Brands have had to overcome countless hurdles over the past few holiday seasons. With rising inflation, supply chain issues, shipping delays, workforce shortages and potential new COVID strains, this year will be no different. To ensure your brand is ready for whatever this holiday season throws our way, Merkle just released its 2022 Holiday Preparation Playbook, which breaks down the prominent trends emerging this year, the keys to success around those trends and how to stand out in a crowded market.

How Brands Can Reimagine Their Approach For The Hybrid Shopper

This holiday season, focusing solely on ecommerce and delivery could eat into your bottom line. At the same time, if you only drive in-store shopping, you’ll miss out on opportunities to convert. A brand’s best bet is using a hybrid model. Here are some ways to set up yours for success.

Tighten Up Your Logistics 

  • Given that consumers want to know how many products are left in their size and desired color, and where to find them, transparency about inventory and product availability is a baseline requirement. So it’s important to ensure your product information management (PIM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other platforms are up to date.

Embrace A Total Commerce Approach 

  • The way that your brand ventures into the holiday season must be centralized—including budget, KPIs and internal alignment. If your organization isn’t working toward a single, unified goal on the back end, your front-end experiences will never truly align.

Make The Physical More Experiential

  • Consumers make purchase decisions online now more than they ever have before, but that doesn’t mean they won’t shop in-store. Moving into the holiday seasons, it’s important that you get more people through the door by creating specialized experiences only available in physical retail spaces.

Consider Delivery Hubs 

  • Brands with a large footprint should identify underperforming stores and help drive foot traffic while freeing up delivery congestion at other stores by converting the underperforming ones into dedicated destinations for curbside pickup; buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) or ship from store.

Embrace The Store-Within-A-Store Concept 

  • Retailers and CPGs can win this holiday season by embracing the concept of a store-within-a-store. While CPGs can benefit from the additional visibility opportunities by partnering with a retailer for a dedicated space within an established brick-and-mortar, retailers can optimize square footage and offer their customers another reason to shop in person.

How To Blend Your Physical And Digital Spaces

  • To maximize your physical and digital space, Merkle suggests creating a virtual showroom. Part of the appeal of in-store shopping is the ability to see, feel and try on products before purchasing them. Offer this experience to the customers who can’t make it in person by creating a virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) tool that puts them in the outfit or showcases the furniture in their home.
  • It’s now common practice to offer certain products exclusively online, but doing so can put some of your in-store customers at a disadvantage. Merkle advises providing those shoppers with an on-shelf QR code or physical lookbook so they can purchase additional online-exclusive products.

Meeting Customer Needs In An Uncertain World

Due in part to budget constraints, some consumers choose to spread out their holiday spending over several months rather than all at once. Merkle’s tip is to prepare and promote holiday products and deals as early as the changing of the leaves. In addition, pay attention to what consumers expect from your brand. According to Merkle’s research, along with that of other leading organizations, 42 percent of consumers believe that in-store purchasing is the most convenient way to receive products. Thirty-six percent feel the same about home delivery while just 13 percent feel the same about curbside pickup. Only 9 percent of consumers feel BOPIS is the most convenient way to receive products.

Additionally, research shows that roughly half of ecommerce sales will take place on mobile apps in 2022. Plus, 63 percent of consumers want free shipping and feel it’s very important in delivering convenient experiences. Sixty-nine percent feel brands should offer new ways to receive products. And according to Merkle’s first-party data, 42 percent of consumers want to handle customer service issues in-person rather than by phone, website, email, chatbot or social media. Here are more ways to meet customers’ needs in an uncertain world.

Plan KPIs For The Entire Quarter 

  • Though Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the two biggest shopping days of the season, it would be nearsighted to measure success based on that one week given the holiday shopping season now runs the entirety of Q4. Ensure your KPIs account for the entire season and that you’re planning for sustainable growth as opposed to a spike in the last week of November.

Cover The Basics 

  • Although we’re no longer dealing with lockdowns, several peak pandemic-era amenities are now necessities, including curbside pickup, BOPIS and other delivery methods.
  • Help streamline transactions by offering as many payment options as possible, including self-checkout, contactless checkout, mobile checkout and a buy now, pay later (BNPL) feature—which is particularly critical moving forward.

Align Your Options To Customers’ Experiences

  • Tap into your first-party data to determine how your customers like to pay for and receive products.
  • Serve up and pre-populate the payment, delivery and other options that best align with their preferences and habits.
  • Given inflation is affecting markets and segments differently, regional and demographic preferences and data are key.
  • Even if your system isn’t able to accommodate regional variances, be transparent about the options available and how your customers can engage with your brand to get what they’re looking for.

Consider Your Marketplace Strategy 

  • Because of the increased visibility and access to a broader range of consumers, it’s no longer a choice whether you should sell your products on a marketplace—it’s a necessity.
  • You don’t want to give all of your products and hold on relationships with customers away to third parties. Find the balance between which products will go on a marketplace and which will remain exclusive to your owned channels.

The Role of Content: How Brands Can Communicate Effectively Given The Hurdles Along The Way

Holiday planning starts at the beginning of summer and demands a well-thought-out, agile and flexible strategy. As you’re configuring these plans, remember that consumer behavior can change minute-by-minute; this means that your messaging, approach and priorities must be able to pivot at a moment’s notice. Customer loyalty and their purchasing decisions will be affected by how you respond during these periods of adjustment, so be transparent and communicative. Here’s where to start to get your content right.

Plan Out Your Calendar 

  • Most consumers have a budget that’s been set in stone. For this reason, it’s important that you capture as much of that budget as possible as early in the holiday season as possible, but do so without offering your best deals before Black Friday. To this aim and to drive demand throughout the season, take time to be deliberate about and stagger your offers and releases.
  • Check your plans against your data and be intentional about who gets what offer and when. For example, for customers who exhibit behavior that indicates a high likelihood that they’ll make a purchase this season, adjust your offer cadence to expedite their purchase or delay the offer to see whether they’ll purchase without the added incentive.
  • Leveraging your data to be more deliberate and precise about when to deploy the offers you have planned can help protect margin during these deep promotional periods.

Give A Reason To Believe

  • If you’re not among a customer’s top brands for product consideration, you may not get the opportunity to attract much attention. For this reason, it’ll be critical to give consumers a reason why and when to buy from you.
  • Be creative in finding ways to inform them about what’s coming so they can save some of their budgets, if necessary, and give you that consideration.

Leverage Chance-To-Win Promotions 

  • One of the most impactful strategies you can deploy leading up to and during the 2022 holiday season is running promotions to engage consumers. They help gather zero- and first-party data while impacting several necessary points of emphasis.
  • Chance-to-win promotions help drive conversions and increase sales; motivate specific, desired consumer behavior; bring consumers together to create social movements and train, engage and reward seasonal retail workers.

Focus On Charitable Efforts 

  • Remember that you won’t want to talk solely about your offers for the entirety of the season. Intersperse other in-demand topics such as sustainability, social-impact activities and how your brand gives back to its communities.
  • For younger consumers, a product’s price and quality are two considerations among many that influence their purchase decisions.
  • How you engage with society and the issues of the day are major drivers of how consumers behave with your brand as 83 percent of Gen Z consumers and 76 percent of millennials feel that brands should take a stance on social issues.
  • The holiday season offers a strategic time to share your charitable initiatives and potentially provide incentives for your customers to give back as well. A promotion, for example, that donates a portion of sales to charity provides an opportunity to drive purchases without a discount.

Holiday Content Ideas

Here are Merkle’s tips for engaging your customers using chance-to-win promotions from September through to the end of the year.

  • Digital Wish List With Chances To Win: Drive online engagement, time spent, education and incremental sales by offering online customers an interactive tool that allows them to build a personalized online wish list that they can then send to others. One lucky winner will receive everything on their wishlist.
  • Hashtag Sweepstakes: “Hashtag-to-win” campaigns on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok can be built quickly and are a simple way to grow your follower base, engage fans, build buzz and showcase user-generated content (UGC).
  • Days Of Giving Sweepstakes: Launch an advent calendar-inspired campaign where one consumer is offered a mystery price each day it’s active. The daily mystery prize will lure new consumers to your brand while building your database and keeping your brand at the forefront of people’s minds throughout your most crucial revenue-driving period of the year.