Shoppers are interacting with more touchpoints across more marketing channels and devices than ever before.

But which of these is having the biggest impact on consumer choice, and how are Britain’s favourite brands making the most of it?

Our recent research revealed that Marks & Spencer is the UK’s favourite Christmas shop. Of the 2,000 consumers we surveyed, 28% said they will spend the most on gifts at M&S this month, with Boots, John Lewis, Next and House of Fraser making up the rest of the top five.

Attracting Christmas shoppers pays off for these brands, and not just in the short term. Our survey also revealed that 84% of UK shoppers plan to carry on spending in their chosen stores after the Christmas season has ended.

The modern consumer journey

The top five brands are ones which UK shoppers have known and loved for a long time. Although the stores aren’t new, their methods of attracting customers have changed dramatically since the stores were founded.

These changes have been driven by the transformation of consumer behaviour. According to research by Webloyalty & Conlumino, the average consumer typically used around two touchpoints during their path to purchase in the year 2000. By 2015, this had increased to around five.

Christmas shoppers on smartphone

Shoppers are interacting with more touchpoints across more marketing channels and devices than ever before.

But which of these is having the biggest impact on consumer choice, and how are Britain’s favourite brands making the most of it?

The famous Christmas TV ad campaign

Despite the big budgets and hype, our research found that only 27% of people make a purchase based on brands’ TV adverts alone.

This may seem a small percentage in return for the huge investment in TV ads, but no channel performs in a silo. As multi-device ownership increases – according to the IAB’s 2015 Full Year Digital Adspend Results, there are an average of 8.3 connected devices per home – the ways to reach consumers increase too.

For a TV advert to be most effective, it must be part of a multichannel campaign delivering consistent messaging across channels and devices. 

John Lewis – whose Christmas campaign is often the most talked about – is taking this multichannel approach seriously, combining both on and offline experiences.

Buster the Boxer soft toys and picture books are on sale, and the brand has partnered with Snapchat to produce a custom filter, created bespoke Twitter stickers, and offered an Oculus Rift VR experience in the Oxford Street flagship store. 

The brand’s creative multichannel approach pays off. Speaking before the release of this year’s campaign, John Lewis’ head of marketing, Rachel Swift, said that the Christmas TV ad campaign is the store’s most profitable return on investment. 

Advice from friends and family

Our survey found that 31% of people listen to advice from friends and family about where to purchase Christmas gifts from.

Social media is the modern equivalent of word of mouth. Today’s brands understand the importance of using social media as part of a multichannel campaign.

For example, M&S has ‘Mrs Claus’, the star of its TV ad, taking over its Twitter account, has created the hashtag #lovemrsclaus, and has even designed its own Mrs Claus emoji.

According to Waggener Edstrom, from 4–20 November 2016, M&S clocked up 43,376 mentions across social media, second only to John Lewis (which had a huge 203,199).

Again the scale of the social buzz surrounding these big campaigns helps hammer home the importance of creating a campaign that is active across multiple channels.

Browsing a retailer’s own website

Our survey results also showed that 33% of shoppers browse a brand’s own website to help them decide where to buy gifts. So, it’s essential to make sure people can navigate around your site easily.

Next’s online Christmas store is a prime example of so many retail websites at this time of year – there’s an obvious Christmas section in the main navigation, ‘gifts for…’ category pages, Secret Santa guides, the list goes on. It’s easy for consumers to find what they’re looking for in whatever way that suits them.

But this on-site experience is only beneficial if people are actually visiting your website in the first place. Attracting relevant traffic isn’t just about the short term tactics, like the barrage of Black Friday emails we experienced last month.

Campaigns that focus on the long term, like partnerships with relevant blogs and online magazines, can help you attract more of your target customers over a longer period of time. 

The tricky thing is measuring the impact of campaigns like this. If a customer reads your Christmas gift guide on their favourite fashion blog and then visits your website a few days later, last-click measurement won’t acknowledge the contribution of the content campaign. 

Brands, including some of those in our top five, are moving towards attributed measurement to help them understand the value of marketing channels that appear earlier in the user journey.

House of Fraser, for example, saw an 83% rise in the number of affiliate touchpoints awarded commission when it moved away from the last-click model.

This view of the full user journey allowed House of Fraser to recognise the touchpoints that were driving customers to its website on a longer term basis.

Saving money with vouchers and loyalty schemes

Finally, we found that 44% of consumers are encouraged to buy from a store if they know they can use a voucher code, and 23% are persuaded by the chance to build up loyalty points.

Boots is a great example of a store that uses vouchers and loyalty points well. You can quickly find offers on voucher and cashback sites, the brand’s Advantage Card is extremely popular, and its 3-for-2 offers at Christmas practically fill the store.

Typically, online vouchers are associated with short-term gains at the last click – arguably perfect for the Christmas push. But it’s important to understand the incremental value that vouchers offer.

As our survey shows, they can prompt shoppers to choose one brand over another. Vouchers can also add value across the whole user journey: We found a 22% uplift in revenue from voucher sites when taking earlier touchpoints into account, rather than just last click.

So, we’ve seen that the modern consumer journey is complex. Christmas shoppers are influenced by lots of different touchpoints – there’s no one channel that trumps them all. The UK stores that win the Christmas retail battle are the ones that target their audience across all the relevant channels available to them.

The brands that truly win at this time of the year, however, are the ones that understand the importance of lifetime value. Attracting customers and encouraging them to buy Christmas gifts is only the first step.

Retailers that succeed are those that use their data cleverly to help them make the most of the 84% of Christmas shoppers who intend to shop at their chosen store again – and attract as many of the remaining 26% as possible.

Having a rounded understanding of the user journey, and the many touchpoints that users encounter both pre- and post-purchase, allows you to test and discover what messages to use – and when – to encourage more customers to return again and again.

James Collins

Published 13 December, 2016 by James Collins

James Collins is Rakuten Marketing’s SVP Global Product Strategy – Attribution. James has championed the use of performance marketing data in the digital sector over the last decade, advocating open access to attribution data and delivering proven value from Rakuten Marketing’s attribution technology.  As SVP of global product strategy, James is responsible for leading Rakuten Marketing’s value proposition team, working with teams across the business to deliver the next generation of digital marketing products. You can follow Rakuten Marketing on Twitter or connect with James on LinkedIn

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