Holiday Ecommerce Predictions: A Q&A with Salesforce

Holiday predictions are a dime a dozen this time of year, but where those predictions come from matter, particularly if you are going to use them to adjust your digital strategy.

Salesforce recently released its predictions for the 2017 holidays and how it gathered those insights should set your retail mind at ease.

The company collected insights on the activity of 500 million global shoppers across 53 countries and billions of transactions and used millions of public social media conversations and insights from its Connected Shoppers Report to give merchants a good idea of what to expect this holiday season. It is using the same sources to update its holiday insights data center in real-time over the next couple months. 

To learn more, Website Magazine connected with Salesforce Senior Vice President of Retail Industry Solutions, Shelley Bransten. 

Based on Salesforce predictions, why do you think Black Friday has edged Cyber Monday for the most lucrative sales day?

shelley-bShelley Bransten, Salesforce: "We all know a shopper's journey is no longer as simple as walking into a store to browse merchandise and make a purchase. Black Friday shoppers are evolving with the digital age to find holiday sales in-stores, on their desktops or on mobile devices. Mobile traffic to retail sites will grow to 60 percent of total traffic across the globe this shopping season (compared to 34 percent for desktop and five percent for tablets), while orders placed on mobile devices will approach 40 percent on big shopping days such as Black Friday." 

Prediction: Salesforce anticipates that Black Friday will be the busiest digital shopping day in U.S. history, exceeding Cyber Monday as the U.S. digital shopping day with the most sales for the second year in a row.

Knowing this, how should retailers adapt their strategies?

Bransten: "The shopper is now in control and retailers are rapidly adapting to get closer to them. By understanding how people are shopping, retailers can adapt to provide a connected experience across all channels and ultimately be more successful during the holiday season. The modern shopper expects fast and convenient service - if a retail app doesn't load fast enough, it's deleted. If a product is not available in store, a shopper will find another way to get it right now - or find another option. Retailers are in a race to make sense of these complex journeys and shorten the path from shopper inspiration to delight, whether online, on the go, or in the store."

Prediction: Salesforce expects mobile traffic to retail sites will grow to 60 percent of total across the globe this shopping season (compared to 34 percent for desktop and five percent for tablets), while orders placed on phones will approach 40 percent on big shopping days such as Black Friday.

Also based on Salesforce findings, what can retailers do to attract those late-evening and late-season shoppers?

Bransten: "It all starts with data. Think about all the data connected to a consumer-not just mobile devices, but applications (e-mail), connected devices (cars and watches), and beacons. That data is gold to a retailer, but only if it's captured and made available for use. For example, it's not just data for data's sake, but gleaning insights from it to deliver smart, real-time recommendations and searches tailored to consumer preferences. Technologies such as AI are re-leveling the playing field and allowing retailers big and small to get smarter about each interaction. When you understand a person's digital habits, you can ensure you're engaging them at the right time and place. With the power of data and AI, marketers can acquire new shoppers with precision at scale."

Prediction: The most popular online shopping time for website visits and orders is from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Were there any findings from the report that surprised you?

Bransten: "Overall, the retail industry is seeing a change in the way consumers are engaging with brands, both in-store and online. We have found that millennials - often cited as the most digitally savvy generation - are almost twice as likely as Boomers to have visited a physical store within the last week. However, when those millennials go shopping in stores, they expect sales associates to be totally connected with customer and product information at their fingertips. In fact, millennials are almost twice as likely as Boomers to say that store associates should use mobile devices to access product and customer information, including purchase history, as well as offer personalized recommendations based on a shoppers' profile. Shoppers are willing to share their personal data with retailers in exchange for better service, convenience and saving money."

What should retailers be tracking this holiday season to help inform 2018 decisions?

Bransten: "Retailers need to deliver smart personalization across all channels. This goes beyond the website and the store to include include interactions between salespeople and potential customers, what happens when a product is returned and conversations on social media and online forums where customers talk to each other about products.

"Consumers are using many digital channels to research and purchase products. In fact, the most used channels include website (74 percent), email (43 percent), social media (38 percent) and mobile apps (36 percent). Understanding how consumers are using these channels during the holiday season will help retailers predict how consumers will research and purchase products in the upcoming year, allowing these retailers to make informed decisions about their inventory and marketing strategies." 

Anything else you'd like to add?

Bransten: "One of the interesting findings in our Connected Shopper Report is the embrace of voice-enabled digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Google Assistant. These are used 40 percent of millennials (ages 18-36) to research merchandise before buying online, which reinforces the case that new channels will continue to emerge that need to be connected and personalized."