In 2016, How Good a Job Did You Do Anticipating Customers' Holiday Shopping Habits?

How understanding and anticipating your customers' behavior can drive more sales this holiday season
In 2016, How Good a Job Did You Do Anticipating Customers' Holiday Shopping Habits?
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In 2015, between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, ecommerce sales increased by 20 percent over the same period in 2014. When this year's 2016's, holiday-shopping sprint ends this month, ecommerce figures are expected to rise yet again -- an estimated 17.2 percent.

Related: Forget Cyber Monday: Here Are the 2015 Holiday Retail Sales Trends

It’s no secret that the holiday season is huge for retailers -- both on and offline -- but that doesn’t mean we should let the period play out unaided. Leveraging customer data to better prepare for next year's, 2017's, holiday season (even as you're finishing out this year's holiday) will pay. The first step? Anticipate customers' holiday shopping habits to maximize this critical time of year.

Learn what motivates your customers to buy. 

Every purchase is driven by a very specific motivation. That motivation won’t be the same each and every time we buy something, nor will someone making the exact same purchase necessarily share our motivation. But, at its most basic, the reason we buy generally belongs to one of two categories:

  • A want
  • A need

Dig a little deeper, however, and you'll see countless factors that influence our decision to buy.

  • We’re celebrating.
  • We want to reward ourselves.
  • We feel down and want to cheer ourselves up.
  • We know we’ll have a need for this thing in the near future (i.e., we need wine for Friday night’s dinner party, even though it’s only Monday).
  • We need this thing right now (i.e., we’re out of toilet paper).

And of course, sometimes we’re buying for others.

  • In celebration of a holiday or birthday
  • “Just because”
  • As an apology
  • That person bought us a gift, and we feel obliged to return the gesture.

Consumers’ motivations for buying have a significant impact on their shopping habits. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of these reasons to buy, and how they can change. A genuine need for something right now? Chances are, we won’t be fussy about it, and we’ll probably be willing to pay more than we should.

A realization that we’ll need something in the near future? We'll be happy to wait until we can get the right item at the right price. 

Related: Revealed: The Online Holiday Shipping Deadlines for This Year

A Christmas gift? Initially we might not be too fussy, but as the 25th inches closer, the more urgent our “need” to buy becomes.

Understanding why your customers buy from you is key to anticipating how their habits will change during the holiday period.

Identify your audience.

To anticipate your customers’ holiday shopping habits, first understand who it is that’s buying from you. To do this, identify your target audience (or in many cases, audiences).

If you operate in a niche market, you may have a single “target audience.” Retailers that sell a wider range of products are going to have a greater number of target audiences. 

Begin painting a picture of the people you sell to by looking at your current customers, paying special attention to those who are the most loyal. Why are these people buying from you? What traits or habits do they share? Can you spot any patterns in what they buy, and when? 

Tools like Shopify’s Point of Sale software can help you identify common attributes your audience shares and trends they tend to follow.

Look at where your visitors --  especially those that convert -- are coming from, too. This can reveal your most profitable traffic sources, and help you identify channels that have the potential to be more profitable if you increase the time and funds assigned to them.

Use this information to create detailed profiles of your target customers that you can leverage to make more informed decisions about how to sell to them.

Segment your audience data.

So, now you should have a clear picture of who’s buying from you and why, as well as where those sales are coming from. Next, you need to segment your customer data so you can see how their behavior changes during the holiday season.

While there is no “official” start date for the holiday shopping season, retailers generally begin to push for Christmas sales after Halloween, or from the first of November. Things really ramp up for Black Friday and pretty much stay that way until the last store shuts its doors on Christmas Eve (ecommerce stores obviously wrap up their Christmas sales a little earlier).

When segmenting your data, you’ll probably want to start by looking at the period beginning a month or so before the holiday shopping season generally kicks off. This will ensure that you get a clear picture of when your sales begin to spike, and how hard and fast they grow (or don’t grow) from that point on.

Use this data to influence your marketing strategy.

There’s little point in collecting all this information if you don’t leverage it to boost sales. Changes you might make could include (but certainly aren’t limited to): 

  • Investing more cash into channels that consistently drive high-converting traffic your way
  • Configuring ads to display only during periods that your audience is most active and most likely to buy
  • Highlighting your most popular seasonal products during your holiday email marketing
  • Doing the same with your holiday ads
  • Segmenting email and ad campaigns to target regular customers with specific messages as the holiday season begins
  • Creating gift guides to drive traffic to and boost sales of your most popular products during the holiday season

Related: Guess How Much People Will Spend on Gifts This Holiday Season

How good a job have you done with these steps this holiday season? What's on your plate -- besides sugar cookies for Santa -- for next year?

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