Marketing Strategy for the 2017 Holiday Season

By Don Ross, President of the Americas, Trustpilot

The 2017 holiday season represents a massive opportunity for B2C brands of all sizes, especially those in the retail and e-commerce spaces. One look at the numbers tells the story: Last year’s "Adobe Digital Index Report" showed that consumers spent $91.7 billion online in the U.S. alone, an 11 percent jump from the year before. In Canada, the U.K. and France, this rate of growth was similar, with jumps of 14 percent, 11 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Put simply, the holiday shopping season—stretching from October through December—can make or break a company’s bottom line.

For marketers supporting these brands, that means the pressure is on. Whether your goal is traffic, clickthrough rate, conversions or just general awareness, you’re a hero if you win…and perhaps a goat if you don’t.

Part of what the marketing industry has learned regarding the holiday season—and it’s been studied time and again by research firms, analysts and marketing enterprises alike—is that consumers value price cuts and promotions more than anything else. For years, marketers have keyed in on this fact, so huge efforts (and media spend) are put behind price initiatives. Brands that leverage deep discounts as part of their holiday marketing strategy, especially around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, win the holiday season.

Or so marketers thought. As it turns out, there is strong evidence that suggests this might not be the case.

Earlier this month, Trustpilot, a leading online consumer review destination with 35 million reviews of nearly 190,000 businesses, released its “Consumer Behavior and Expectations: The 2017 Holiday Season Report.” Having analyzed millions of customer reviews across the 2015 and 2016 holiday seasons and having run two consumer surveys with more than 13,000 responses, data shows a disparity between what consumers say they want (low prices) and what they actually want (better service and delivery).

Here are a few of the report’s key takeaways for marketers. 

1. Your reputation matters more than you think. One of the report’s major highlights was how much review activity increased throughout the holiday shopping periods in both 2015 and 2016. Consumers left many more reviews during December of those years, but the report also found that consumers searched for reviews much more often during November and December—peak shopping time.

It’s clear that consumers are looking for reviews to inform their purchase decisions and are more likely to leave a review as a result of their holiday shopping experience, which could have year-round ramifications on paid and organic search, clickthrough rates and acquisition costs.

2. Marketers should prioritize customer service and delivery. Language analysis of more than 1 million customer reviews from the 2015 and 2016 holiday shopping seasons found that the most common drivers of one- and five-star reviews were actually customer service and delivery. “Speedy delivery” was one of the most common two-word phrases found in five-star reviews from October to December 2016. Reviews pointing to slow delivery or an unfulfilled order were also found to be the reason behind a bulk of one-star reviews.

“Customer service” was the most common two-word phrase found in one-star reviews by a staggering amount, appearing over three times more often than the next most common two-word phrase. Variations on service were also common drivers of five-star reviews, showing that customer service (or lack thereof) can have substantial impact on reputation, brand, and revenue.

The word “price” showed up in only 4 to 5 percent of one-star reviews and in 10 percent of five-star reviews. Put simply, price just didn’t have much of an impact in overall customer satisfaction.

3. But don’t neglect price entirely. Data from thousands of surveys indicated that pricing was one of the most important considerations for consumers around the holidays. Of 8,000 survey respondents in an August 2017 poll in which participants were allowed to select more than one response, 62 percent agreed.

4. Customer reviews are essential. When asked what shopping tools consumers were most likely to use for the 2017 holiday season, survey respondents noted that reviews sites were top priority. Reviews beat out price-comparison tools, brand websites, recommendations from friends or family, and social media.

The numbers add up. According to Pew Research, half of all adults are now routinely checking customer reviews before making purchase decisions. Furthermore, the frequency with which people read online reviews is also correlated with how often they shop online. Roughly two-thirds (67 percent) of weekly online shoppers say they nearly always read customer reviews before buying new items compared with 54 percent of monthly online shoppers and 38 percent of those who say they shop online less often. Overall, online shoppers are eight times more likely than those who never shop online to say they typically check online reviews before buying something for the first time (49 percent versus 6 percent).

The Marketer’s Bottom Line 

Marketers who have previously focused exclusively on price cuts may need to adjust their strategies this year. Campaigns that prioritize top-notch customer service and speedy fulfillment and delivery could gather traction among consumers quickly. Finding ways to promote any additional investment in customer service, delivery discounts and the like is a smart choice.

Additionally, more attention to online reputation can pay dividends; if you work on reputation management during the holiday period, you’re much more likely to be rewarded the following year because of added visibility and positive reputation that will incentivize savvy shoppers. Social proof—which can take the form of reviews, testimonials, user-generated content and social media—allows you to leverage the voice of your customers. For consumers, that can mean a world of difference.

Download the full report here.

Don Ross is President of the Americas at Trustpilot, one of the fastest-growing global online review communities with 35 million reviews of 188,000 businesses.

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