2014’s holiday sales season is in full swing and so far the reviews are mixed.
According to the National Retail Federation, overall retail sales, including online and in-store, were down 11% from 2013, to $50.9 billion, for the kickoff Black Friday weekend.
And there were more slumping sales figures (vs. 2013) in the NRF’s research:
- Overall, about 134 million people shopped over the 4-day weekend, down 5.2%
- Average sale per online customer is down 10.2% to $159.55
- Average total spend per shopper over the weekend: $380.95, down 6.4%
Despite the disappointing early data, the NRF sticks by its optimistic prediction for a healthy 4.1% increase in sales for the entire season.
Many analysts blame online sales (a moot point considering overall sales are down) and Ferguson-related boycotts for at least part of the slow results, but the NRF has a different take.
“We are excited to be witnessing an evolutionary change in holiday shopping by both consumers and retailers, and expect this trend to continue in the years ahead.” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a press release on the organization’s website. Shay goes on to cite a stronger economy, which reduces the dependence on deep Black Friday discounts, 24/7 online shopping and early promotions as indicators of that ‘evolutionary change’.
Regardless of the reasons for the poor sales performance out of the gate, retailers are now in the heat of the holiday sales race as it runs to the next benchmark, Super Saturday. After that, you have precious few days to make up sales shortages before Christmas.
As Matthew Shay puts it, “It’s going to be a dogfight for the entire season every day, every minute,” he said. “Holiday sales are now a marathon, not a sprint.”
The Holiday Sales Landing Page Ambush
To gauge how merchants are doing mid-race in the 2014 holiday sales marathon, we took a look at the homepages (above the fold) of five leading retailers’ ecommerce sites.
We found a surprisingly wide variety of tactics, some creativity and, in more than one case, a dearth of basic conversion optimization.
Similar to their week long Black Friday event, Walmart turned Cyber Monday into ‘Cyber Week’.
The Good: Shipping costs are the leading reason for shopping cart abandonment and Walmart punches up their Free Shipping policy. The “Shop Now’ button is worded as a command and is prominent on the page, both of which should encourage clicks.
The Bad: Sliders are so 2010. Walmart’s is so fast that you don’t have time to read the panel. Curiously, the web designers chose to repeat items, listed on their permanent left-side drop-down menu, again on the right side of the page. It seems like a waste of valuable real estate.
The Ugly: Talk about wasting real estate. What’s going on about half way down the page? Imagine the holiday shopper, in the heat of battle, facing a call-to-action for snacks. And the subsequent landing page is a confusing mutation of Walmart & Frito Lay branding. Must be a sweet co-op advertising deal.
Upscale isn’t the word. They don’t even mention the word ‘holiday’ – or any others related to the season. Trés chic.
The Good: We all need gift ideas and most of us have a budget, so the broad range of choices and clear price points are appreciated.
The Bad: It’s like the designers mashed up a Nordstrom site with that of a discount retailer. The calls-to-action are whispered. Perhaps most surprisingly, Nordstrom’s very effective “Free Shipping. Free Returns. All the Time.’ tag line – again, a very effective cure for cart abandonment – is missing during the most important sales season of the year. (It’s below the fold.)
The Ugly: Did Nordstrom fire their product stylist before photographing the sweater in the top left?
A web design that stays as true to the retailer’s brand as any other. Land here and you feel like you’re in a Sears: clothes, appliances and Craftsman.
The Good: Yeah, yeah … ‘free shipping’; calls-to-action, whitespace, nice signature shot … yeah, yeah. But what’s this? ‘In-Vehicle Pick-Up’? Sweet.
The Bad: The ‘In-Vehicle Pick-Up’ is a unique value proposition, at least among the sites reviewed here, and Sears understates it. Click on the link and you land on a YouTube video that has less than 10,000 views (at the time of writing). If you have such a clear UVP, you should work it better than Sears does.
The Ugly: Does Sears really need to sell space on their homepage to Chevy during the most crucial sales period of the year?
4. American Eagle
Ah, to be young and hip again (or at least once in my case).
The Good: Lots of good conversion-oriented stuff here. Crisp, seasonal images. A 20% Off online offer. Multiple CTAs. And the reassurance that your purchase will arrive on time for Christmas.
The Bad: Visitors should get a prize for finding their ‘Free shipping All Season Long!’ offer (why not add it to the ‘On Time’ CTA?). And bonus points for finding ‘USE CODE: GOBBLEUP’.
The Ugly: Nothing really. There’s nothing on this page that makes you scratch your head and wonder ‘what were they thinking?’
In fact, AE highlights something that’s lacking across all ecommerce retailers. The gift guide. And not just a list of ‘Gifts for Him Under $100’, but a full-fledged gift idea engine, like the one at www.gifts.com
Ecommerce sites seem to assume we know what we are looking for.
Witness: a search for ‘headphones’ returns results dominated by major retailers from Amazon to Walmart. Only BeatsByDre.com and Wikipedia.com break the retailers’ stranglehold on page 1.
But search ‘gift ideas’ and the share of page one results held by the majors drops from 80% to 40%.
5. Crate & Barrel
One of the leading ecommerce sites offers a few tips to the wannabes.
The Good: it’s the only site in our group that’s unafraid to use the words ‘Christmas’ and ‘Hanukkah’. We all know the importance of personalization, especially online, yet we shy away from doing so in even the simplest way during a most important religious time from many customers.
The Bad: Crate & Barrel chooses the height of the season to promote what are traditionally post-holiday sale items. Interesting tactic. But the page makes me feel like Christmas is over.
The Ugly: What do you think? What’s missing or what would you improve about the Crate & Barrel homepage?