Holiday online shopping dynamics: The 2016 season’s results are already coming in.

ohsOne of the neat aspects of online shopping is the ability to learn about consumer behaviors almost in real-time. No waiting around for published reports that are released months after the fact.

Moreover, we can know quite a bit more than simply gross sales figures, including traffic stats.

In fact, we already have extensive information available about consumer online shopping activities in the 2016 holiday season, thanks to data released by firms such as Connexity’s Hitwise division, which measures consumer behaviors across desktop, tablet and smartphone devices.

From Hitwise, we know that its Top 500 retail websites received more than 335 million visits on Thanksgiving Day alone. That averages out to just under 14 million visits per hour … but the time period of 8 pm to 11 pm had more than 50% greater traffic compared to the hourly average for the day.

Amazon.com was among the retailers receiving extensive traffic volume from 8 pm onward – in its case ~25% of its total traffic on Thanksgiving came in those final four hours of the day.

One supposes that after the “big meal,” the “big game” and the “big cleanup,” consumers decided cap off the day by plunking down at their computers or smartphones for some heavy-duty online shopping.

Hitwise found that Black Friday online shopping dynamics were different, with the top retail sites being busiest in the late morning hours, when site visits were around half again larger than Black Friday’s daily hourly average.

As for Cyber Monday, Hitwise found that consumer online shopping dynamics weren’t very much different from any other typical Monday – except that the overall volume (nearly 330 million visits) was substantially higher than the typical Monday volume of ~200 million visits. That, and a slightly greater-than-average share of online shopping happening in the early morning hours of 6, 7 and 8 am.

hwlAs for the persistent belief that Cyber Monday has more people shopping online during their time in the office, Hitwise is not seeing that phenomenon any longer.

Again, not very surprising in that more consumers have 24/7 access to digital devices in 2016 than they did ten or even just five years ago.

The Hitwise report for 2016 includes extensive findings not just on hourly shopping patterns, but also on product searches and key traffic drivers for the major online shopping websites. More data can be found on the Connexity/Hitwise website.

Tech meets traditional: Digital marketing drives more phone calls by far.

CCIn a classic case of marrying tech with traditional marketing, digital channels are driving more calls to businesses than ever before.

What’s more, digital channels are now responsible for nine out of ten phone calls made to companies as a result of promotional efforts using the ten most popular marketing channels.

These findings come from the 2016 Call Intelligence Index published by Invoca, a phone call tracking and analytics firm that evaluates phone call activity across 40 industry segments.

Invoca’s 2016 evaluation covers more than 58 million phone calls generated from ten marketing channels — six of them digital and four of them “traditional offline” channels.

According to Invoca’s analysis, the biggest single source of phone queries is mobile search — representing nearly half of all phone call volume. But the next five channels that follow in line are all digital as well, as can be seen in this list:

  • INMobile search: Drives 48% of phone calls to businesses from marketing channels
  • Desktop search: 17%
  • Desktop display advertising: 11%
  • Content / review websites: 9%
  • Mobile display advertising: 3%
  • E-mail marketing: 3%
  • Total digital channels: 91%

 

  • Radio advertising: 3%
  • TV advertising/infomercials: 2%
  • Newspaper advertising: 2%
  • Directory advertising: 2%
  • Total non-digital channels: 9%

Comparing the 2016 results against a similar analysis conducted by Invoca in 2014, digital marketing channels have continued to rise in prominence — from representing 84% of the total phone call activity to 91% today.

The Invoca research also finds that phone calls are supplementing digital interactions, which is the result of consumers shifting between various different digital channels as they go about their research — often employing several different ones during the same mission task.

One of the biggest jumps in digital channel usage is in the automotive segment, where it’s clear that a big shift is underway from offline to digital channels — particularly mobile. The automotive industry experienced nearly a 120% increase in digital sources driving phone calls in the current Invoca research compared to the previous one.

So there’s no question that digital now “rules” when it comes to marketing channels. But far from causing the demise of a traditional channel like a phone call — as some people predicted not so long ago — digital channels have simply changed where the consumer might be just prior to heading for the (smart)phone.

Mobile shopping goes majorly mainstream.

untitledFor years, the common perception has been that consumers tend to use their laptops, tablets or mobile devices to research purchases while ultimately visiting a store to make the actual purchase.

And up until now, most studies have shown that no matter what type of digital device consumers use to shop, large majorities prefer to complete the sale in a store or at the mall.

But now a new study is telling us something different. The research, conducted by questioning ~1,000 U.S. consumers by research firm Ipsos, shows that shopping frequency in physical stores hasn’t kept pace with the growth of smartphone shopping.

According to Ipsos, over the past year there has been a significant increase in the amount of smartphone shopping, with two-thirds of respondents reporting that they are doing more of this today:

  • Shopping more frequently via smartphone: ~64%
  • Shopping more frequently via tablet: ~60%
  • Shopping more frequently via desktop computer: ~57%
  • Shopping more frequently via laptop computer: ~57%

At first blush, these figures don’t seem startling at all, considering the rise in the consumer economy over the past year or so.  Moreover, ~41% of the survey’s respondents reported that they haven’t made a significant change in their frequency of shopping in physical stores.

But in considering the ways respondents reported how and where they’ve been shopping less frequently over the past year, the differences appear much more stark:

  • Shopping less frequently via physical store: ~30%
  • Less frequently via desktop computer: ~11%
  • Less frequently via laptop computer: ~11%
  • Less frequently via tablet: ~11%
  • Less frequently via smartphone: ~9%

It even goes further than that. The two groups which seemed most inclined to shop less frequently in physical stores were younger consumers (age 25 and under) as well as consumers who earn more than $100,000 per year.

Add to this the propensity for younger consumers to be using smartphones and tablets more often than their older counterparts, and it’s clear that some of the most prized demographic categories are migrating to smartphone shopping in a big way.

The implications for traditional retail could not be more clear:  adapt your business model or else.

Online user reviews: People trust their own motives for posting … but not others’.

user reviewsOne of the most important uses of the web today is for people to seek out user reviews of products and services before they buy.

Research shows that people place a high value on these user reviews, and they are more likely to influence purchase decisions than brand advertising and other forms of promotion.

The famous 90-9-1 rule — of every 100 people, 1 creates content, 9 respond to created content and 90 simply are just lurkers — may no longer be accurate.  But even if the rule still holds, that still means quite a few people are engaging in the practice of posting customer reviews and comments.

For most people who post reviews, their reasons for doing so are positive, if the results from a recent YouGov survey of U.S. consumers are any guide.  The research was conducted in November 2014 among American respondents age 18 or older.

When asked why they post consumer reviews online, the survey respondents cited the following reasons:

  • To help other people make better purchase decisions: ~62% cited as a reason why they post
  • It’s polite to leave feedback: ~35% of respondents cited
  • It’s a way to share a positive experience: ~27%
  • To make sure good vendors get more business: ~25%
  • To warn others about a bad experience: ~13%
  • To expose bad vendors: ~12%

Interestingly, the older the age of reviewers, the more likely it is that they upload reviews for the reasons listed above:  Respondents age 55 or older cited all but one of the six reasons in greater percentages than the average for all age groups.

What about the flip side of the equation?  Do those who post feel that others are posting reviews for the same reason?

thumbs up and downThat’s where the picture gets a bit murkier.  It appears that those who post do so for positive reasons … but they don’t necessarily think others are posting for similarly positive purposes.

In fact, about two-thirds of the survey respondents felt that some reviews are written by people who haven’t actually purchased the product or service.

A large portion — 80% — think that businesses write positive online review about themselves.

And nearly 70% believe that businesses post negative feedback about competitors’ products.

So it’s interesting:  People see themselves participating in online ratings and reviews for the right reasons, yet they suspect that other posters may not be playing fairly — or maybe even gaming the system.

It’s an indication that while user reviews are welcomed in practice, there are also nagging doubts about the veracity of what people are reading.

Still, surveys find that many consumers cast those doubts to the side, and continue to read user reviews and be influenced by them.

Gallup puts the Kibosh on Social Media’s Marketing Hype

“Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be.”Gallup, Inc. 

social media verdictThat’s one of several key conclusions from a report issued this past summer by research firm Gallup, Inc. The report examined the influence of social media on consumer purchase decision-making.

The Gallup findings are based on web and mail polling it conducted with ~18,000 American consumers during 2013.

When asked about the influence of social media on buyer behaviors, ~62% of the respondents reported that social media has “no influence at all” on their purchasing decisions.

By contrast, ~30% stated that social media has “some influence,” while only ~5% reported that social media has “a great deal of influence” over their purchasing decisions.

Compare these middling results with the fact that U.S. companies spent well over $5 billion on social media advertising in 2013, and the two figures seem out of proportion.

Actually, the disconnect between “people and products” on social media shouldn’t be too surprising, in that ~94% of the Gallup respondents reported that the reason they go on social media platforms is to connect with friends and family members.

The percentage of people who use social media to follow trends and/or to find reviews or other information on products is far lower: ~29% according to the Gallup survey.

But it’s the magnitude of the difference that may be surprising.

And here’s another thing: In its report, Gallup states that “consumers are highly adept at tuning out brand-related Facebook and Twitter content.”

It’s yet another data point supporting the growing realization that social media has failed to live up to its early marketing hype. So it should come as little surprise that more companies have been refining their strategies to stress quality over quantity when it comes to both fan acquisition and to published content.

More findings from the Gallup report can be viewed here.

“Social Media Stress Syndrome”: Real or Fake?

Social Media Stress SyndromeThere’s no denying the benefits of social media in enabling people to make new friendships, reconnect with old acquaintances, and nurture existing relationships.

Facebook and other social platforms make it easier than ever to maintain “in the moment” connections with people the world over. 

Speaking for myself, my immediate relatives who live in foreign lands seem so much closer because of social media.

Plus, thanks to social media, I’ve met other relatives from several different countries for the very first time.  This would never have happened in the pre-Facebook era.

But there are downsides to social media, too – and I’ve written about them on this blog on occasion; for example, whether social media is a platform for narcissists.

Other negative consequences of social media have been noted by numerous observers of consumer online behaviors, including Canadian digital marketing company Mediative’s Senior Vice President and online marketing über-specialist Gord Hotchkiss.

Gord Hotchkiss
Gord Hotchkiss

In a recently published column by Hotchkiss headlined “The Stress of Hyper-Success,” he posits that self-regard and personal perspectives of “success” are relative.  Here’s a critical passage from what he writes:

“We can only judge it [success] by looking at others.  This creates a problem, because increasingly, we’re looking at extreme outliers as our baseline for expectations.”

Hotchkiss’ contention is that social media engenders feelings of stress in many people that would not occur otherwise.

Pinterest is a example.  A recent survey of ~7,000 U.S. mothers conducted by Today.com found that ~42% of respondents suffer from this social media-induced stress; it’s the notion that they can’t live up to the ideal suggested by the images of domestic bliss posted on the female-dominated Pinterest social network.

Facebook causes a similar reaction in many; Hotchkiss reports on a survey showing that one-third of Facebook users “feel worse” after visiting the site.

It may not be hard to figure out why, either, as visitors are often confronted with too-good-to-be-true photo galleries chronicling friends’ lavish vacations, social gatherings, over-the-top wedding ceremonies, etc.

Social Media EnvyIt’s only natural for people to focus their attention on the “extraordinary” posts of this type … and to discount the humdrum posts focusing on the mundane aspects of daily life. 

Just like in the national or local news, people tend to focus on personal news items that are exceptional – the activities that are set far apart from the average.

Wall Street Journal report Meghan McBride Kelly has come up with a pretty interesting way to address social media stress:  She quit Facebook earlier this year after a nine-year run.  McBride contends that “Aristotle wouldn’t ‘friend’ you on Facebook,” writing:

“Aristotle wrote that friendship involves a degree of love.  If we were to ask ourselves whether all of our Facebook friends were those we loved, we’d certainly answer that they’re not.  These days, we devote equal if not more time to tracking the people we have had very limited interaction with than to those whom we truly love.”

Likewise, Hotchkiss tries to head us off at the social media pass:

“Somewhere, a resetting of expectations is required before we self-destruct because of hyper-competitiveness in trying to reach an unreachable goal.  To end on a gratuitous pop culture quote, courtesy of Sheryl Crow:  ‘It’s not having what you want.  It’s wanting what you got.”

What are your thoughts about “social media stress disorder”?  Please share your observations with other readers here.

Right on Cue: More insights into e-mail engagement.

Groaning e-mail inboxes
According to Cue’s 2012 user statistics, on average, people receive more than six e-mail messages for every one that they send.

As if we needed any more proof that people are getting more and more e-mails — and reading fewer and fewer of them — along comes some aggregated data that confirm our beliefs.

Cue (formerly known as Greplin) is a mobile app for organizing and searching online data across a variety of functions such as e-mail, cloud storage and online calendars.

Because of the large number of people who use the app, Cue has amassed huge amount of data when it comes to knowing users’ online activities.

Earlier this month, Cue released some anonymized aggregate data gleaned from a cross-selection of app users. Some of the interesting findings from that study, which covered all of 2012, include these “factoids”:

  • Average number of e-mail words written per person: ~41,400
  • Average number of e-mail messages sent: ~870
  • Average number of e-mail messages received: ~5,600

With over six times the number of e-mail messages received compared to sent, it’s no wonder people are busily trashing e-mails right and left with nary a glimpse at them.

Not only that, users are becoming slower in responding to the e-mails that they do read. In 2012, the average length of time for response was ~2.5 days, compared to ~2.2 days in 2011.

But more than half of all e-mail responses happened within the first hour – and nearly 90% within 24 hours. This means that the other ones were responded to a really long time afterward in order to result in the 2.5-day average.

There were some other interesting tidbits Cue gleaned from its user analysis. For instance, “dogs” topped the list of most-mentioned animals; they were mentioned 38% of the time versus 32% for cats and just 19% for fish.

And in terms of swear words – what everyone wants to know even if they won’t admit it – the “S” word outscored the “F” word by ~43% to ~39%, with the “D” word bringing up the rear at just ~18%.

[Come to think of it, wouldn’t it have been more apropos if the “S” word was bringing up the rear?]