Reaching Shoppers this Holiday Season

Stephen DeAngelis

November 9, 2018

Holiday marketing is about to ramp up to its usual frenetic pace. Although online shopping has increased about 15% each year for the past few years, brick-and-mortar retailers still attract a fair share of holiday traffic. Although it seems holiday promotions and store displays push their way into stores earlier each year, Andrew Lipsman, Vice President of Marketing & Insights at comScoreTalk, asserts most Americans shoppers behave traditionally during the holiday shopping season. He explains, “Talk of earlier and earlier promotions gets peddled earlier and earlier every year, and for the most part, it doesn’t correspond to how consumers actually behave. While it’s true that there are always some anecdotal examples of holiday decorations going up in early October, this narrative incorrectly assumes that shoppers use these signals to ramp up their holiday shopping. On the contrary, most shoppers are accustomed to shopping in earnest after Thanksgiving, when the deals and promotions are both ubiquitous and compelling enough to substantially change their behavior in a way that spurs buying.”[1] If Lipsman is correct, then retailers will get their best returns on their marketing efforts by concentrating on the traditional holiday shopping season.


Holiday marketing tips


Cara Salpini (@CaraSalpini) notes, “Holiday shoppers come in all shapes and sizes: Some shop exclusively online and others buy exclusively in stores — some shop early, some late and some all the time.”[2] Citing a study from Cardlytics, a data analytics firm, Salpini notes there are four clearly-defined holiday shoppers. They are:


  • Steady shoppers: those who make purchases throughout the holiday season.
  • Early shoppers: those who front-load their holiday gift shopping.
  • Black Friday shoppers: those who buy the majority of their gifts on that one shopping holiday.
  • Late shoppers: those who back-end the whole process.


Early shoppers include consumers who routinely buy holiday gifts throughout the year — sometimes beginning the day after Christmas. These bargain hunters are looking for great gift ideas and don’t necessarily need to be targeted with seasonal discounts. All other categories of shoppers can be successfully targeted during the holiday season. Salpini insists, “As a marketer, it’s not advisable to isolate any of these shopper segments.” In other words, temporally segmenting shoppers (i.e., targeting them according to when they buy instead of what they buy) probably won’t provide the best marketing ROI. Dani Cushion, chief marketing officer at Cardlytics, told Salpini, “It’s all about price. It’s all about exclusive deals. It’s all about deep discounts and special things.” This should come as no surprise. The best conversion rates come when the right consumer is offered the right product at the right price. That’s what targeted marketing is all about. The holiday shopping season doesn’t change that formula.


Bernadette Wilson, a B2B marketing expert, explains, “The first step to marketing that works is defining your target market. Insights about this audience will give you the ability to develop effective messaging and campaigns.”[3] She adds, “Shotgun marketing works for companies that want to reach a very wide demographic. … It’s also more expensive.” As John Wanamaker, the late department store magnate, once stated, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half.” That’s the challenge with shotgun marketing. Targeted marketing was created to address concerns like those expressed by Wanamaker. Targeted marketing makes advertising more effective because it provides a better customer experience and greater return on investment. The philosophy behind targeted marketing is pretty simple. Dr. Chuck Hermans, a professor at Missouri State University, explains, “Not everyone is interested in, nor a good target for, every product or service offering. Marketing communications should be tailored to a particular audience.”[4]


Targeted marketing begins with data


Targeted marketing is not a new phenomenon. The earliest retailers knew whether their products were more attractive to men or women, adults or children, and they marketed their wares accordingly. Today, most businesses have lot more data about their customers and so are better situated to make targeting decisions. Julie Lockner (@julielockner), global data platform and partner marketing program lead for InterSystems, notes, “Retailers [can] utilize real-time data analysis to their advantage.”[5] Below are some of the ways Lockner recommends retailers use data during the holiday shopping season.


  • Targeted ads. “Retailers can analyze customer data in real time, including location-based data, and deliver the appropriate ad to the right person at the perfect time on the correct channel, helping increase the likelihood of a sale. … The ability to provide targeted ads across channels will become increasingly important.”
  • Personalized offers. “Similar to how retailers can use real-time analysis to deliver targeted ads to their customers, marketers can use the information to provide micro-personalized offers, deals and coupons to consumers that help strengthen customer relationships and drive revenue growth. For example, if a company is marketing a new product, it can utilize real-time data analytics to personalize offers via web and mobile apps and target them to individuals accordingly. If a customer is known to be ‘price sensitive,’ a two for one deal may be the appropriate offer; however, if a customer is just the opposite, offering a premiere, exclusive upsell option may be more appropriate.”
  • Optimize the in-store experience. “Real-time data analysis can also be used to help optimize store and display layouts, track sales of merchandise in real-time, and adjust for wait times at checkout lines. Innovations in augmented reality also give customers the ultimate shopping experience by overlaying product information when viewing a product package with a smart phone. This ultimately improves the overall shopping experience for customers.”
  • Brand awareness. “By monitoring and tracking brand perception in real-time across social media channels, retailers can be alerted to and respond to any customer concerns, comments or negative sentiment in real-time. This allows retailers to be active participants in conversations about their brand and make any necessary adjustments in a timely manner. It does not take long for one marketing message mistake to impact a hyper connected customer and hurt a brand in one day. It is important to have a real-time feedback loop from social media interactions to flag negative sentiment quickly and have responses in the queue.”


Lockner concludes, “The right real-time technology and analysis provides retailers with the insight needed to offer the customized services consumers want. With the increase in customer data around the holidays, opportunities to use real-time data analysis to enhance consumer customer experience abound.” Customers are always looking for gift ideas and help during the holidays. Salpini notes, “The NRF found that 63% of shoppers would like to use online wish lists to help organize their gift purchases, although only a quarter of respondents currently do. With that kind of interest, marketers should consider making those types of features available during the holiday season, as well as adjusting SEO to drive traffic off of popular searches like ‘good stocking stuffers’ and ‘gifts for kids’.” Reaching the right customer with the right product is always a challenge. The holiday shopping season is the right time to use data to get things right.


[1] Andrew Lipsman, “Busting 5 Holiday Shopping Myths That Come Up Every Year,” Longitudes, 11 December 2016.
[2] Cara Salpini, “4 types of holiday shoppers marketers need to reach,” Retail Dive, 13 October 2017.
[3] Bernadette Wilson, “Improve Marketing ROI by Defining Your Target Market,” DevPro Journal, 9 October 2018.
[4] Chuck Hermans, “Divide and Conquer: Segmentation, targeting and positioning,” Springfield News-Leader, 22 May 2016.
[5] Julie Lockner, “The Importance of Real-Time Analytics Around the Holidays,” MarTech Advisor, 12 December 2016.