How to Use Data, Targeting and Offers to Boost Holiday Sales

10 Tips for Marketers to Increase Retail Sales During the Holiday Season

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Televisions displayed for sale at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location ahead of Black Friday last year.
Televisions displayed for sale at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location ahead of Black Friday last year. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
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With nearly 20% of annual retail sales in some way connected to the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday period, brands and retailers that don't make every attempt to optimize their marketing outreach during and before the holidays are at risk of losing sales to more aggressive players. Here are 10 tips to help marketers increase their holiday sales:

1. Create a sense of urgency via count-downs. For example, if a discount is ending soon or inventory on an item is running low, dynamically serve copy to reflect urgency on popular items (i.e. "Only 7 left!"). A few popular brands that have applied a sale count-down tactic in their advertising are Abercrombie, Hollister and Walmart.

2. Put your first-party data to work. Leverage your CRM list, mobile data, email segments, offline data and more to maximize your best shoppers, both as repeat customers to retarget and for seeding a model for new customers. Seek strategic partners who can help you augment and enrich you own data and find prospects similar to existing and loyal customers. For example, in this LiveRamp webinar, a Sephora marketing director discusses onboarding its first-party data to track the offline impact of its digital marketing efforts.

3. Appeal to self-gifters. Surveys show that more shoppers actually purchase gifts for themselves on and around Black Friday and don't switch into gift-giving mode until Cyber Week. Leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, experiment with offers that encourage shoppers to treat themselves (like Ann Taylor did here).

4. Don't overconcentrate your budget on a few days. It's shortsighted to spend 90% of your holiday budget on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Not only does the cost of advertising rise dramatically on these key shopping days, our trended shopping data reveals that although search volume and clicks go up during Thanksgiving weekend, a significant percentage of shoppers don't actually convert until the following week. A strategic e-commerce marketer will spread its budget through Cyber Week and leading up to the holidays in order to capture higher-intent shoppers who are ready to pull the trigger on the gifts they researched the previous week.

5. Dynamically offer free shipping on items with a high profit margin and low shipping costs. The vast majority of shoppers are seeking free shipping above all other discounts. To capitalize on this incentive, create a formula for calculating items with a high enough retail value and a low enough shipping expense that you can offer free shipping on those items for a limited time. If free shipping is difficult for you to budget, consider offering it only for minimum purchase orders to incentivize shoppers who plan to buy multiple gifts at your store.

6. Refocus audience data on bottom-of-the-funnel shoppers. Going broad with your audience during the year is a great way to widen your reach, promote your brand and generate awareness. However, during the holidays many shoppers will finally pull the trigger on their considered purchases; it's important to go after audiences with a demonstrated intent to buy (i.e. they looked at a specific product, like golf clubs), rather than a related behavior (i.e. they have read articles about popular golf clubs). As holiday shoppers get lower in the purchase funnel, so should your targeting efforts.

7. Take advantage of industry specialization. Especially with so much revenue at stake during the holidays, it's important to partner with companies that offer best-of-class services in your vertical. Rather than activating against standard, widely available segments, an auto brand could leverage data from Polk; a finance company could use data from Experian; and an e-commerce brand could leverage data sources from sites like Shopzilla and PriceGrabber. Gaining access to new and highly relevant third-party data sources helps you expand your first-party data to land more in-market customers.

8. Plan for a marathon of continuous optimization. Remember that the holidays are a six-week period; as the holiday period progresses, you will see more activity and data. The longer A/B tests run, tracking pixels are in place, and shoppers convert, the more you learn about what's working. Take advantage of your own growing intelligence as the holiday season progresses and optimize your own performance as you go. Tip: Use priority scoring to more accurately evaluate which products to surface based on a variety of factors, such as item availability, margins, discounts and likelihood to convert -- this scoring should get better as the holiday season progresses.

9. Don't let viewability crowd out other KPIs. Pick your metrics based on what sells the product. Marketers sometimes assume above-the-fold viewability is essential for high performance, but certain products may sell from alternative placement at the right price point. Viewability is only one of many driving factors -- incentives and product may be more important than ad placement, so don't rule out opportunities based solely on viewability.

10. Get a leg up on 2016. Marketers should start to prepare for next year's key seasons and holiday period as soon as this one wraps up. Focus on building out your databases, establishing new data partnerships, and applying the lessons learned from this year to get ahead of next year's rush. Consider your media mix; which elements of your holiday strategy could perform better, and why? Where did you need more (or better) partnerships, resources, preparation, talent, technology or budget? Prioritize getting those in place early in 2016 so you can prepare for greater success during next year's peak buying periods for your brand.