4 Online Shopping Seasons from January Through July [Part 1]

Spring, summer, winter, fall… gift giving, party planning, back to school, online returns.

As e-commerce continues to change the way people shop, spending seasons once ushered in by changes in weather are occurring with far less predictability. Each year brings more news of sales records that have been shattered and online holiday spending that occurs at unexpected times. And in some cases, e-commerce shopping events are the holiday.

With online shopping continually giving way to new timetables for seasonal spending, preparation is everything. The question is…

How many seasons should you plan for? While opinions may differ, the one thing sellers can count on is change. There’s little doubt that when, where and how people shop online will continue to evolve.

Below is a snapshot of the online shopping seasons as we know them now for the first half of the calendar year — and what successful sellers can do to leverage the latest data, trends and patterns in seasonal spending:

Returns Season: December – January

Resolutions, Roses and Parties: January – February

Holiday Hysteria: March, April, May

Priming and Prepping: June – July

1. Returns Season: December – January

Does your current seasonal sales strategy consist primarily of promotions and product pricing adjustments? If so, it may be time to rethink things. The flurry of e-commerce activity that starts in December and extends through January is now defined by another key component: Returns.

As consumers do more of their end-of-year holiday shopping online, return policies are playing a big role in how buyers try out items that can’t be first sampled in person. Seventy-nine percent of consumers surveyed by UPS, which returned 1 million packages every day leading up to December 25, said they look for free return shipping when selecting an online retailer.

Instead of anticipating a post-holiday lull in activity, this is the season when today’s retailers and brands must be fully prepared for an avalanche of online purchases that are returned at triple the rate of items bought in-store — and at a return rate as high as 40% for clothing and shoes bought online.

Preparation tip: Whether it’s National Returns Day in the US or Takeback Tuesday in the UK, a few best practices can help ensure those holiday returns lead to more sales. There are plenty of profitable ways to eliminate the excess inventory, too.

2. Resolutions, Roses and Parties: January – February

Preparing to meet consumer demands at the start of the year means taking a cue from the latest New Year’s Resolutions. For the two-thirds of surveyed Americans who made resolutions in 2018, for example, the most common aspirations were to eat healthier, get more exercise and save more money. (Getting in shape also topped the list in many other countries, from China to Australia.)

Together, those combined ambitions add up to an online shopping season defined by a hunger for health supplements, fitness gear and related products.

Until early February, that is. By then, the short-lived health and wellness fever is shifting to an online search frenzy for chocolate, jewelry and flowers…with a dose of smart TVs thrown in for US consumers. The reason: Valentine’s Day and Super Bowl parties.

With so many opportunities to shop online, consumers are clearly taking advantage by stocking up on Valentine’s Day gifts for family, friends, colleagues, teachers and pets in addition to significant others. In 2018, anticipated spending tallied up to a near-record $19.6 billion in the US and reached new records in the United Kingdom, China and elsewhere.

Super Bowl spending wasn’t too far behind at $15.3 billion, an 8.5% increase from the previous year that was propelled by purchases of team apparel and entertainment. (Almost one in ten Americans who buy a new TV do so during Super Bowl sales.)

Preparation tip: When planning your keyword campaigns for this season, don’t overlook the opportunity to target anti-celebrants, too. For example: More than a quarter (27%) of people who don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day still planned to treat themselves to something special or plan a get-together. This is also a great time to analyze your seasonal data to date as preparation for March and April.

3. Holiday Hysteria: March, April, May

If there’s one season beyond the November-December time frame that lends itself to holiday promotions, this would be it. One seasonal sales record after another is being shattered, starting with a St. Patrick’s Day that reached the highest level of spending in the National Retail Federation’s 14-year history.

Next up, sellers can expect April exams to bring May gift cards. When consumers decided to spend more than ever on graduation gifts last year, it was with a tendency toward products that are easily purchased online including cards, gift cards, apparel and electronics.

Easter spending is shifting to online buying, too: The number of Americans buying baskets, candy and other holiday-related items online has jumped from 21.4 to 26.8%. Online shopping, once in fifth place as a shopping destination, has now beat out local businesses and specialty stores to rank in the top three destinations for Easter purchases.

Meanwhile, Mother’s Day has reached a record-high $23.6 billion as children, grandchildren, spouses, siblings and parents snatch up cards, flowers, jewelry, clothing and books. (And while Father’s Day spending in June is also reaching new highs, it doesn’t match the spending that occurs in May for mothers.)

Preparation tip: This is the time of year to watch for potentially drastic shifts in online spending patterns. It’s also a good time to stay tuned for the latest updates in trends and data via reports from ChannelAdvisor’s annual Catalyst conferences.

4. Priming and Prepping: June and July

Despite the spate of carefree summer vacations and warm-weather activities in many parts of the world, this online shopping season is one that’s characterized by preparation.

At the center of all the online buying excitement in June and July is Amazon Prime Day. Originally intended as a one-time celebration of Amazon’s anniversary, this e-commerce event has become a one-day global shopping extravaganza for the marketplace’s 100 million Prime members. Its prominence in seasonal spending was evidenced by last year’s sales uptick of more than 60%.

Equally important is the fact that Prime Day occurs right in the midst of a back-to-school shopping season which, thanks to the growth of e-commerce, is occurring earlier than ever. Google has reported sharp rises in back-to-school related search queries in early July, and Deloitte recently reported that 71% of back-to-school sales now happen between early July and late August.

Preparation tip: Get your Amazon strategy in order well before July by reviewing the latest Prime Day checklists and FAQs, and by staying tuned for updates on ChannelAdvisor’s 2018 Prime Day Preparation webinar. And don’t wait until August to roll out your best back-to-school promotions.

In conclusion: In the ever-evolving e-commerce landscape, online retailers should be continually prepared for shifts in seasonal spending. As more and more purchases are made online, traditional shopping seasons are redefined and reallocated to different times throughout the year. By staying ahead of the latest trends, it’s possible to move forward with a measure of predictability that can lead to your own seasonal sales records.

Looking for more ways to prepare for upcoming shopping seasons? Download ChannelAdvisor’s Essential 2018 E-Commerce Calendar for January – June. (Or, have the interactive version added directly to your work calendar.)

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll cover tips for shopping seasons from July through December.

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