Holiday Shopping at the Digital Edge


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It’s that time of year again, with Black Friday fast approaching. In 2021 only, “that time of year again” began in October when retailers and brands playing the “out-of-stock” card to jazz holiday shoppers.

Amid a perfect storm of supply chain havoc, orphan shipping containers clogging ports, soaring prices and swelling transport costs, consumers are somehow still expected to spend more than they ever have from Nov. 1 through year’s end. The National Retail Federation has pegged the November-December online and in-store spend at as much as $859 billion, or 10.5 percent greater than in 2020 when shoppers also set a record, shelling out $777.3 billion over the two-month period.

I wish I could say I’m a passive observer covering the retail insanity that is Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and the rest of Cyber Week. But it’s hard not to get swept up in the frenzy when coupons bombard your email and “better shop early” messages beckon.

Holiday shopping is one of my favorite activities of the year; I just do it differently now — almost entirely online. In the pandemic era, it’s hard to separate how much of the e-commerce route is not wanting to stand shoulder to shoulder at the checkout line at Macy’s and how much owes to convenience.

I began my Christmas shopping in earnest last weekend, and made every purchase with my phone — while watching sports on TV. It’s not necessarily even easier that way. I don’t feel like I get the best shopping experience compared with the larger monitor attached to my desktop PC, but if I think of something, I buy it in the moment before I forget, and my phone is almost always with me.

Click, add to cart, go to PayPal for checkout, and I don’t even have to pull out a credit card.

Come to think of it, I do most of my paying by phone, too, and I’m not alone. Since the pandemic, contactless payments have taken off. A June Deloitte study showing the impact of Covid-19 on mobile trends showed 18 percent of consumers began making contactless payments via services like Apple Pay or Google Pay, joining the 28 percent who had already been doing it pre-pandemic.

I’m like a poster child for that study. Since the pandemic began, I use a mobile payment service to make online purchases several times a week; I’ve used a mobile app to order a product, picking it up in a local store (Best Buy); and I’ve bought products via a social media app.

Mobile shopping, while still rising, isn’t growing at the astronomical rate it did in the past few years. According to Adobe, mobile shopping “has hit a ceiling,” with work-from-home trends sending consumers to their laptops to shop. I get that. A sweater is a lot easier to see on a 22-inch monitor than it is on a 6.7-inch phone display.

Adobe expects smartphones to account for 42 percent of overall e-commerce revenue this season, $86 billion, a 5 percent bump from holiday 2020.

So, what’s the next big thing?

Marketing futurists are hyping augmented reality shopping, and I’ve gotta say, I’m intrigued. Target, Ikea, Wayfair and Home Depot are some of the retailers using AI to show consumers how products would fit in their spaces. Ulta Beauty and other makeup companies use AI to illustrate how consumers will appear using their beauty products before they buy.

I spotted a chair at Target.com and clicked the app’s “See it in your space” option. The app used my camera and placed the chair in the section of the room where I directed it. Voila! The chair took up the only remaining floor space in the room. It looked good there, but I didn’t need another chair.

I wish every home furnishings company had an app like that.

Tinkering with Ikea Place, another AR virtual positioner app, I saw how a Sonos Symfonisk table lamp (with a built-in speaker) would look on a nightstand. That wasn’t as successful. The lamp kept bouncing, which may have been a sign of a cluttered nightstand.

In the virtual world, shouldn’t a lamp be able to go anywhere? The lamp also changed sizes in an odd way. The algorithm seemed to be at a more rudimentary stage.

The wide variation in polish may be why 75 percent of teen and adult consumers in a January eMarketer survey said they’re not interested in using an AR app. Only one in 10 had used the app and approved, 4 percent used them and didn’t like them and 12 percent planned to try one. I’ll bet five years from now, when the tech has advanced, those numbers skew much higher.

Social commerce is another emerging way that brands hope to get you to part ways with your hard-earned cash. Facebook peppers me daily with ads from online clothing vendor Stitch Fix. So, too, do other merchants, but I remove those that don’t interest me, which is most. Stitch-Fix, though, seems to have my number because I find something appealing several times a week, then copy and paste the link into Facebook Messenger for Santa.

It fits that Stitch Fix is all over the nascent social commerce market, billing itself as an online personal styling service using “recommendation algorithms and data science to personalize clothing items based on size, budget and style.”

For someone like me who hates to try on clothes in a store, this is proving to be a good fit. Their algorithms pretty much nailed my tastes. I’m not crazy about shopping via Facebook, though, so I click through to the Stitch Fix website instead.

Elswhere, Google has been experimenting with livestream shopping events; it’s running one through Nov. 22 called YouTube Holiday Stream and Shop. It’s a no-brainer for YouTube to port over from the TV world a QVC-like experience on the web. Consumers interested in scheduled events tune in at the appointed hour. Most upcoming events at this writing were makeup-related; an event I viewed yesterday featured a pitch for a Samsung smartwatch. I didn’t bite.

Live shopping events are not my thing, but the medium works for a lot of people based on the volume of comments in the chat accompanying the video. Some consumers seem to view them as social hangouts. Are digital malls of the future?

Ooh, I just got a 25-percent off code in an email from Bombas. Where’s my phone? It’s time to go sock-shopping….





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