When it comes to the holiday shopping season — an increasing area of focus for retail as the year starts to wind down — it’s not so much about the trends we will see, perhaps, as the trend we will hear.
That’s because voice-assisted retail promises to play an even bigger part in shopping and purchasing this year than it did last year. And that’s saying something.
Indeed, Amazon’s record-breaking holiday shopping season last year was powered in part by voice-activated shopping, with the eCommerce giant saying orders placed via Alexa were three times higher than the year-ago holiday shopping season.
According to Amazon, in addition to seeing voice orders jump three times compared to a year ago, Alexa was also called upon hundreds of thousands of times to help consumers find cocktail recipes — with eggnog and Moscow Mules among the most requested holiday drinks. Other milestones for Amazon’s voice-activated digital assistant include consumers listening to hundreds of millions of more hours of music compared to a year ago, while customers asked Alexa to turn on the holiday lights tens of millions of times during the holiday season with the number one request: “Alexa, turn on the Christmas tree.” What’s more, Amazon said customers used Alexa almost twice as much on Fire TV devices during the holidays when compared to the same period a year ago.
Beacons, too, promise to play a bigger role this holiday shopping season, according to a fresh analysis. “Many retailers use beacons now, but they’re almost always hidden,” that report said, “There’s really no reason for beacons to be hidden. By being more transparent with in-store technology, brands can help dispel some of the negative connotations around “push marketing.” Shoppers know they’re there and should have the option of communicating with the beacon for relevant content that helps them shop and gives those who want it a more streamlined experience.”
Also expect more creative uses of smaller retail spaces, that analysis said. “Retail spaces are going to be significantly smaller while endless digital aisles will continue to expand. During the holidays, brands want to showcase all of their products but will have less physical space to do,” that report said. “More brands will adopt showroom-type locations to exhibit 5 percent to 10 percent of the most popular inventory items on the floor while branded in-store tech or apps display the rest.”
Even so, global economic uncertainly could also play a role in the upcoming holiday shopping season. But retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online, could still build off last year’s lucrative season.
According to First Data, Thanksgiving and Black Friday showed growth of 7.1 percent, versus the pre-holiday period. That came on top of the pre-holiday spend growth of 2.6 percent year on year. Breaking down the numbers a bit, retail pre-holiday spend was the slowest growth seen in three years at 1.3 percent. However, First Data said Thanksgiving and Black Friday growth was up 7.5 percent, driven by strong growth in both eCommerce and brick-and-mortar. U.S. total retail sales jumped 5.1 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 compared to 2017, according to Mastercard’s SpendingPulse. That would represent the sales season’s biggest growth in six years.
The season, by the numbers, was a bit uneven. Department stores saw a 1.3 percent decline, after two years of sales growth. Department store eCommerce, on the other hand, increased 10.2 percent year over year.
That fact hints at the bigger takeaway, which is that digital and multichannel sales were the big winners across the holiday shopping season. Amazon reported a record-breaking holiday season and was reportedly a major beneficiary of confident consumers’ appetite to shut down 2018 with some serious spending. Overall digital sales surged upwards 19 percent in 2018.
Get ready — the holiday season is just about upon us.