The (Real) Nightmare Before Christmas

There are about 70 days until Christmas. So forget the Halloween candy and Frozen costumes. Because if you haven’t started making your lists and checking them twice, well, you’re already behind. Twenty-six percent of consumers start their holiday shopping research before Halloween, according to the 2014 Holiday Shopping Intentions Study from Google and market research provider Ipsos MediaCT.

The search engine giant released its findings, along with other holiday shopping insights, at a press breakfast in New York last week. Here are five festive lessons based on that research to help marketers make this shopping season merry and bright.

1. Brands see you when you’re sleeping; they know when you’re awake.

‘Twas the night before shopping and all through the house, consumers were shopping—some without using a mouse.

Nowadays a number of consumers are trading in their midnight munchies for late-night shopping sessions. In fact, Google reports that one third of all shopping searches on its engine occurs between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. “Midnight snacking is now midnight shopping,” said Julie Krueger, industry director of retail for Google.

2. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

The Black Friday frenzy used to be a one-day affair. Now marketers are stringing out the holiday hoopla throughout the entire month of November.

“It really stretched out to being a much longer time period,” Krueger said.

This extended festivity fever can be partially attributed to consumers’ lengthy research process. The study revealed that more than half of the 2,000 surveyed shoppers surveyed said that they start their holiday shopping research before Thanksgiving. In fact, Krueger said people spent 12 hours researching toys last year.

And consumers are consulting multiple touchpoints before committing to a purchase. Another study from Google and intelligent commerce network provider Inmar showed that shoppers considered at least 12 informational sources before making a buy last year—that’s more than double the five sources that they consulted in 2010. With this information, marketers can assume that it’s imperative to offer educational and engaging content across several channels for shoppers to review before they buy.

3. Santa’s little helper

When shoppers aren’t asking Santa to fulfill their holiday wish list, they’re turning to their smartphones. Seventy-five percent of smartphone shoppers in last week’s featured survey say they intend to use their mobile devices while in-store this upcoming holiday season. And according to Google’s May 2013 Mobile In-Stores study, one out of every three shoppers prefers to use a mobile device to answer a question rather than asking a store associate. So Krueger is encouraging retailers to reevaluate how they can use their employees more effectively.

Many marketers used to describe shoppers’ showrooming tactics in ways that landed them on the naughty list, but brands are starting to realize that in-store smartphone usage is actually a benefit for marketers. For example, nearly half (46%) of the consumers who referred to their mobile devices while in store completed a purchase, according to a November 2013 study conducted by Google and Nielsen. And although holiday foot traffic has decreased about 55% over the past years, same store sales have increased 13%, said Vineet Buch, director of Google Shopping.

UItimately shoppers’ visits are more precious, Buch said, and, consumers are entering stores more educated than ever before. Invariably, it’s important for marketers to provide enough information so that their customers are well-prepared when they enter a store.

“If you haven’t helped them do the right research before they show up, you pretty much left a sale,” Buch said.

To better suit customers’ showrooming habits, Google is enhancing its Product Listing Ads. Product Listing Ads reveal information for items that showed up in search results, such as a product’s image or price. Now this “digital showroom” features a wide range of brands and models that shoppers can view when they’re beginning their research. Once a customer has narrowed the search down to a particular item, say for instance a specific handbag, Google will show that shopper a grid that lists ratings, stores where the handbag is available, and of course, the cost. To ensure that customers get the most bang for their buck, Google will now show shoppers the highest rated items when they search for the “best” in a particular category.

4. A location celebration

So what exactly are customers looking for during their research phase? According to Krueger, 94% of smartphone users are looking for local retail information. She added that people’s searches tend to become more commercial as they get closer to a store.

“It used to be that we were connectors to digital stores,” Krueger said. “We now are evolving; we’re using that consumer behavior to drive consumers wherever they want to go.”

Google is planning on tapping into this desired localization with a few new product releases. For instance, Google is expanding its Local Inventory Ads—which allow shoppers to see which nearby stores carry the products that they searched for—by building some of the same capabilities into Google Now. So if a shopper has been searching for black boots at Macy’s and happens to walk past the store, Google Now will display a shopping card that alerts the consumer that the product is available at that location.

Google is also taking the Amazon route by expanding its same-day delivery shopping service, Google Shopping Express. Now shoppers can use voice activation to reorder products that they have previously bought through Google Shopping Express. The service is available in Boston, Chicago, Manhattan, The Peninsula and San Jose in California, San Francisco, and Western Los Angeles.

5. All I want for Christmas is You(Tube).

As most marketers will admit, the path to purchase isn’t a straight road. And according to retail analysts at Google, YouTube is becoming a bigger part of the buyer journey. More than one billion people visit YouTube every month to be entertained, inspired, and informed, said Lisa Green, head of industry for luxury and fashion at Google.

And brands are taking advantage of this global audience. Ralph Lauren, for example, filmed its runway collection and projected the video that featured its spring 2015 Polo for Women collection onto a wall of water in Central Park during New York Fashion Week. The fashion brand then uploaded its film onto YouTube, taking the show from a local event to a global affair, Green said.

 

Retailers are also leveraging YouTube celebrities. Teen casual apparel retailer Aeropostale tapped YouTube fashionista Bethany Mota for an eponymous clothing line. Currently, Mota has close to 7.5 million YouTube subscribers.

Like shopping, YouTube is an innately social experience, Green said. For example, YouTube content producers, like Mota, will sometimes upload “Haul” videos in which they show their followers their recent shopping purchases.

“Shopping has always been a very social activity,” Green continued. “Now your friends have gone from three people to three million.”

Green advises tracking metrics such as views, comments, likes, and shares to measure the success of a YouTube video. And although many marketers preach that short-formed videos are best, Green said that this isn’t always the case. In fact, she said that authenticity can outweigh video length.

“If it’s beautiful and true to the brand, people will watch it,” Green said.

Photo credit: Disney’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

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