Look Back To Look Ahead: Tips For A Lucrative Holiday Shopping Season

Are you ready for the year's busiest shopping season? Columnist Melissa Feemster offers some takeaways from past holiday seasons, as well as some affiliate marketing tips to get you prepared.

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The holiday shopping season has begun. If you’re an ecommerce marketer like me, this is likely the quarter you’ve been planning for all year long, and after last year’s record-breaking season, the bar has been raised. You’ve pored over this year’s holiday predictions, planned your marketing calendar, dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s.

It’s never too late to make adjustments to holiday marketing programs. To help with this process, I’ve created a guide with affiliate marketing tips and key learnings from past shopping seasons to prepare for this year’s (hopefully) lucrative shopping season.

Key Trends From Holiday 2014

Timing Is Everything

Looking at what occurred in 2014 is one of the easiest ways to anticipate 2015 holiday shopping trends. With that in mind, this year, we should expect peak shopping days to take place in the middle of the week.

Last year, five of the top 12 online shopping days were Tuesdays or Wednesdays, a change from previous years, when traffic was heavily concentrated on Mondays. This indicates retailers have even more opportunities throughout the week to reach key consumers.

Don’t Forget About Mobile

I have never particularly liked the phrase, “This is the year of mobile.” Every year is the year of mobile if you’re looking at the increased visits and purchases compared with the previous year.

That said, in Q4 2014, mobile devices represented 45 percent of the holiday season Web traffic, a 26 percent increase over the previous year.  I predict that this holiday, mobile traffic to most retailers will top 60 percent of their share.

That’s a substantial increase and a warning to all retailers that have not optimized their mobile apps and websites: Get on it!

Last year, tablets still led smartphones in terms of actual purchases made on the platform during the holiday season, but this year, mobile phones will outpace tablets in share of purchases.

It will also be interesting to see if the new “buy button” initiative from major tech players Google, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest shifts this season’s shopping behaviors.

Mobile Shopping/In-Store Crossover

Seventy-five percent of consumers use their mobile devices while shopping in-store. Whether it’s to research the products by reading reviews, find better deals or make an actual purchase, it’s essential that retailers look to merge their digital campaigns with their efforts in their brick-and-mortar stores.

The “buy online, pick up in-store” trend has emerged as one way to bridge the physical–digital divide. The demand for buy online, pick up in-store services is huge (particularly for electronics, housewares and apparel), so retailers must look to provide this purchase option or risk getting left behind.

This season, we can expect to see even more crossover. Brick-and-mortar stores need to mobilize their omni-channel strategies to perform at peak this season, especially with consumers expecting relevant discounts wherever they shop, wanting personalized experiences both across devices and in-store, and relying more on their mobile devices than they do on retail sales associates.

Affiliate Marketing Tips For Holiday 2015

1. Look Back To Look Ahead

Just as last year’s retail trends are important, so is measuring last year’s Q4 program performance. Who were your top partners? What did your marketing calendar look like? Were there missed opportunities?

Spend time to answer these questions. They will provide insight into where to promote offers.

Leverage the data as a benchmark, and plan your placements on days with high traffic, as well as those with high sales. Reach out to new or top-performing partners now, and make sure your content is easy to promote and competitive compared with promotions earlier this year.

Affiliates are already gathering Black Friday promotions, and real estate fills up rapidly, making it more difficult to acquire new partnerships or to optimize existing relationships as the year progresses.

2. Reassess Your Placement Strategies Based On Publisher Business Model

As shoppers look to save as much money as possible when making their holiday purchases, it’s unsurprising that sites that offer cash back and percentages off are the most frequented. We’ve found that loyalty and rewards publishers tend to lead the majority of conversions, followed by deal sites and coupon malls, respectively.

To maximize sales, provide publishers with accurate product information. Consider longer-term offers and increased commissions, particularly for loyalty sites that reward customers with cash-back incentives.

Provide early notice of best-of-Web pricing, and allow publishers to opt-in early.

Keep in mind, deal sites will experience an influx of traffic leading into the Thanksgiving/Black Friday holidays as many merchants leak exclusive deals to these sites.

Verticals like computers and electronics tend to experience the greatest increases in sales around this time, as consumers aggressively hunt for deals on expensive items like tablets, cameras, smartphones and other gadgets.

Be sure your deals are on the site as early as possible, even if you just present them as “previews.” Be sure you are part of the research share of mind.

Blog and content publishers have the ability to upload offers quickly and promote them multiple times across social networks. Develop strong and specific content for your blogger partners and inform them of upcoming events with timely communications.

3. Affiliate Success Comes Down To Partnerships

Holidays are stressful for everyone, and the heightened nerves of last-minute shoppers force purchases (and shipping) to fall on just a few days. To make it through, nurture partnerships now, so that you have strong relationships during hectic times.

The importance of having everyone on the same page cannot be understated. In a relationship, this means wanting and expecting the same things. It’s the same in a business partnership.

One idea is to gather your publishers together to deliver information about upcoming promotions by hosting a webinar.

Always remember that affiliate marketing is a people-centric business. Building and maintaining strong relationships with affiliate partners is crucial to having a successful holiday season.

Going the extra mile for your partners always pays off, and it can turn your Q4 into what truly is the most wonderful time of the year. And, as is appropriate for the season, think of ways to say “thank you” to your partners — it will be greatly appreciated.

And, with that, I wish you a prosperous holiday season ahead, filled with record-setting sales days.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Melissa Feemster
Melissa Feemster is the General Manager for the Rakuten Affiliate Network (formerly LinkShare), and serves as the voice of its clients and shapes feedback into new projects and products for the business. She focuses on client retention, account optimization and new business opportunities. Melissa has grown up through the client services organization at Rakuten Affiliate Network, having joined the Chicago office in 2004. Prior to that time, she worked in account management at Ogilvy, in brand management at the Campbell Soup Company, and in corporate communications at McDonald’s Corporation.

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