Outlook for the Holiday Season

by Stephen Lett

This could be a difficult holiday season. It could be a rough ride, especially for hard goods (non-apparel) catalogers, i.e., gift catalogs.  With all the unknown variables from the National Election, European Union and Amazon, we need to be proactive this holiday season. Any one of these factors is cause for concern and the combination of all three could be a perfect storm. They are as follows:

  1. National Election – We have reported in the past that National Elections don’t impact results. However, the Presidential election this year could be an exception. The nature of this year’s campaigns on both sides is a real distraction. Consumers are captivated by all of the mud-slinging and are taking a wait-and-see attitude. There is no clear choice.
  2. European Union – The EU is the largest trading power in the world. Britain has voted to leave and Prime Minister Cameron has resigned. The road ahead is unclear as those of us in the U.S. watch the stock market and 401(k) plans decline. There is a great deal of uncertainty in the world that will affect how consumers will spend this holiday season. Experts say that it will take up to two years for the UK to leave the EU. Therefore, this will most likely be a long and drawn out process with no overnight fix. If other nations follow suit as expected, this could have a far reaching impact with even more uncertainty worldwide.
  3. Amazon – For hard good catalog retailers, product exclusivity is gone. Remember when Brookstone’s tag line was, “Hard-to-Find Tools”? Nothing is “hard-to-find” anymore. Just go to Amazon.com. They are continuing to take market share from traditional retailers impacting catalog retailers, just as Walmart impacted small town U.S.A.

So, what can we do as marketers to combat these obstacles? As mailers, we are always going to be faced with roadblocks. That’s why it is important to be proactive and to anticipate possible hard times ahead. Here are ways to make sure you are prepared for the upcoming holiday season:

  1. Be sure to participate in Free Shipping Day on December 18, 2016. This program has grown significantly. More than 1,000 retailers now participate in the Free Shipping Day promotion. It receives nationwide attention and reminds consumers to place their holiday orders.
  2. Leverage data from the last holiday season to ensure you are merchandising/promoting based on proven customer buying trends, both catalog and online.
  3. Create a strong promotion for prospects and older house file segments. Give them a reason to order. Set-up an A/B split test in order to determine which offer works best for you. If your product gross margin allows, consider testing a double offer, i.e., free shipping plus 10%. Free or flat shipping will boost response.
  4. Be sure to implement strong Cyber Monday promotions and email campaigns. Maximize your digital marketing plans and results.
  5. Talk with your printer to see if you qualify for the USPS Postal Promotions. You should review the USPS Promotional Calendar to be sure you are taking advantage of all promotions for which you are eligible.
  6. Customers have essentially been trained to search for a promo code prior to completing their purchase on a website. Keep this traffic on your site by publishing your promotional codes on your own site so that users don’t leave to search for a code.  When they leave, there’s no guarantee they’ll be back, especially if they stumble upon a strong competitive offer.
  7. Stay the course. It’s important that you are comfortable with your fall/holiday plans. Keep in mind that while your competitors maybe pulling back on circulation and ad spend, there is less competition for consumer dollars.

As they say, the best defense is a good offense.  Will you be ready with print and digital programs this holiday season? There are more factors than normal that will affect your results this year. But, if you take charge and remain proactive, you can weather any storm!