Consumers want to touch before they buy, and they want to talk when they purchase. Those promise to stand as two main traits of the 2018 holiday shopping season, and retailers that gain an edge and increase revenue during the all-important fourth quarter will likely have exploited such tactics during this period, at least according to new data that strives to paint a detailed picture of U.S. commerce over the coming two months.
New online holiday shopping projections from Adobe have found that eCommerce in the United States during that period will increase 14.8 percent, reaching $124.1 billion. Cyber Monday, a one-time marketing stunt that has grown monstrous (good monster — not the evil type,) will set yet another retail record this year, Adobe predicted, with sales on Nov. 26 to hit $7.7 billion, up 17.6 percent from the same day in 2017. At the peak of the day (meant to encourage consumers to shop from work computers, though that habit is pretty much ingrained in the culture by now and feels less sneaky than at the dawn of eCommerce), conversion rates will hit 7.3 percent between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. PST.
Offline And Online Cozy Up
However, the projections go further than the sales figures and help anticipate new trends for the 2018 holiday shopping season. Among them is the appeal of offline-and-online shopping combinations. “Offline is moving into online, and online is moving into offline,” said Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights, in a new interview with PYMNTS. Whether through buy-online, pickup in-store programs or other efforts that mix the digital and physical sides of retail, consumers are responding to that combination — and that especially includes millennial shoppers, Schreiner noted.
That may seem counterintuitive — after all, those younger consumers grew up with digital and would seem more comfortable online, right? Think of it from another angle, though. “It’s easy to overestimate millennials’ engagement with technology,” he said. “But a lot of them are looking to reconnect with the real world.” Part of that reconnection involves touching a product before buying, though product research may have been done online before visiting a store for the final transaction.
Newer retail technology will also play an increasingly important role in the 2018 holiday shopping season — and, almost certainly, in the years to come. That includes voice-assisted shopping done via smart speakers and similar devices. According to Adobe, “21 percent of consumers [said] they are planning to reorder frequently purchased items and 17 percent [will place] one-time orders for in-store pickup using their voice-activated devices” during this year’s fourth quarter.
The quick rise of voice-assisted shopping stands as a “surprise” from this year’s holiday data research, Schreiner said, which means voice needs to “be a part of your strategy this year.” Adobe found that the smart speaker — the Amazon Echo is the most popular such device in the United States — is the key to “unlocking” this type of commerce. Adobe research also found that 45 percent of consumers who already own a smart speaker plan to buy another one for themselves, perhaps as a holiday gift in the coming weeks. “It was good for the living room,” he said, “so now they want one for the bedroom.”
In fact, connected devices — smartphones, tablets, voice-activated speakers, smartwatches, in-car dashboard systems — are changing how consumers in the U.S. buy and pay, as detailed not only by Adobe, but by the recent “How We Will Pay” study from PYMNTS and Visa. The number of consumers in the study who reported owning a voice-activated device nearly doubled from last year to this year — with 27 percent owning one, up from 14 percent in 2017.
Retailers still hoping to gain an edge of holiday sales — and the time is tight, of course — can still count on an old warhorse of eCommerce: email marketing. “It’s a lever you can pull right now,” Schreiner said. Sure, open rates for email marketing messages “tend to stay pretty flat,” but retailers can still gain revenue from well-crafted campaigns. That said, Adobe research found that email offers less revenue than search marketing.
He added that there is one big factor that retailers should not worry about playing a role in holiday sales. That’s the 2018 midterm elections, which take place on Tuesday (Nov. 6). Adobe does not believe the results, in any way, will foreshadow retail gains or losses for the fourth quarter. The company’s holiday data report also predicted that more consumers will stay home on Thanksgiving this year than last, with mobile and online shopping making up for “standing in lines outside stores in the cold,” Schreiner said. For this Thanksgiving, 60 percent of shoppers will avoid stores, up from 40 percent in 2016.
That’s easier now, given the increasing number of retail connections consumers have, as described by the “How We Will Pay” research from PYMNTS and Visa — research based on the study of 2,800 U.S. consumers, who statistically represent the composition of the country’s adult population today. Few from that study own just a smartphone (3.1 percent). The vast majority of consumers (80 percent) own something other than a smartphone, laptop/computer or tablet. That’s up from 75 percent last year.
It’s that time of the year — the time for increased revenues, profit and figuring out what really works in terms of the latest retail technology. Some big eCommerce operators (Amazon, eBay and Apple) have said their fourth quarters will bring lower rates of growth than investors would want, as reported in a recent PYMNTS article. However, there is little doubt that voice, mobile, and even in-store features and tools will appeal to shoppers this year.