Holiday Planning for 2016: Inspire Report

Holiday Planning for 2016: Inspire Report

Tips to plan for the 2016 holiday season

Key Takeaways

The holiday period will soon be upon us and marketers need to be planning now to ensure a jolly season lies ahead. This inspire is a companion to our Holiday Planning 2016 webinar and provides tips and trends that will inform seasonal planning activities. Key takeaways include:

Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year
Black Friday ceded the title of the top online shopping day of the year in 2015 to Thanksgiving Day. While there’s more comparison shopping and planning occurring than purchasing, retailers have an opportunity to generate some early sales before Black Friday even begins.

Key dates
Understanding changes in shopping behavior during the holiday period will help retailers and publishers identify engagement opportunities that don’t revolve around sales.

Mobile trends
2016 is poised to be the first mobile Christmas so marketers should focus their efforts on mobile optimization and ensuring content commonly searched for on mobile devices is updated for smartphones and tablets.

Product trends
Searches on Amazon Prime Day provide an early glimpse into products that are likely to be hot this Christmas, such as wireless headphones and speakers, portable chargers, and devices to stream video to televisions.

Traffic Trends

Thanksgiving Day takes the crown

In 2015, Thanksgiving Day unseated Cyber Monday as the biggest online shopping day of the year. There were a record 328.7 million visits to the top Hitwise Retail 500 sites on Thanksgiving Day alone. Make no mistake,it was a close race with Black Friday racking up 328.5 million visits and Cyber Monday another 320.7 million. And while consumers were more likely to be engaging in shopping recon missions on Thanksgiving Day rather than completing transactions, the important of Thanksgiving Day should not be underestimated because that’s when consumers are making decisions about where, when, and how they’re going to shop and what they’re going to buy during the biggest retail stretch of the year.

US 2016 Holiday Planning: Visits to Retail 500

Key Dates to Plan Around

Email Campaigns
Marketers are sending more email sand using them more effectively to drive clicks and sales. Last year, most retailers began their seasonal campaigns in earnest the week of Thanksgiving. Of the top 10 email days of the season, six revolved around Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or the day after Christmas. But Black Friday and Thanksgiving were the top email days of the season.

Marketers are sending more email sand using them more effectively to drive clicks and sales. Last year, most retailers began their seasonal campaigns in earnest the week of Thanksgiving. Of the top 10 email days of the season, six revolved around Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or the day after Christmas. But Black Friday and Thanksgiving were the top email days of the season.

Small Business Saturday and Green Monday
Small Business Saturday has become for many a household phrase, which may explain why searches last year for the American Express-manufactured holiday dropped considerably over levels observed in 2014. On Small Business Saturday last year, searches focused on the event accounted for one in every 6,000 online queries. Green Monday is a manufactured online shopping holiday that is becoming more common. Though with search volume in 2015 amounting to only half of what was observed for Small Business Saturday, there’s still room for growth and possibly a level education required to let shoppers know what the day is all about.

Gift Guides
Gift guides are a helpful tool for shoppers who are looking for ideas and they present a good opportunity for publishers to capture the attention of shoppers with seasonal content. With gift guides now common, consumers are increasingly seeking them out. ‘Gift guide’ searches last Christmas were 42% higher than in 2014 and they’re likely to be even bigger this year. Gift guide searches typically begin to rise as early as the first week of November, but they reach their peak the last full week before Christmas (the week of December 19th this year) after the first few rounds of purchases are done and shoppers realize that they’re quickly running out of ideas.

Package Tracking
With more purchases occurring online, visits to shipping sites rise every year. Last December, visits to top sites like UPS and FedEx were up 53% over 2014. Online shipping and package tracking peaked last year on the 22nd of December as nervous gift givers were frantically trying to find out if their purchases were going to arrive in time. Mid-week is when we see the greatest shipping and tracking activity. While there’s no controlling for the weather, retailers can make sure to provide easy links and constant updates to reassure customers that things are under control.

Ugly Christmas Sweater Day
The official Ugly Christmas Sweater Day is on December 9th, but most consumers won’t get the memo. Peak searches for ugly Christmas sweaters usually peaks the last weekend before Christmas so there’s plenty of time to bundle up in a hideous sweater. Last year, Star Wars sweaters, those featuring images from Drake’s Hotline Bling video, and Pokemon were among the most popular. With the release of Pokemon Go, our bet is that Pokemon will dominate this year.

Gift Cards
Last-minute shoppers often buy gift cards, and as electronic gift options become the norm, these purchases become even more last minute. Peak gift card activity occurs on Christmas even and well into Christmas Day. On Christmas Day, there is also a surge in activity of consumers seeking to check gift card balances as well as “exchange”, “trade”, or “swap” cards.

Gadgets Come to Life
Christmas Day is when all those gadgets people received as gifts will come to life. They’ll be busy downloading driver software, apps, and more to make the most of their gifts. In fact, searches including the keywords “download” and “activate” were 30% higher on Christmas Day last year than they were a week prior.

Retail Spotlight

Top Retailers

Amazon received the greatest share of visits last December, garnering over a third of visits (34.5%) to the Hitwise Retail 500, up from 26.2% in 2014. Amazon is all but certain to continue to dominate this year and may even claim even more visits after a highly successful Amazon Prime Day, during which time it likely added even more Prime members who will be looking to take advantage of the free shipping this season.

US 2016 Holiday Planning: Retail Visit Share
Retailers to Watch

Despite Amazon’s dominance taking market share away from many retailers, some gained shared this year. Many of those gaining share were electronics retailers, including which posted a 238% growth in share last December and went from 27th place to 8th. Other retailers to watch include: Sur La Table, Adorama, Micro Center, and Think Geek. 

Sources of Traffic

Social Media and Multimedia Driving More Visits

Search is still by far the top driver of visits to retail sites. Last December, 45% of referred visits to the Hitwise Retail 500 came from a search engine. Other retail sites, too, drive a large number of visits, especially during the holiday season when consumers are shopping around and jumping from one retailer to the next.

Social media sites last year drove 21% more traffic to retailers compared to what Hitwise observed in 2014. This is likely due to the successful inclusion of call-to-action buttons, like “buy now”. If they haven’t already done so, marketers should be planning and testing now to include such features in their social media posts to maximize the power of social media to drive traffic.

Multimedia sites, while only driving 2% of visits to shopping sites last December, have been on the rise. In fact, last December, multimedia sites, like YouTube, drove 60% more traffic to retailers than the year prior. GameStop, Sephora, and Victoria’s Secret all received a disproportionately high share of visits from multimedia sites last year making them brands to watch.

US 2016 Holiday Planning: Upstream Visits

The First Mobile Christmas

Mobile Share of Visits

Shopping & Classified sites now receive 46% of visits from mobile devices. That’s 28% higher than the all industry average. This Christmas season, it’s likely that many retailers will surpass the 50% mark entering mobile dominance. Several sub-industries are already there with Intimate Apparel and Baby Products now receiving 56% of visits from mobile devices. In focusing efforts for the season ahead, mobile should take priority.

US 2016 Holiday Planning: Mobile Visits
Mobile Search Trends

In our recent report on mobile search, Hitwise identified certain topics and themes of online searches that are more likely to be conducted on mobile devices. For instance, 77% of retail searches including the word “coupon” are initiated on a mobile device. Likewise, searches for surprise gift items, like jewelry and engagement rings are among the most heavily skewed toward mobile devices. Marketers should make sure their content around these themes is among the first to be mobile optimized.

US 2016 Holiday Planning: Mobile Search Themes

Product Trends

Top Amazon Prime Day Products

Amazon’s 2016 Prime Day was a huge success with generating 81.6 million visits from mobile and desktop browsers, making it among the top shopping days of the last year after only Black Friday and Cyber Monday. An exclusive analysis of internal search on can provide us with early clues as to what types of products we can expect to be popular heading into the holiday season. Among the products shoppers were search for the most on Prime Day were wireless headphones and speakers. While these products have been mainstays the past few seasons, falling prices should insure these continue to be best sellers. Our growing need to stay connected around the clock also drove a large volume of searches for portable batteries, which are also more affordable these days.

Amazon’s own Echo along with the Tap and Dot were among the top products. It will be interesting to see how a similar product from Google Home will fare, but it’s likely to do well considering the interest in the Echo line. And finally, the launch of Pokemon Go has re-energized the Pokemon franchise, so expect all things related to Pikachu and friends to be hot this season.

Home Automation

Home automation devices, like internet-connected thermostats, light bulbs, cameras, and some cutting-edge appliances, are poised to see growth this Christmas. In fact. searches for leading products in this category have increased by 240% during the last year and Black Friday and Cyber Monday are likely top see a surge in interest.

While category is still relatively niche, those early adopters buying smart home products are very attractive since they tend to be young, affluent, and male, according to an analysis in AudienceView. By offering items in this category, retailers can lure this audience and upsell them on other products and services. Target is actually testing a Smart Home Space in one of its suburban Minneapolis stores where they present shoppers with scenarios of how the products work together, focusing on the experience and benefit. Top brands in this category include: Nest (14% of smart home searches are for Nest products), Amazon Echo (12%), and Vivint (mentioned in 5% of searches).

Subscription Boxes

In February, Hitwise published a report identifying the subscription box industry as one to watch. With Unilever acquiring Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion, this industry just got even hotter. Visits to leading box sites in the US reached 22.4 million in June, up a relative 1,450% in the past three years.

US 2016 Holiday Planning: Subscription Boxes

Traditional retailers have taken note of the increasing popularity of these sites and some, like Starbucks, Sephora, and even Walmart, have launched their own subscription offerings. These forays not only help them defend their business against leading subscription box brands, but they also provide them with a way to further engage their consumers and even offer them an opportunity via the regular deliveries to deliver samples and other products that their customers are likely to enjoy.

This holiday season, subscription boxes may be an alternative to the traditional gift cards for some retailers. For starters, they’re more personal, especially those offering a curated selection of products for the individual. But they’re also a way to extend the relationship with the consumer beyond a one-off gift card. Download our report on subscription boxes to learn more.