Holiday Shopping – The Aftermath

With the 2013 Holiday shopping season behind us, let’s examine what actually happened – and may actually still be going on now.

While we often refer to it as “holiday shopping”, every year more and more retailers are pushing their “start dates” earlier and earlier. “Christmas in July” was first used by advertisers as a marketing tool in 1950 with Browning King running a print ad in The New York Times. At the time, Christmas in July was more of an inventory cleanout to make room for that year’s holiday stock. This kind of extension of the holiday season is becoming more of a reality for retailers. Kmart ran its first holiday commercial in early September and other retailers placed advertisements before the end of the summer. The gradually growing holiday shopping season is fueled by the increasingly fierce competition amongst retailers with the online market getting involved as well.

We know that 2013 was the year that online holiday shopping really came into its own with notable increases across the board and from mobile devices in particular. With all the focus on online shopping, it’s worth noting that this past year marked the first decline in Black Friday spending since 2009. It is also worth pointing that that just as the holiday shopping season has been gradually expanding, “Black Friday” seems to be following the same format. Many retailers launched their Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving, and many use the term to include sales that occurred up to a week before the actual day.

There is also significant evidence to suggest people were better off purchasing early rather than waiting for the “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” deals. A study by Adgooroo, a leading provider of Digital Marketing Intelligence, revealed that average asking prices for many electronics were significantly less in early November than on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. As an example, the iPad Mini was advertised for $284 in early November compared to $302 and $340 respectively on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It seems that “Christmas in July” thinking may have some real merit after all. This also opens up tremendous marketing and sales opportunities for those that accurately track real time prices especially during the holiday shopping season. Repricing for the Black Friday and Cyber Monday period can be a great way to boost your bottom line.

This holiday shopping season also saw a tremendous amount of last minute shopping. This surge, coupled with online retailers guaranteeing on time delivery for Christmas also led to a shipping failure, the impact of which may be felt for years to come. A combination of bad weather and last minute shopping led to a significant amount of “guaranteed for Christmas” deliveries arriving late. Many retailers were quick to offer gift cards or refunds for shipping costs, but this is typically one time of the year when there is no real way to make up for your order arriving a day late. While the actual fault may lie with UPS and other shipping companies, it’s the retailers that felt the brunt of customer frustration, and those same customers may make different decisions in coming years regarding their holiday shopping.

On the subject of shipping, there is another noteworthy trend that should have a significant impact on the “real” numbers from the 2013 holiday shopping season. With retailers pushing fast free shipping and returns, The Wall Street Journal reported that 15% of all online orders should be expected to be returned for the 2013 holiday shopping season. However since these returns will likely be occurring through the month of January, the reported numbers for the 2013 shopping season do not take this into account, resulting in a somewhat inflated number being currently floated around.

What other notable trends did you notice this holiday season, and what do you think their impact will be going forward?

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Arie Shpanya

Arie is the COO, Executive Chairman, and Co-Founder of Wiser, a dynamic pricing and merchandising engine for online retailers and brands. He has extensive experience in business development with a focus on eCommerce (eBay and Amazon), and is a guest blogger on Econsultancy, VentureBeat, and more.