Responding to the Online Shopping Shift

Holiday shopping proved to be quite different this year as the country continued adjusting to the global pandemic and shoppers limited their trips to physical stores. The growth the industry saw in digital commerce in 2020 entered a new stage as consumers turned to online shopping for the holidays.

With Target and Walmart closing their brick-and-mortar locations on Thanksgiving, consumers were further encouraged to shop online. Even in 2019, well before the pandemic spread to the U.S., more turkey day shoppers made purchases through retailer websites (142.2 million) than in-store (124 million).

While there has never been a holiday shopping season quite like this last one, we endured other holidays in 2020 that provided a few indications about what was to come. The resulting data proved to be invaluable to brands looking to connect with shoppers over the holidays — and might continue helping through the first half of 2021 as well.

Target Shoppers with Data-Driven Insights
In the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July — a period in which most of the country had come out of lockdown but was still hesitant to return to crowded locations — sales of cocktail and margarita mixes increased 51% above the year-ago period. Premixed alcoholic cocktails saw a sales jump of 128%, while snack foods like potato chips (+75%) and tortilla chips (+76%) increased as well.

In preparation for Mother’s Day, consumers purchased more candles (+171%), bath products (+42%) and women’s fragrances (+37%) than they did in 2019. Not surprisingly, social media queries for “family video calls” rose more than 500%.

The holiday season naturally led to more socially distanced gift-giving, additional online orders and even more group video calls. Social media engagement for “Christmas shopping” (+93%) was higher than “cook along” (+64%), but “virtual holiday” (+1,146%) proved be a dominant search of the season.

Brands used data-driven insights like these to form a stronger connection with shoppers by developing festive content and ideas that met their current needs. While businesses were planning for the holiday rush, there was a lot to be learned by looking at the shopping habits of the previous holidays experienced under the pandemic.

Connect with Shoppers at Any Time or Location
With the shift toward e-commerce, many brands decided to launch their holiday promotions a bit earlier last year. Rather than waiting for Thanksgiving weekend, Black Friday sales began as far back as October — with many retailers promoting month-long deals. In doing so, both retailers and brands expanded the shopping season and catered to the changing needs and expectations of consumers who were adapting as well.

As CPGs look for ways to increase awareness on physical and digital shelves, they can align with consumer needs and ensure they’re providing value to shoppers by focusing on campaigns that offer unique ways to celebrate holidays. This can be vital to brands that want to strengthen their relationship with consumers, particularly those who may not be as easy to reach if they are not shopping via traditional brick-and-mortar channels.

Instead of implementing a strategy that’s focused partially or entirely on in-store promotions, CPGs should look for ways to connect with consumers at any time or location. In addition to having a robust digital strategy, CPGs may want to engage with influencers who can, in turn, engage directly with shoppers.

Eighty percent of marketers believe that influencer marketing is effective and, as consumers go online searching for holiday ideas — whether shopping for gifts, looking for recipes or simply discovering new ways to enjoy the festivities — influencers can help amplify brand messages in an authentic way.

Given the current climate and how quickly things can change, CPGs should be creative but flexible in whatever they choose to do, choosing omnichannel strategies that allow for agility as situations develop.

About the Author
Steven Boal
founded Quotient Technology in 1998 and serves as its chief executive officer and chairman of the board of directors. Quotient is a leading CPG and retail marketing technology provider that delivers personalized digital promotions and ads to millions of shoppers daily.