I’m walking the streets of Boston, just 27 miles from Plymouth, where the pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving. I must admit, it’s my favorite holiday of the year. The combination of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and potatoes added to a day of football really hits me in the sweet spot. It’s a shame we only do this once a year. But for many marketers in the eCommerce world, the end of November signals the ramping up of the holiday shopping season. While it’s been creeping earlier and earlier with each passing year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday act as an unofficial kickoff to the Christmas shopping extravaganza.


For the uninitiated, Black Friday is a shopping holiday in the United States, where traditionally, consumers flock to the mall at midnight to buy a big-screen TV at 70% off. It’s been mocked in TV series like South Park or movies like Jingle All the Way. While some traditionalists will still pull an all-nighter at their local shopping center, the experience has increasingly moved to the digital realm. I hope to find some folks today and hear what they are trying to accomplish this season and how vital an arbitrary Q4 holiday can be to their bottom line.


There is a crisp air as I walk along the Freedom Trail on Boston’s North End. Let’s see what we can learn today.


Alex – Retail CMO


I’m standing in front of the Paul Revere House. Paul Revere famously warned American soldiers of the arrival of the British army with his famous call, “The British are Coming.” The house has been converted into a museum, but most of the original architecture is intact. Built in 1680, it is now the oldest home in Boston. At three stories in the middle of the city, I can’t imagine what it would be valued at now. I bump into Alex, who is taking his son on a tour of Downtown Boston, visiting from nearby Worcester (which is somehow pronounced Wooster.) Alex mentions he works in marketing, so we get to chatting.


Alex: Most folks consider Thanksgiving the natural ending point of their year. The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is a cozy affair for baking cookies and watching Home Alone. Not for me. During that window, my company will do 30% of our total sales for the year. A bad holiday shopping season is just disastrous.


Mitto: How have you been ramping up your marketing efforts to ensure your season is successful?


Alex: Well, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, Black Friday sales start earlier every year. It used to be a day, then a weekend, then a week. I’ve seen some competitors start their ‘Black Friday’ sales on November 1st. And let’s not forget, Amazon did Prime “Big Deal” day in October, essentially another Black Friday. We’re starting the weekend before Thanksgiving to give us some runway and keep the deals going until December 1st. Beyond that, getting the word out is the most important part. We want to hit people on every channel possible to ensure they know what items will be on sale and create a sense of urgency among shoppers.


Mitto: How do you create a sense of urgency?


Alex: Some of our most significant discount items will be limited inventory, but instead of trying to get everyone in a brick-and-mortar store at midnight, we want to sell out of these items before Black Friday even arrives. Then, of course, we have other items that can be bundled that are not on discount; this can drive our profitability per customer. It’s kind of like the old razor and blade model. We’re willing to take a loss on one item if it gets shoppers active on our platform, and we make up the money in other ways.


Mitto: What channels have seen the best success?


Alex: We do email, some targeted ads, display, and even some snail mail this year, but SMS has been one of the biggest for us. Our CTRs are higher, and mobile accounts for 60% of eCommerce across the board. Our numbers even skew higher than that. Our COO tells me the number for my company is around 72%. With SMS, we can drop a link or a promo code, and shoppers can make a purchase in a few clicks.


Mitto: So you’re using SMS for marketing purposes, anything else?


Alex: Our strategy is kind of twofold. Our first goal is to get users to opt-in to SMS. We do this throughout the year with 20% off coupons if users opt in. This builds our database, so come holiday time, we can use SMS to bring them back. We also use it for shipping/tracking, some other logistics, and support. One thing I’m excited about is we’ve built SMS opt-in to the checkout process this year, so when the holidays are over, we can boost sales with outreach campaigns during some of our slower periods.


Mitto: And when are those?


Alex: My boss would say never, but I’m taking the first week of January off to take the family to Colorado for a ski trip. I like to go on vacations where I could plausibly have no cell service in case work tries to call.


Mitto: Smart man, enjoy your day here with your son.


The Freedom Trail was fun and culturally stimulating, but now I find myself in a place just as famous, albeit for different reasons. I pull up a stool at Cheers. At 5 o’clock on a Tuesday, I would expect to see the regulars, Norm, Woody, Dr. Krane, and, of course, Sam Malone; alas, life is not a sitcom. I order a Sam Adams and start chatting up the bartender, whose name is ironically Diane.


Diane – Product Manager/Part-Time Bartender


Mitto: How many times a day do people make a joke about your name?


Diane: It’s not even my real name. My bosses make me wear this name tag to drum up business.


*I nearly spit out my drink*


Diane: I’m just kidding. I’m really Diane, but not as often as you think. A lot of people who come in here are only vaguely aware of the show. The occasional tourist remembers Cheers, but our regular crowd wasn’t even born in 1993.


Mitto: Yet somehow Frasier is still on the air! Suddenly, I feel very old.


Diane: The truth is, I only work here a couple shifts a week. I’m a product manager in real life. My dad is the GM of this place. I was living alone during COVID-19 and working remotely, so I asked Pop if I could work part-time here during the holidays to occasionally force myself out of the house.


Mitto: I pitched my company a travel series for similar reasons. It’s nice to actually chat with people in real life sometimes.


Diane: Yes, this year, I’m thankful to have Thanksgiving dinner with someone other than my cat. Though she was fantastic company, if I’m being honest.


Mitto: As a product manager, what have you noticed has been the biggest change between pre and post-pandemic?


Diane: I think the easiest way to explain is to turn the question back on you. Look around. Doesn’t the city feel surprisingly empty?


Mitto: There are fewer people out and about than I might have expected.


Diane: My company had over 100 brick-and-mortar stores 5 years ago. Now we’re down to 40. There’s just no foot traffic anymore. We used to be able to just print ‘sale’ signs, hang them in the windows, and people would pop in. Those days are over. eCommerce is king, and 90% of our marketing efforts are digital. As a product manager, I’m not totally attuned to exactly what we’re trying. We have a thriving online business, but I certainly miss the experience of going to a store, touching products, trying them on, and working with a sales associate. It’s also sad when a neighborhood has lots of empty storefronts.


Mitto: It’s the same for me. Have you tried any innovations in the digital space?


Diane: One campaign we have run that I’m pretty excited about is pushing people back into stores via digital channels like SMS.


Mitto: How does that work?


Diane: Well, since we have opt-in, instead of just saying, ‘Hey loyal customer, here is a 20% off coupon to use at checkout,’ we’re telling them about our store remodels. More along the lines of, ‘Hey, we’ve changed a lot about our stores, and maybe you haven’t seen it yet.’ We’re positioning it as kind of a grand re-opening. There will be sales and limited-run items. Some of the stores have live music, that kind of thing.


Mitto: So you’re trying to make returning to the store an event, so to speak.


Diane: Exactly, and we don’t want to cannibalize our eCommerce business, so we are still following best practices with our omnichannel communication strategy, but we almost think of this as a new revenue stream. In-store purchasing has declined for us; this is a way to knock out some low-hanging fruit and grow that once-booming business. If this campaign can increase sidewalk traffic, I’ll consider that a big win.


Mitto: That’s interesting because most people I speak to about SMS are trying to minimize the clicks that constitute a conversion.


Diane: Not every campaign has the same goal. Suppose we can leverage these ubiquitous digital channels to think outside the box. In that case, I think it can help our company’s long-term health.


We notice a couple of young men sitting at the bar’s other side. I see one speaking in an animated way with his hands.


He tells his friend that there should be a TV show set entirely in a bar.


“Like, Always Sunny?”


“Well, Always Sunny if they never left the bar and called it Paddy’s.”


Diane: See, they have no clue.


Mitto: We are ancient.


Omnichannel Strategies to be Thankful For


Today, I spoke to a CMO and a Product Manager who are using digital channels, specifically SMS, for vastly different reasons. One is trying to hit his annual sales goal in conjunction with holiday shopping sales, and the other is trying to use SMS to bring people back to stores. The truth is there are dozens of reasons folks will leverage omnichannel communication to reach their goals. Are you ready to start providing a better customer experience? To learn how to implement the best omnichannel solution for your business, contact Mitto today.