drive discovery right through to conversion

Of course, we can’t talk about personalization or search visibility without touching on content. When we strategize for the holidays, we tend to focus heavily on key holiday shopping dates, which for 2019 are:

  • Thursday, Nov. 28 – Thanksgiving
  • Friday, Nov. 29 – Black Friday
  • Saturday, Nov. 30 – Small Business Saturday
  • Monday, Dec. 2 – Cyber Monday
  • Tuesday, Dec. 3 – Cyber Tuesday (because we just didn’t get enough of it on Monday)
  • Wednesday, Dec. 25 – Christmas Day
  • Thursday, Dec. 26 – Boxing Day

These are heavy transaction days, but people are always shopping. According to Google, only 18% of shoppers consolidate all of their shopping to the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend yet by Dec. 6, 50% of all holiday season sales will have been completed. Consumers are searching for inspiration and comparison shopping online – they’re reading blogs, checking emails, looking into promotions, viewing ads, seeing TV commercials and more. 

At the heart of all of this decision-making lies original, quality content. But it has to reach the right eyes and ears in the moments that matter if it’s going to make a difference.

Consider how and where your target audience is receptive to your messaging. For example, 90% of shoppers say they’ve discovered new products and brands via YouTube and more than half of shoppers say online video has helped them decide which specific brand or product to buy (Google). You might not see a great return on your email efforts throughout the year, but Salesforce data tells us that 68% of shoppers say they pay more attention to companies’ emails during the holidays. I’ve talked a great deal about the importance of personalizing content in real-time and ensuring you can optimize with speed in the past here

Across channels, make sure you’re using your customer data to personalize content for recipients and considering that channel’s place in your overall marketing strategy when creating content.

4. Mobile experiences must be thoughtful and intentional

You cannot underestimate the power of mobile this holiday season. In the 2018 shopping season, 61% of online purchases were made via mobile

Beyond that transactional value, mobile is a key channel for product discovery and evaluation. While PwC’s 2019 Holiday Outlook tells us that 54% of respondents plan to shop online during the holidays, a Shopkick survey reveals that 84% of shoppers will use mobile devices to research holiday purchases, make price comparisons and read reviews this shopping season.

Stay on top of the optimization of your ads and keep in mind that Google is reporting three times the engagement from shoppers for ads seen on mobile. For retailers in particular, page speed can matter more than price so ensure your sites are optimized for ultra-fast load speed.

Keep user experience top of mind while you’re designing push notifications. While they’re a great way to connect directly with consumers, your messaging must be personalized and precise to deliver the utility consumers expect when they permit such notifications. Create precise segments to use for targeting. Weigh carefully whether to use one-time notifications for a certain promotion or automated push notifications based on user activity triggers. And make sure that your landing destination makes sense in the context of that customer’s journey so completing the purchase is as seamless a transaction as possible.

5. Close the loop with offline messaging and experiences

This year is digital’s watershed year as for the first time, digital ad spend is expected to surpass traditional. Total digital ad spending in the U.S. will grow 19% to $129.34 billion in 2019 – 54.2% of estimated total U.S. ad spending, according to eMarketer.

Yet even as digital continues to prove highly impactful across the customer buying journey, real-world advertising and presence maintain their importance. In fact, last year we learned that the top 100 digital-native brands planned to open 850 physical stores in the next five years. Casper, for example – the brand that disrupted the mattress industry with its online-only service plans to open 200 retail stores.  

Billboards, radio, in-store signage and beacons, and even direct mail remain important advertising channels for different types of retailers. What matters most is that planning for offline channels is part of your holistic customer experience strategy; that each one has a rightful and intentional place in your overall plan to connect, engage, and convert consumers. Whether online or off, make each interaction and communication with a potential customer a logical, seamless step in their path to purchase. 

Plan for retail success all shopping season long

Getting the jump early is helpful, but don’t distress if you’re feeling a little behind the 8-ball in your holiday season preparations. According to Google, 67% of holiday shoppers confess that they still have shopping to do heading into the last week before Christmas. 

Whether you’re online-only, brick-and-mortar or some combination of both, customers are craving a seamless experience in all channels. You don’t have to be everywhere at once, but make sure when and where you appear, you’re prepared to deliver the experience they expect with precision, speed and relevancy across all your digital marketing channels.

More about retail for the winter holidays

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of BrightEdge, the leading enterprise content performance and SEO Platform. He combines in-depth expertise in developing and marketing large on-demand software platforms with hands-on experience in advanced digital, content and SEO practices