Last week, eMarketer hosted a webinar to share the firm’s online holiday shopping forecast and trends for the 2016 season. While overall U.S. retail sales will grow by a tepid 3.1 percent during the 2016 holiday season, retail ecommerce sales will continue to skyrocket, with an estimated growth rate of 17.2 percent. This represents a $14 billion increase since last year and the highest rate increase since 2011.

Holiday Season NGS_blog_HolidayForecast

One of the major trends that eMarketer highlighted for the holidays is retailers creating better bridges between online and offline commerce.

According to the firm, the holiday season should see advances in four areas that bind online and offline channels:

    1. Better Fulfilment:

    Fast, free shipping is the leading factor for influencing holiday purchases. Additionally, the demand for variable fulfillment options is growing. According to eMarketer, more than half of back-to-school shoppers in 2016 planned to use buy online, pick up in store fulfillment options. While in-store pickup is becoming more common, with 42 percent of retailers offering this option, nearly half said it’s not working well. Look for improvements this holiday season.

    2. Better Advertising Products:

    Mobile’s share of paid search is increasing with 40 percent of North American paid search spend focused on mobile channels. Local inventory ads (LIAs) have become more prominent, though they require real-time inventory visibility and integration with POS and marketing systems. Today, 5-7 percent of total Google Shopping clicks come from LIAs.

    3. Local Digital Merchandising:

    Site merchandising has been a huge priority for U.S. ecommerce retailers following last year’s holiday season. Retailers are starting to personalize their online merchandising efforts to reflect a shopper’s current location.

    4. Better Local Attribution:

    There are many new ways to track offline purchases back to online ads. Facebook now enables retailers to import sales info from CRM tools to measure offline conversions, Google can track offline conversions and store visits tracking in Adwords and many others like PlaceIQ and Foursquare have their own offline measurement tools.

In addition to these four areas that are helping to bridge the gap in online and offline, eMarketer also pointed out a couple of emerging trends in online commerce that we’ll see this holiday season as well: conversational commerce and augmented reality (AR).

Conversational commerce is shopping embedded within AI-enhanced conversations, such as Facebook’s new chatbot functionality announced earlier this year. eMarketer expects that we’ll continue to see retailers using conversational commerce mostly around clienteling and customer service. While a lot of retailers are very interested in this, eMarketer suggests that they’re waiting to see it develop a little more before they plunge in.

Augmented reality has been around for a while, but has been thrust into the spotlight this year with the introduction of Pokémon Go. The app already has 500 million downloads and $440 million in revenue. This popular AR game is just one aspect of a burgeoning field. It will be interesting to see whether retailers advertise with Pokémon Go this holiday season or if they will begin building AR into their own apps. Sephora has done this successfully with its Virtual Artist tool.

It’s only mid-September, but the holiday shopping season has already begun as many consumers are already building their shopping lists and conducting research. Understanding the key trends of the season will help you take a bigger piece of the eCommerce pie.