The Most Important E-Commerce Marketing Trends Of The 2014 Holiday Season & What They Mean In 2015

Columnist Jordan Elkind discusses key insights to help you prepare for the 2015 holiday season.

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Holiday 2014 is a wrap. For online shopping in the U.S., it was a good season with strong growth (aided by mostly-cooperative weather and better-prepared shipping companies).

Many ecommerce marketers dedicate some time in the first quarter of the new year to a review of the holiday season, analyzing what worked and what didn’t. What are the lessons for 2015 as a whole? What are the lessons for the next holiday season (which will be here before we know it)?

Here are four notable, data-driven ecommerce trends from the 2014 holiday shopping season and their implications for 2015. These findings are based on the Custora Ecommerce Pulse, a free online dashboard tracking online transactions from over 100 US retailers, 100 million shoppers, and over $40 billion in transaction revenue. (Full disclosure: Custora is my employer.)

1. While Important, Black Friday & Cyber Monday Are Not Be-All / End-All Of The Holidays

It was a strong holiday season overall: U.S. ecommerce revenue was up 15.6% this holiday season over holiday 2013 (November – December).

Cyber Monday and Black Friday were the top two shopping days (by far), but the holiday shopping season is much more than these two days. In fact, Black Friday and Cyber Monday’s revenue combined account for less than 10% (9.5%, to be exact) of the holiday season ecommerce revenue. The remaining 90.5% was spread across the other 58 days of the season:

Holiday ecommerce  revenue by day - Custora Holiday Recap Report

Image credit: Custora

What It Means For 2015: The takeaway is straightforward — when putting together the marketing calendar for the 2015 holiday season, marketers should prepare for a 60-day marathon, not a 2-day sprint.

Consumers have their deal-seeking antennas up in November and December, and savvy marketers will cater to these needs with a string of valuable offers throughout the entire season.

2. Mobile E-Commerce, Particularly On Apple Devices, Is Booming

One out of four online purchases was done on a mobile device this season — up from 18.6% in holiday 2013. Black Friday was “Mobile Friday,” with nearly a third of sales done on phones and tablets.

Throughout 2014 (as described in Custora’s Ecommerce Mobile Report), Android devices were “nibbling at the Apple,” stealing ecommerce share from Apple devices (iPhones and iPads).

The same trend took place during the holiday season: Four out of five mobile orders (79.1%) happened on Apple devices, while only 20.4% happened on Android devices. However, Apple’s share is down from 84.1% during holiday 2013, while Android is up from 15.5%.

Mobile holiday ecommerce  - Custora Holiday Ecommerce Recap Report

Image credit: Custora

What It Means For 2015: Now’s the time to get on the mobile ecommerce train, if you haven’t already. For marketers who already offer mobile apps and mobile-optimized sites, our recommendation would be to segment mobile vs. non-mobile customers: How are mobile customers different in their demographics, marketing preferences, and shopping behavior? How will these differences inform your 2015 marketing strategy?

3. Email Marketing & Online Search Were The Key To Holiday Success

Email marketing and online search (free and paid) were the dominant marketing channels this holiday season. Google is still the gatekeeper to online shopping, and search is still the primary way people find the product they want. During the 2014 holiday shopping season, 38.5% of online transactions originated in a search query (either free or paid). Organic (free) search drove 21% of orders, and paid search drove 17.5%.

Email marketing was the third largest channel, driving 17.7% of online orders. For many shoppers, emails can be the compass guiding them towards worthy deals – both for gift-buying and for themselves. This notion was especially noticeable during Thanksgiving weekend (the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, including Black Friday):

Email was by far the primary marketing channel driving ecommerce orders, accounting for 27.3% on Black Friday, 23.9% on Cyber Monday, and 23.1% during the Thanksgiving weekend overall. When it really matters, consumers turn to their inbox.

What It Means For 2015: More than ever, winning in email and search marketing means winning in online retail. It is worth noting that the overall holiday growth rate of 15.6% is not uniform: The fastest-growing retailers grew twice as much.

What separates the wheat from the chaff, among other things, is using online marketing channels such as search and email marketing more effectively. Specifically for email marketing, “email 101” is not enough anymore – email segmentation, personalization, and lifecycle campaigns now differentiate sophisticated retailers from everyone else.

4. Social Commerce Didn’t Happen In Holiday 2014. Maybe In 2015?

Consumers still separate their social media activity from their shopping activities, despite many efforts by retailers and social networks themselves to encourage more overlap between the two.

Similar to the trends last holiday season, and throughout 2014, social media (including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest) is still not driving a substantial share of ecommerce transactions. Through the holiday season (November – December 2014), social media drove only 1.9% of all ecommerce orders – a similar share to holiday 2013, when it drove 2.3%. “Social Commerce” is not happening (yet?).

What It Means For 2015: Retailers are still figuring out how to drive ecommerce purchases from their social media activities. It is likely we’ll see a lot of innovative, creative experiments this year on all social media networks. Some will undoubtedly fail, but finding the holy grail of monetizing social media would justify the investment.

Parting Thoughts

The main trends of the 2014 holiday shopping season – strong growth overall, mobile ecommerce, search and email marketing, figuring out social media – should be top marketing priorities in 2015. Bolstering the infrastructure for these throughout the year will create a strong foundation for success in the 2015 holiday season.

Note: You can download the full 2014 US ecommerce holiday recap report here and the complete data sets here (registration required).

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Jordan Elkind
Jordan Elkind heads the product team at Custora, an advanced customer analytics platform for ecommerce retailers. Prior to joining Custora, he earned an MBA from Wharton and worked in marketing analytics at Citi Cards.

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