Holiday Results Are In! And They Might Surprise You

Hardly a day goes by without a business pundit predicting the demise of another retailer and whether brands continue to be relevant to consumers. This holiday season, our retailers continue to fight that narrative with a variety of strategies and tactics with a mixture of results. Now that the season is almost over for online retailers, we have tracked and analyzed a selection of over 50 retailers who sold over $221mm in online goods during this 45-day critical period (November 1 through December 13).

Apparel/Fashion. This segment is shaping up to have a good season with much higher traffic and demand than the prior year. While conversions were down slightly, the volume of site traffic along with higher average order values helped overcome a softer than expected conversion rate. For this segment, in particular, postal retargeting is making a considerable impact by driving significant incremental demand over the prior year with targeted messaging and dynamic content.

Gifts. The gift segment is worth noting because it is very competitive with Amazon, but is mostly managing to hold its own in terms of demand and likely exceeding expectations. The Amazon effect primarily impacts the year-over-year website traffic decline. This year, however, retailers in this vertical pushed back by making their shopping experience better by optimizing their website, improving their merchandise assortment, and developing marketing campaigns and messaging, resulting in solid conversion rates. Success in retail is largely about an emotional connection, and retailers that want to win will hone their version of this type of messaging. These gift retailers are leading the way!

Home. Even though this not the prime season for home retailers, demand is still up for grabs! While traffic was up year-over-year, demand fell with much smaller average order values than the prior year.  Home retailers who do not diversify their holiday merchandise offerings with lower price points and shift merchandise strategies into gift-giving mode will continue to miss out on revenue opportunities and thereby extending their season through the end of the year.

Food & Wine. Just look at those conversion rates! Specialty food retailers can offer what Amazon does not – unique gifts, great food, various order options, and awesome customer service to help with their customer’s gift gifting needs. Retailers in this vertical understand the importance of having a seamless link between the products they sell and having great emotional content related to the products they sell.

Pets/Animals. Perhaps no particular segment has experienced more disruption during the past 18 months than the pet/animal industry. Chewy’s exponential growth, coupled with the launch of its online pharmacy, adds to an already competitive marketplace, including Walmart and Amazon. Traffic points to the willingness of customers staying loyal, but price points and discounts continue to place pressures on customer loyalty. To combat this, marketers who understand the powerful emotions that connect us to our pets and communicate these beliefs across all of their marketing channels will mostly succeed in driving growth in this tough vertical marketplace.

Specialty. A mixture of different verticals from home electronics to specialty outdoor verticals, these specialty markets continue to thrive with unique brand positions. Leveraging a retailer’s exceptional value and unique brand positions help build deep loyalty and brand advocacy within their customer base. These results speak for themselves!

Garden. Yes, there is even a holiday season for the garden, plant and seed retailer! Working harder, leveraging gift cards, and staying visible in the fourth quarter can generate fourth quarter demand too! Our garden retailers optimized their traffic to their advantage and enjoyed 9% more demand this year.

As we close out the year, many of us have shifted our brains to 2020 and how to spend our marketing dollars. Within each vertical, there are many tactics and strategies to build on the successes and challenges of this year.

As I look back on the year, I see a clear shift of brand positioning from being highly functional, as in, “we offer the best selection” or ” “we have the best price” to how and why brands serve their customers. If brand positioning is overly-functional, marketing execution will focus on rudimentary tactics, which not only limits growth potential, but can push down share and margins.

As this year’s holiday performance indicates, some retailers manage to carve out a distinctive brand position and are breaking traditional direct marketing rules. Such brands coalesce around an emotional and impassioned connection. An emotional connection to your customer is the most valuable and enduring relationship a retailer can have with its customers. Over time, a strong, emotion-infused brand position can help a retailer drive and sustain growth.

Let’s keep those retail pundits still guessing why you are still going strong!

If you have any questions on this data, please feel free to reach out to me at  We’d love to chat with you and help you with any of your marketing needs.

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