This Holiday Season Must Be Powered With Real-Time Insights

By Jil Maassen, Lead Strategy Consultant, Optimizely

2020 has ripped up the retail rulebook. First there was a total lockdown of in store spending, then during the summer retailers fought hard to reopen doors and start repairing their losses. However, many uncertainties remain in the coming months and we are still far from business as normal. In the run-up to Christmas, retailers will likely be torn between stockpiling ahead of the ‘usual’ seasonal rush, both in terms of e-commerce demands and seasonal staffing numbers in stores, versus keeping a stable balance sheet in light of the uncertainties still surrounding consumer spending.

One thing is for sure, the dramatic shift to online retail is set to continue for the foreseeable, and getting it right when targeting consumers is going to be more important than ever to keep them spending.

Making a list, checking it twice – finding out what’s naughty or nice

However, with every challenge comes opportunity. Never before has this much consumer data been generated, as the majority moved to online spending through lockdown. Which for savvy retailers, means getting unparalleled insights into what consumers want, and how best to give it to them. Ahead of the holiday season, retailers need to capitalise on this insight, and through experimentation and personalisation, take what they have learnt about their consumers and use this insight to drive demand.

Experimentation is a great tool for this, allowing retailers to trial whether an interesting idea or theory about consumer preference, doesn’t become a costly mistake when put into practice. Through experimenting with their website layout, for example, retailers can test in small scale environments whether a new feature or adaptation could help to support this new surge in online demand, drive traffic to particular areas of their website or grow consumer’s baskets ahead of checkout. They can trial if having a sign up form or implementing a digital queue might help manage a consumers’ digital journey better, or even increase demand for certain items. Then for the things that prove popular with consumers, they can scale up, and for those that don’t, they can pull the experiment without too much financial impact.

Wrapping it up in personalisation

Consumers also want personalised shopping experiences, and are increasingly frustrated with ‘targeted’ ads that miss the mark – usually due to catch-all methods powered by demographic or predictive data that isn’t accurate enough. For instance, a parent who buys a toy for their child for Christmas, won’t want to continually see similar product recommendations, once it’s already been purchased. Likewise, homeowners this year may want to see more home or gardening improvement recommendations, with many in-store retailers of these items seeing greater demand since reopening, as people spruce up their surroundings during lockdown. A simple solution to this can be to implement a ‘is this a gift’ checkbox, which then updates the customer’s ad preferences, and stops any frustration around irrelevant recommendations.

Similarly, as popular search engine searches change with the seasons, a reactive web page which adjusts content, such as titles or descriptions, to match the exact search terms used by a consumer can increase conversions for particular items. These pages may have been optimised for the demand of previous holiday seasons, but will need to adapt quicker through this one.

Experimentation is not just for Christmas 

The 2020 holiday season is going to be uncertain, quickly evolving and subject to change. As e-commerce continues to accelerate and the fight to win consumers escalates, retailers must use experimentation to master personalisation, not just for Christmas, but to secure their future.

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