Shop Till You Drop... or the Optimized Deals Dry Up

With the US presidential election behind us, let the 2012 holiday shopping season begin in earnest.

Retailers no longer have to fight with politicos for commercial time, and fresh from voting, many consumers are ready for their next big to-do. As evidence, Deloitte found that one quarter of the 5,000-plus consumer respondents to its 27th annual holiday survey planned on waiting till after the election to plunk down any holiday green.

And these shoppers are savvier than ever, toting smartphones into stores for quick comparative price checks and product reviews, for example, and shopping across channels in the never-ending search for the best deal. Retailers that aren't keeping up can kiss their holiday upticks goodbye. Consumers may have a cheerier outlook about the economy than they did in 2011, but they're parting with their holiday dollars cautiously and spending less on gifts than previously, said Alison Kenney Paul, lead of Deloitte's US retail and distribution practice, during the "2012 Holiday Spending Predictions: Using Analytics to Respond to Retail Trends" Webinar hosted by the International Institute for Analytics (IIA) last week.

On the plus side, as consumers hop across the shopping universe, they're leaving digital bits behind at the point-of-sale and digital cash registers. Retailers capable of capturing and analyzing the data will be able to better compete for the limited holiday budget, plus influence additional purchases and gain loyalty, said Sarah Gates, vice president of research at the IIA and fellow presenter during the IIA Webinar.

Retailers have three distinct opportunities for how they can capitalize on analytics during the holiday season -- or any other time, for that matter, Gates noted. "The first is to get closer to their customers, second is to be more relevant, and final and third way is to anticipate what will happen -- be predictive rather than just reactive."

These messages aren't new, of course, and examples of how retailers are benefiting are out there. Gates shared several.

  • Macy's and Williams-Sonoma are masters at delivering relevant messages to their customers, Gates said. At times, for example, Macy's sends out 18 million unique emails and 500,000 unique versions of a single direct-mail catalogue. Meantime, Williams-Sonoma matches its customer database with external data on 60 million households, matching up income, housing value, number of children in the household, and other such data. It then uses that dataset to drive highly targeted email and direct-mail campaigns. Updating the analytics twice weekly helps the specialty retailer keep up with changes in consumer behavior, Gates said. And response rates for email campaigns done this way are 10 to 18 times higher compared to generic mailings. "It gives customers an offer that aligns with what they want to purchase when they're most likely to purchase it."
  • Hot Topic, a trendy clothier for young adults, is an example of a retailer that really understands its channels. Using analytics to test different approaches for sending offerings, for example, it's discovered that combining email with text messaging ups the response rate of email alone by a factor of 10, Gates explained. She also noted that Hot Topic analyzes effectiveness by day and time of day.
  • S-Group, a Finnish retail cooperative, stands out for its work optimizing stock. With its analytics models, it produces 40,000 unique plan-o-grams three times a year, according to Gates. These reflect category-specific and location-specific product mix and demand forecasts. With this capability, plus the move into e-commerce, S-Group has increased its market share by more than 30 percent since 1990.
  • Cole Haan, high-end fashion retailer, gets a nod for its smartphone smarts. Earlier this year, it began outfitting store clerks with an iPhone app that gives them instant insight about a customer's prior purchases, product preferences, and personal attributes so they can make on-the-mark recommendations on the spot. "In fact, they can deliver pictures of what they've already purchased along with pictures of what they're looking at so they can see how it all works together." Since introducing the app, Cole Haan has seen the number of purchases made by its "BlackBook" clients rise by 50 percent.

As a shopper, understanding the behind-the-scenes analysis makes me a little wary of any "fantastic" retail offer I might receive. How about you? Have you started your holiday shopping, and, if so, have you had a great experience? We'd love to hear about it.

Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors,, and others.

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Re: Still waiting for my bargain
  • 11/19/2012 3:17:00 PM

Louis, I wonder how many people are in fact motivated to change their buying strategy because of an email offer. I know I personally don't have any time to shop till after Thanksgiving, so have been deliberately ignoring emails (from just a few select retailers; I took myself off lots of email lists over the summer). First the turkey, then Santa for me.


Re: Still waiting for my bargain
  • 11/19/2012 5:10:57 AM

It is certainly going to be an interesting Holiday shopping this year, and retailers are blowing up email boxes throughout the land in a effort to get those hard earned dollars. 

I have not started to shop yet, and don't intend to do too much but the right email blast might just change my mind !  : )

Re: Still waiting for my bargain
  • 11/15/2012 5:28:26 PM

Maryam, maybe they're all too busy trying to figure out how to finesse their "showrooming" strategies -- keeping in-store shoppers hunting down comparative deals from leaving and buying elsewhere... You think?

Still waiting for my bargain
  • 11/15/2012 10:28:07 AM

Beth I agree the Christmas decorations and catalogs have been early but the deals have been few. The mobile side for me has been completely quiet and email is still a yawn a week before Black Friday! When the economy softened almost every retailer offered me free shipping and huge discounts before Black Friday, this year it's been almost silent. One big box store sent their flyer out with errors in functionality. I suspect the deals will start rolling in a little later this year with the extra shopping days in this holiday season.

Re: Retailers being email shy
  • 11/13/2012 8:31:58 AM

@Maryam, I've been surprised by a couple of things this year. One, Christmas TV ads andc circulars appearing before Halloween. This may always have been the case, but they really just struck me for some reason now. Two, Christmas TV ads for retailers that I haven't ever noticed before. Crate & Barrel is one example. And, as Deloitte predicts, I would expect to see the advertising really kicking in now, post-election. 


Retailers being email shy
  • 11/12/2012 11:35:59 PM

Holiday shopping has long been an interest of mine, this year the deals are just not there in my opinion I have found few great deals via email. In the past two years I started receiving great deals in early November, long before black Friday and I capitalized on them, this year nothing has been compelling. I did start shopping in the late summer early Fall and the deals were better than they are now. I am actually seeing higher prices right now.

Re: Longing for Quality
  • 11/12/2012 11:00:43 AM

It seems to me that the same companies manufacturer the same products in different factories -- creating inconsistent quality.

Re: Longing for Quality
  • 11/12/2012 7:16:19 AM

Quality is so variable. I still have at t shirt I wear around the house that my 27 year old daughter bought at a cheap place called mandees when she was in high school! Conversely I have discarded similar shirts I purchased at nordstrom or j. Crew after a year.

Re: Longing for Quality
  • 11/12/2012 7:13:28 AM

That's a great price on glasses Seth. Hope they work out well.

Re: Longing for Quality
  • 11/11/2012 6:19:45 PM

@ Jeff, I am with you there.  I would love to see a report on who sells the highest quality clothes.   I recently purchased a pair of paints and was dismayed to see the seems come lose in just a week.  but I bought them in a rush and didn't look at the stiching so it's my bad as well. 

However, there are stores such as Forever 21, that are disposable fashion. Affordable designs that are in fashion and not meant to last long.

Recently, I did something I thought I would never do, I purchased two pairs of eye glasses online for $127, including spring hinges,thin lenses, UV protection and water repellent.  Since I wear my contacts mostly, I really just want them for around the house.  I'll let you know what I think when I receive them. 

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