The 2015 holiday shopping season could reach record highs in sales volume, thanks to early promotion of special deals, mobile shopping technology, and speedy fulfillment options, one expert says.
As retailers are putting the finishing touches on their plans for the holiday shopping season, they have made several changes compared to previous years, said Jim Tompkins, CEO of Tompkins International, a supply chain consulting firm in Raleigh, NC.
Together, those adjustments will help drive a 4.2-percent increase in holiday sales for 2015 over 2014, an even greater jump than the 3.7-percent predicted by the National Retail Federation, Tompkins said.
The first step driving greater sales is that companies are getting a jump on the competition. Three of the world's largest e-commerce sites started promoting special offers and shipping deals earlier than ever this year, with Alibaba.com, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and Amazon.com Inc. all launching holiday sales pitches by Nov. 2 or earlier.
Consumers are also on an earlier schedule than usual, with 45 percent of buyers launching their holiday shopping before Halloween and 85 percent beginning before Thanksgiving, according to Tompkins' research.
Keeping time with this trend, many retailers have expanded the concept of Black Friday to an entire month, promoting what Tompkins has called "Black November" deals and offers. By drawing the season out, retailers are able to offer more consistent pricing than when they focus exclusively on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
The greater consistency applies to more than just in-store pricing, with retailers seeking to provide a unified omnichannel shopping experience, whether customers are shopping in malls, from catalogs, on laptops, or on smartphones.
More than 25 percent of all U.S. smart phone users will use their phones to purchase holiday 2015 merchandise, with more than 70 percent of U.S. consumers expecting a seamless, omnichannel shopping experience, Tompkins said.
Companies will try to meet these high expectations by providing fast fulfillment. More than 80 percent of online sales this season will receive free shipping, and more than 50 percent of consumers who buy online will choose a "click and collect" option.
Behind the scenes, retailers will be using new tools and technologies to track the flood of holiday deliveries and wring extra efficiencies out of every sale, Tompkins said. More than half of holiday retailers will seek to enhance their customer-centricity and profitable growth by deploying online analytics, shipping velocity, and personalization.
In a related development, import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to increase 8.3 percent this month over the same time last year, according to the monthly "Global Port Tracker" survey of the nation's major containers released today by the National Retail Federation and consultancy Hackett Associates. This month's forecast will be a relatively easy comparison over subpar numbers in November 2014, when a protracted dispute between waterfront management and West Coast dockworkers began to escalate, leading to ship delays and cargo backlogs as an alleged slowdown by waterfront labor dramatically curtailed port productivity.