RetailMeNot’s Hoyt: This Will Be the Most Personalized Holiday Season We’ve Ever Had

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The most wonderful time of year begins this week for retailers, as shoppers clamor for deals and steals on presents for family, friends, and coworkers. Whether in-store, online, or a mobile device, an astounding amount of retail business will be transacted in the next five weeks. Retail-watchers will be keeping a close eye on the ratio of sales between those three channels, but judging by the trends of the past 10 years, this year will be the biggest yet for digital commerce.

Coupon site RetailMeNot (or mega-shopping destination, as the company thinks of itself) sits at the center of the season’s retail activity. Its website and app are designed to inform consumers of both nearby and online offers, lending the company a unique perspective on the shifting nature of online-to-offline commerce. Like many operating at the nexus of online and brick-and-mortar retail, RetailMeNot has observed heightened expectations on the part of consumers. For example, it has found that:

  • 48% of shoppers complete the majority of their shopping on or before Cyber Monday;
  • 54% of shoppers expect retailers holiday promotions to begin in October or earlier;
  • 85% expect deals before Black Friday.

The message to retailers: Be prepared, be very, very prepared. Street Fight sat down recently with RetailMeNot vice president of communications Brian Hoyt to get more detail on key shopping trends to watch for this holiday season.

What are three new things we’ll see this holiday shopping season in terms of consumer retail behavior?
This is going to be a really interesting holiday shopping season in that mobile is going to play a big role in creating a more omnichannel experience than ever. It used to be that Black Friday was the day you went to the mall and Cyber Monday was the day that you shopped online. But the mobile phone has kind of blurred the lines, so when you’re sitting at home, you’re in discovery mode, thinking “What should I buy?” You’re getting on your device and you’re seeing what deals are available around you.

In some cases, that’s driving consumers right to an ecommerce site to make that purchase, but in many cases it’s driving them into stores as well. I think you’ll see more ecommerce activity than ever on Black Friday this year, but it still will be a big day to shop in-store. Four in 10 RetailMeNot users told us they intend to go shopping on Black Friday, but that’s going to be an omnichannel experience this year. The crowds at the malls may not be what they have been.

The second thing is you’ll see consumers more than ever taking advantage of new promotional offers that are in the marketplace. Again, mobile is an underlying current of this in that the technology is enabling consumers to do a bunch of things beyond just getting deals. Retailers are looking at other promotional strategies to drive consumers into stores this year.

For example, look for the ability to do rebates where you can submit a receipt through your mobile device and get cash back within a couple of days. Also, look for the advent of discounted gift cards to play a bigger role this year, particularly in terms of how retailers are encouraging consumers to go shop in an omnichannel way online or in-store.

Third, from a retail marketing standpoint, it’s going to be the most personalized holiday season we’ve ever had. Whether it’s through sending more relevant emails or geolocating shoppers near a favorite retailer or recognizing when a shopper has visited a store and opened the app in-store, there are all sorts of mechanisms to essentially “encourage” consumers to go shopping. CRM has gotten a lot more sophisticated in the last 12 to 24 months, so it’s going to be an exciting holiday from that standpoint as well.

One of the factors impeding strictly mobile digital commerce is retailers’ level of preparedness and the level of friction in the shopping process. There’s more app-to-app deep linking taking place now courtesy of the latest versions of iOS and Android. To what extent do you see that as removing a key friction point for mobile shopping?
At the beginning of 2015, we did an audit of all our retail partners and found only about 40 percent of our top partners had mobile-optimized websites, so a lot of retailers weren’t prepared to accept the mobile consumer, especially with the growth in m-commerce that we’ve seen since the advent of larger-screen phones. Google’s algorithm change this year, which effectively favored retailers that had mobile-optimized websites, has been good for the industry in that it’s forcing a lot of retailers to develop better mobile experiences.

Something that’s really exciting from a marketing standpoint is the ability to do deep linking into apps. This week, RetailMeNot is announcing a new app to app feature within our service that enables us to effectively go to a retailer’s own app and provide consumers deals that might only be available there. And that’s important because retailers historically have said, “I need a mobile optimized website,” and then gone out and built an app. Our ability to deep link into their apps is a really important way for retailers to open up the landscape and enable a mega-retail app like RetailMeNot to drive traffic their way. The idea is to make it as seamless as possible, so instead of sending shoppers into the app environment, we push them to retailers’ m-dot site and make the deal available to them there.

We hear a lot about beacons and wearables today. What do you see as their role in the future of retail?
We’re bullish on beacons. In the past year, we’ve signed two agreements with Gimbal and Swirl, the two largest publishers of beacon offers. What’s exciting about beacons is they give brands and product manufacturers the opportunity to engage with consumers in a way they couldn’t before at the aisle level. But it’s still the first or second inning, and beacons have to become smarter just as email and mobile push notifications need to do. Affinity and timing are both important factors and that’s what we’re working on now.

When it comes to wearables, we like wearable technology in that when you’re a location-aware app like we are, there’s likely a way that you can integrate into the Apple Watch or the Samsung Gear S, which is where we currently have apps today. Primarily, we’re offering notifications that function as an extension of the experience from the app itself. But again, like beacons, it’s early days in terms of how much will consumers adopt wearable technology, so we’re going to develop for it based on where we see consumer demand going.

Noah Elkin is Street Fight’s managing editor.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.