Fall is officially underway! In many parts of the country, the air is getting crisper and the leaves are changing colors. And that can only mean one thing: the 2020 holiday season is just around the corner.
In fact, many consumers are already in holiday shopping mode. Our friends at PowerReviews surveyed more than 5,000 consumers in August and found that 44% of them planned to start their holiday shopping before the end of September.
|Source: PowerReviews Holiday Consumer Survey 2020|
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 holiday shopping season is sure to look a lot different than previous years. Brands and retailers must have solid, yet flexible plans in place to attract and convert customers at a time when shopping behavior has changed dramatically.
If you’re like most brands, you’ve been planning for the upcoming holiday shopping season for months. But is user-generated content (UGC) part of your holiday strategy? If not, it should be. After all, it’s proven to attract and convert shoppers, especially during the busy holiday season.
Let’s take a look at what the experts are predicting for the 2020 holiday shopping season -- and how you can leverage user-generated content to ensure an even happier holiday for your brand.
What to Expect from the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season
Of course, there’s no way of knowing exactly what holiday 2020 will look like for brands and retailers. But there are a few key trends experts expect will emerge this year.
Holiday Sales will Grow — Slightly
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on unemployment rates and financial anxiety. As a result, many consumers have focused their spending on the things they need, rather than luxuries.
But that doesn’t mean the holiday season will be a complete bust for retailers. In fact, Deloitte predicts holiday sales will increase between 1% and 1.5% this year, compared to holiday 2019.
Of course, that’s less significant growth than previous years. According to the National Retail Federation, 2019 holiday sales were up 4.1%. But it’s growth nonetheless. And that’s more than many of us could have expected during a year that’s been financially tough for many consumers.
eCommerce Sales will Explode
Since the start of the pandemic, many consumers have avoided trips to brick-and-mortar retailers, opting instead to shop online. As a result, eCommerce has experienced significant growth.
And it doesn’t look like that momentum will slow down during the holiday season. In fact, Salesforce predicts that up to 30% of retail sales will be made through digital channels. And Deloitte forecasts eCommerce sales will grow 25-35% this holiday season, compared to the same period last year.
The Holiday Shopping Season will Kick Off in October
Typically, Black Friday marks the start of the holiday shopping season. But this year, shopping is expected to start earlier. In fact, Salesforce predicts 10% of holiday sales will be pulled into October.
Why the early start? There are a number of factors coming into play. For starters, many consumers are shopping earlier to avoid supply shortages and shipping delays, which have been hallmarks of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, Amazon pushed Prime Day to October, and other retailers are expected to follow suit with earlier-than-normal promotions.
In-Store Activity will Look Different
In year’s past, shoppers lined up outside of a store, hours before it opened, to get the best Black Friday deals. Some even cut their holiday festivities short to go shopping on Thanksgiving.
This year, things are probably going to look a lot different. Major retailers have announced they’ll remain closed on Thanksgiving. And many businesses are spreading out their holiday promotions to keep store traffic at a safe level.
But make no mistake: stores will still have an important role to play this holiday season. The PowerReviews survey we mentioned earlier found that 30% of consumers aren’t concerned about shopping in stores during the holiday season.
What’s more, many shoppers will visit stores to pick up the orders they placed online. According to Salesforce, a third of consumers are more interested in using Buy Online, Pickup in Store (BOPIS) services than they were last year. The company also predicts that stores that offer in-store pickup will see a 90% increase in digital sales, compared to the 2019 holiday season.
How UGC Impacts Holiday Sales
The holiday shopping season is predicted to be a lot less dismal than many anticipated. But that doesn’t mean you can put your holiday plans on autopilot.
Brands will have to work hard to attract and convert holiday shoppers this year -- especially those shopping online. User-generated content (UGC), like ratings and reviews and Q&A, can help.
In fact, leveraging UGC can positively impact your brand in three major ways this holiday season.
UGC will boost holiday sales
Reviews play a critical role in the purchase journey. According to our friends at PowerReviews, nearly all consumers read reviews when making purchase decisions.
It’s probably not surprising, then, that UGC can have a powerful impact on your bottom line. According to data from PowerReviews, when a product adds at least one review, it can experience a 65% lift in conversion.
Reviews and Q&A are arguably even more important during the holiday season, when consumers are buying products they’ve never purchased before.
For example, a 20-something man could be shopping for a gift for his three-year-old niece. He doesn’t know much about toddlers, so he starts browsing on a major retailer’s website. He finds a tricycle that has 1,000 reviews. It’s obviously a popular product, so he digs further. The tricycle has an average star rating of 4.5, and many reviewers mention it being a hit with three-year-olds. He confidently purchases the trike, and it’s his niece’s favorite Christmas gift.
UGC decreases holiday returns
A busy holiday shopping season will most assuredly be followed by a surge in product returns. In fact, experts estimate that 15-40% of online purchases (and 5-10% of in-store purchases) are returned.
Of course, there’s no way to completely eliminate post-holiday returns. But displaying reviews (even the negative ones) and Q&A on your product pages can be a powerful way to keep returns at bay.
A chief reason people return products is that the items didn’t meet expectations. Reading reviews gives shoppers a more realistic understanding of what to expect from a product. And Q&A software allows them to ask any questions that weren’t answered by the product description and reviews. That means there will be fewer surprises when the product arrives, and the shopper will be less likely to return it.
What’s more, a brand can prevent returns by keeping an eye on negative reviews and drafting quick, helpful responses. For example, a consumer might receive a makeup set for the holidays. She’s using it incorrectly, and isn’t having great results. So she writes a negative review, mentioning she plans to return the product. The brand sees the review and quickly responds with some helpful tips for application. She tries the tips, has a better experience and decides to keep the product. And the brand avoids an unnecessary return.
UGC helps foster loyalty
A shopper’s impression of your brand is built on every single experience they have with you. Collectively, these experiences determine whether a shopper will buy from you again. According to PwC, 73% of consumers say experience is an important factor in purchasing decisions.
Of course, the experience a consumer has while shopping is key. But so are the experiences they have after making a purchase.
Responding to reviews -- both positive and negative -- gives you an opportunity to provide great post-sale experiences and build authentic connections. Those authentic connections can foster loyalty that’ll last long after the holiday season is over. And that’ll have a positive impact on your bottom line. A report from Motista tells us that shoppers who feel emotionally connected to a brand have a lifetime value that’s 306% higher than the average customer.
5 Ways to Leverage UGC to Boost Your Holiday Sales
Clearly, UGC can have a positive impact on your holiday sales. But what can you do to ensure you’re leveraging it the fullest this holiday season?
Read on for five actions to take now to experience the greatest impact on your holiday sales.
1. Ask for Reviews
Ideally, all of your customers would write reviews after making a purchase -- without prompting. But that’s not the case.
Be sure you’re reminding your shoppers to write reviews. The best way to do that is to send an email to each shopper a set number of days after they’ve made a purchase, requesting that they write a review. For example, the Gap sends emails about a week after products are delivered, requesting reviews.
Also, make sure the review submission process is quick and easy, no matter what device the shopper is using. For example, when a consumer clicks through the Gap email above, they’re taken to a page where they can easily write reviews for each product, all from one page.
2. Invite Shoppers to Ask Questions
No matter how comprehensive your product descriptions are, your shoppers will still have questions. This is especially true when people are shopping for gifts for others during the holiday season.
Add Q&A software to your product pages so shoppers can easily submit the questions that are standing in the way of purchase. For example, Ulta uses software that allows shoppers to search for questions that have already been asked. Then, if they still have questions, they can submit them for the brand to answer.
3. Showcase Reviews and Q&A
Once you start collecting reviews and questions, be sure to display it prominently on your website where it’s easy for your shoppers to find and interact with. That way, they can find the social proof they need to convert, both during the holidays and beyond.
For example, Sephora displays the average star rating for a product right at the top of the product page.
If a shopper scrolls down, they can sort and filter the content in a number of different ways, including by star rating.
The company also displays the average star rating and number of reviews on category pages to entice shoppers to click through.
Consolidate Reviews and Q&A
If you’re like many brands, you sell your products through a number of different channels. For example, maybe you sell through your own eCommerce site, as well as through a handful of big box retailers and Amazon.
That means shoppers can also leave reviews and ask questions through these different channels, too. And that can make it challenging to stay on top of your UGC. After all, you’ve got to log into a different dashboard to monitor and respond to reviews and Q&A for each sales channel.
If you’re not already, now’s the time to consolidate your reviews and Q&A into one reputation management platform, such as Reputation Studio. When you consolidate your content with Reputation Studio, you can see and respond to all reviews and Q&A from one platform -- regardless of where the content was submitted.
Respond Quickly to Reviews and Customer Questions
Holiday shoppers have nearly endless shopping options. If you don’t give them what you need -- quickly -- they’ll go elsewhere. In fact, Amazon recommends its brand partners respond to customer questions in near real time. So be sure to make it a priority to respond to your customer’s questions and reviews quickly.
If you’re a Reputation Studio customer, it’s easy to provide quick answers to questions and respond to reviews, as all of this content is consolidated into one dashboard.
Of course, some reviews and questions should be prioritized above others. For example, a review that mentions a health or safety issue should be addressed before a review from a shopper that simply doesn’t like the flavor of a soft drink. In fact, we wrote an entire blog about how to respond to negative reviews.
If you’re a Reputation Studio customer, you can set up alerts so you’re notified if a review is submitted that’s below a certain star rating. You can also create a list of keywords, such as “pain,” “bad” and “return” and receive an alert any time one of these words appears in a review or question. That way, you can escalate it as needed -- and potentially prevent a return.
Leverage Your Brand’s UGC for a Happy Holiday Season
There’s no doubt it’s been a challenging year. The good news is, experts expect a bright holiday season for brands and retailers.
But competition is fierce. The most successful brands will be those that leverage user-generated content as part of their holiday strategy. Doing so will help boost sales, reduce returns and foster loyalty.
Best of luck for a happy holiday season!