Yesterday I stopped into Macy’s to do a bit of shopping, and what do I see at first glance? —a full-on fake Christmas tree display, ready to take home. The store even smelled like Christmas. Mind you, it is October 12th!
But department stores are not the only ones who get a head start on the holidays – marketers, especially online merchants and retailers, start strategizing for the holidays as early as six months before.
So, with this in mind– what can we expect this year in terms of social media marketing for the holidays? Here are a few things consumers will see:
Long gone are the days of the 10-pound holiday catalog from the likes of Sears. Today, retailers have numerous options for targeting mobile buyers through beautiful social catalogs.
Google Catalogs, launched in August, is a free iPad app that enables shoppers to browse electronic versions of holiday catalogs from name brand stores like Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, L.L. Bean, Land’s End and others. Retailers project about 10% of their annual sales come from mobile- and that number will only rise as the holidays get closer and more consumers acquire mobile devices. The perks of online catalog viewing – shoppers can zoom in and see the product up close, learn more about the item, and some even have integrated video that demonstrates how the product works. Catalog Spree and Catalog (by a company called TheFind) offer similar apps, but Google’s will probably dominate. An android version is also expected soon.
Facebook is taking another stab at the social gift giving business. In May it acquired online gift service, Karma, for $8 million. The new Facebook Gifts offers real gifts from a limited number of vendors (like Magnolia cupcakes) that can be sent to anyone in your social network as long as they live in the US. The feature is unique because the entire transaction takes place without leaving Facebook’s interface- which might actually be a downside for participating companies because shoppers are not redirected to their own website! A number of companies, including Nordstrom, have been vocal about the fact that F-Commerce (as it’s called), has not really been that successful so far, especially compared to efforts on Pinterest. This holiday season will be a good stress test for the new Facebook Gifts.
At the end of 2010, J.C. Penny was on the precipice of going out of business. Threatened by competitors including Pier 1 and Target, the retailer needed something big to pull ahead during the holiday season. The company was praised for what seemed like strategic investment in search engine optimization for product keywords, particularly brand name items in categories like dresses, furniture, bedding, baby cribs, diamond jewelry, luggage and more. The result—J.C. Penny outranked millions of sites during the holiday months and beyond, and brought in 17.8 billion of total revenue that year.
The company was right to invest in SEO, but in February, Google and others became suspicious of their tactics. How exactly, had the company managed to pull off such an extensive ‘organic’ link building campaign in such a short amount of time, without major changes to their website? An investigation revealed J.C Penny used a number of ‘black hat’ tactics including: creating thousands of seemingly unrelated web sites (many that contained only links back to J.C. Penny.com); content that was almost entirely descriptive anchor text for products (this is considered keyword stuffing); and evidence that they bought into a paid link network. In short, the company’s tactics violated Google’s Webmaster guidelines. J.C. Penny has long since fired its SEO firm, DexSEO. The New York Times exposed the company in a scathing expose, and Search Engine Land has a good post that explains the nitty-gritty of their black hat tactics.
The lesson of the J.C. Penny story is that SEO matters, but it has to be done right. One of the reasons their SEO firm took the easy road with black hat tactics is likely because the results could be seen faster. If you are an online retailer, invest in a reliable SEO agency (here’s what you should look for) that uses white hat tactics, and schedule your SEO plan to hit during the holidays. And to the dismay of many business owners—SEO is not cheap. Google’s new Google Shopping– a new experience for finding, researching and discovering where to buy products online- is a paid service. So budget accordingly.
Experts forecast online holiday sales will account for nearly a quarter (24.3%) of the $224.2 billion in US retail ecommerce sales for all of 2012. So roll out the decorations and get into the holiday spirit!