Consumers’ personal finances are in flux. This holiday season, they’re adjusting their shopping strategy with long-term benefits in mind.
There’s a lot of economic uncertainty right now, and consumers are feeling the pinch in their daily lives. Brands are feeling the pinch, too. Marketers are working with leaner budgets and making targeted bets on their efforts this holiday season.
From inflation and privacy updates to shifts in how consumers discover new products, the macro trends we’re watching touch on a common theme. Customer retention will be in the spotlight this holiday season.
Brands’ success will ultimately come down to leading with transparency and empathy. Shoppers remain committed to holiday traditions (shopping included). They want to be in the loop, know that they’re getting a good deal, and feel good about choosing your brand.
Inflation will lead to an extended shopping window
Consumers are feeling the effects of inflation in their everyday lives, spending more on gas and food than they have in almost 50 years. Many are looking for more affordable swaps for their usual items or hunting for deals so they can choose their preferred brands.
With even more economic uncertainty on the horizon, shoppers are looking to future-proof their finances with small changes right now. Consumers won’t want to forgo holiday traditions, though. There’ll be a strong desire to spend on gifts for loved ones. We think this will play out in three key ways this holiday season.
First, shoppers will be more likely to kick off their holiday shopping as early as September. With prices going up, they want to hedge their bets and lock in cheaper prices. You’ll need to start inspiring shoppers with gift guides and user-generated content (UGC) early on to make sure you’re on their radar.
Second, they’ll spread their purchases out to be able to splurge on special items from their favorite brands. You’ll need to nurture these shoppers and educate them on why they should shop with your brand—whether that’s your values or the quality of your products.
Finally, consumers are going to be on the hunt for deals. Not only do they want to save money—they want to feel like they made a smart choice. Shoppers will act quickly to take advantage of a deal. Brands will need to build buzz ahead of sales, and then share them with shoppers directly to break through the noise.
Student loan forgiveness will encourage shoppers to spend more over Black Friday and Cyber Monday
As borrowers anticipate their student loan balances dropping, debt forgiveness will effectively feel like a stimulus check during the peak shopping season.
And it’s not just the balance of their loans that'll make consumers more inclined to spend. Revamped payment plans and a concrete start date have shoppers feeling much more confident about their financial future (taking the edge off inflation).
As a result, consumers are going to feel like they have more to spend over Black Friday. During an extended shopping season, brands will need to create a marketing strategy that builds excitement leading up to Cyber Week.
Dedicate September and October to earning attention from (and nurturing) shoppers, educating them with inspirational content. November should build on that foundation, promoting offers and perks shoppers can take advantage of when they’re feeling the most ready to spend.
The key to successfully capturing subscribers’ attention will be leaning into brand empathy. Mindful of how their audience was feeling about their wallets, Everlane recently ran a promotion that called back to less stressful times. The playful, empathetic copy signaled to the brand’s customers that they were right there with them.
Rather than relying on your historical Cyber Week messaging, adapt your communications to be mindful of the financial headspace your shoppers are in. They’ll appreciate thoughtfully curated recommendations and deals so they feel like they’re making a smart choice (and saving money).
TikTok will be many shoppers’ primary research and discovery tool
For younger shoppers, TikTok is quickly becoming the default way they discover and search for new products. According to a recent report from TikTok, 56% of their users are coming to the platform to discover new products or brands. For Gen-Z, TikTok is even taking the place of mainstay channels: an executive at Google recently noted that roughly 40% of young consumers are searching on TikTok or Instagram over Google Maps or Search.
When you were looking for a gift in the past, you’d usually type “personalized charm necklace” in Google. Now, you can trust that you’ll come across something on TikTok or Instagram without having to go looking for yourself. And it’ll probably match your taste.
We think this fundamental shift from active to passive product discovery will lead to two changes in the way Gen-Z holiday shops. First, they’re going to wait for brands to come to them, whether that’s on social media or on direct marketing channels like SMS and email. Consumers will expect those interactions to be personalized to their needs and preferences, just like they expect their social media feeds to be.
With shoppers waiting for those “aha” product discovery moments, they’re more likely to spread their purchases out. They’ll click “buy” when inspiration strikes, which gives you a larger window to engage them.
Another interesting effect is consumers are spending more on these “impulse” purchases than ever before, partly in reaction to long-running economic uncertainty. You have an opportunity to increase average order values (AOVs). Your marketing should center around bundled recommendations—like makeup that can be worn together—to encourage shoppers to add complimentary items to their cart to complete their looks.
iOS16 updates will encourage brands to future-proof their marketing strategies
Apple’s iOS16 privacy updates are making marketing on Facebook and Google a bit more challenging. Without targeted and accurate data, advertising through those channels has become more inefficient and expensive. That being said, they’re not going anywhere.
Facebook and Google ads are an essential part of a top-of-funnel (TOFU) marketing strategy, helping you capture new customers’ attention and build brand awareness. It’s a mainstay that you can (and should) continue to invest in. But to future-proof your brand from continued declines in ad performance, you’ll need to diversify your marketing mix.
An extended holiday shopping season means your brand has a window of higher web traffic and engagement ahead of Black Friday. It’s the perfect chance to experiment, shifting some of your ad budget to direct marketing channels. Brands should also use a part of their advertising budget to drive consumers to their existing direct marketing programs.
These channels—like SMS, email, and loyalty programs—will help you build 1:1 relationships with shoppers. You’ll also be able to capture valuable first- and zero-party data that you can use to personalize interactions across channels. You’ll ultimately deliver more personalized messages that your audience will hear during the busiest time of year. Plus, you’ll be able to engage them after the holiday season—an investment in your future success.
Retention marketing will take the spotlight
In a recent report by CommerceNext, 61% of retailers said customer acquisition getting more expensive was one of their biggest challenges in 2022. That means brands will need to double down on retention to drive success this holiday season.
Luckily, the odds are in your brand’s favor. Many shoppers want to buy from their favorite brands and are looking for incentives to do so. Sharing your values or what makes your most popular products special will help remind shoppers what they like about you without feeling promotional. Then, when it’s time to drive conversions, you can entice loyal shoppers with exclusive perks or offers to make them feel appreciated.
Brands will also need to invest in their loyalty programs to deliver personalized experiences that keep shoppers coming back. For example, REI does a great job of adding value to their Co-op loyalty program. Members have exclusive access to sales and mark-downs on items relevant to them. If, for instance, you’re a Co-op member in the market for new hiking gear, REI will send you targeted offers on technical backpacks.
Finally, with prices in flux, consumers expect transparency from brands. They understand changes are inevitable, but they want to be brought along on your journey. If your brand needs to make changes to your prices, adjust the perks you offer to offset rising costs, or change the way you produce your items, let your customers know. Leading with empathy and transparency will ultimately help you increase brand loyalty.
Building your community of brand loyalists will help you surf any waves that come up this holiday season. Be mindful of what your audience is experiencing, and tailor your messaging (and delivery) to meet their needs.