Retailers have gotten into the habit of relying on that six-week holiday push to make up for any rough patches throughout the year, and that’s a mistake, according to Sean Wilkins, vice president of strategy at data and analytics company Zeta Global. He spoke with eMarketer’s Tricia Carr about how retailers can differentiate themselves during the holidays and why they can benefit from breaking out of the seasonal retail cycle.
eMarketer: What’s your advice for retailers to break through in the crowded holiday season and attract shoppers?
Sean Wilkins: There’s a big correlation between the holiday season and the expectation for discounts and markdowns, but competing on price will only get you so far. It’s a race to the bottom, and it’s not effective. If you coach your audience like that, they’re always going to be looking for the cheaper deal. There will always be those kind of shoppers, but you have to break out of that mindset.
To do that, retailers have to put themselves in the shoes of the holiday buyer. Shoppers deal with a ton of distractions, so how can retailers leverage data to take steps out of the process and solve some of the basic problems?“Stop thinking like a seasonal retailer and focus more on the customer experience.”
eMarketer: What are some examples of that?
Wilkins: One is pre-populated shopping lists or tailored recommendations that are based on a mix of past purchase behavior and inferred preferences based on trends, browser behavior, etc. If a customer bought infant clothing last year, it’s reasonable to assume that child has grown, and now they’re interested in clothing and toys for toddlers. Being able to anticipate that, get ahead of that, and cater to that need without the customer asking for it is key.
eMarketer: A lot of retailers seem to revert to a mass-marketing approach during the holidays, and it becomes a free-for-all to fight for consumers’ attention. Is there anything that can prevent this from happening?
Wilkins: Holiday is essentially mid-November until the day before Christmas, and there’s a ridiculous amount of noise during that period of time. If you expect holiday to solve your problems and close your year, you’re going to fail.
Stop thinking like a seasonal retailer and focus more on the customer experience. When everybody else is following that standard seasonal wave, there’s a massive opportunity to break through during the quiet spaces in September and October between back-to-school and the holidays, and get ahead of the cycle.