By Adam Forrest, Senior Director, Americas Marketing

We’re in the thick of the holiday shopping season, so shipping companies like UPS and FedEx are pulling out all the stops and launching their secret weapons: storm chasers and meteorologists. And even in midst of the mid-holiday push, there is already discussion around how digital enhancements can make our shopping experiences even better in 2015.

Here are some of the top stories I read over the last few days to inspire new thoughts for you this week.

1. Meet the secret army of meteorologists who keep your holiday deliveries on time

Summary: A new secret weapon is emerging for America’s shipping giants: corporate meteorologists. They are in charge of keeping holiday shipments on time, regardless of the weather, which can often involve rerouting jets around bad weather and mobilizing de-icing and refueling crews. With FedEx and UPS expected to handle 900 million packages this month, there is no room for error.

My thoughts: I’m sure there are more than a few of us who remember the frustrations felt when items didn’t arrive on time last year due to bad weather. This year, UPS and FedEx are taking significant steps to try to avoid this; I think hiring this team of corporate meteorologists is a great idea. But this also brings up the importance of fulfilling locally. Sure, there will be winter storms that need to be dealt with, but it’s much easier to get a product to a location that is 5, 10 or 50 miles away compared to 1,000+. Retailers should also be thinking about how they can get their products to consumers faster by leveraging local stores as pick-up points.


2. Google Maps goes inside Irish shopping centres, tourist hotspots

Summary: Google recently introduced indoor maps for a number of public spaces in Ireland, including shopping centers, airports and museums. The idea is to make it easier for consumers to find their way around various locations.

My thoughts: This all comes down to convenience for the consumer. I previously talked about companies like Toys R Us and Target that created maps of individual stores to help their customers find the products they’re looking for faster and easier; this effort by Google takes this to an entirely new level. Just imagine going into a mall and having Google Maps tell you the exact path to follow to find the store you’re looking for. No more looking for those old fashioned Mall Directories. No more trying to decipher what A109 means on the mall map. And beyond the convenience for consumers, there are some great opportunities here for retailers, as well, such as tapping into the Google API to provide consumers with maps or additional information on their individual store locations. And with beacon technology and possible other integrations into Google Maps, we could see retailers leveraging push notifications to get a consumer’s attention.


 3. Big Business of Pop-up Retailers (video)

Summary: Pop-up stores bring in an estimated $2B during the holiday season. These pop-up stores give retailers the ability to increase visibility with consumers, a great opportunity for retailers that don’t have a physical presence yet.

My thoughts: Pop-up stores are nothing new; retailers have been setting up shop around all sorts of big holidays and sporting events with limited inventory to try to drive additional sales. But it’s the evolution of the pop-up store that is actually quite interesting. Bringing digital capabilities into a pop-up store not only presents new engagement opportunities, but it’s also a great way to provide endless aisle inventory and ship things directly to the consumer’s home so they don’t need to carry things around. The traditional island kiosk consumers can find in a mall is transforming into a branded pop-up store, designed to capture consumer attention and drive transactions sold and shipped directly to the house. But I believe this is just a glimpse of what the future of pop-up stores could look like.


 4. Behind the holiday trend of self-gifting

Summary: Consumers are increasingly buying items for themselves during Cyber Week, and this trend, called self-gifting, is only growing. Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group, stated that 30% of purchases over the Thanksgiving holiday are attributed to self-gifting, and the NRF stated 77% of shoppers took advantage of discounts to buy for themselves over the holiday weekend.

My thoughts: Stating the obvious: consumers are enticed by “sales.” They’re more likely to buy something they probably don’t need when there’s a sale, so during these big holiday sales events, it’s not surprising that so much self-gifting happens. We even see retailers encourage this behavior with friends and family discounts leading up to Cyber Week. The growth of self-gifting is very telling about consumer behavior in general and retailers should keep this activity in mind, especially as they look ahead to holiday season 2015. 


5. Instagram Now Bigger Than Twitter, Tweeters Sound Off

Summary: Instagram has reached 300 million active users, 16 million more than Twitter’s reported 284 million active users. This points to the increasing preference from consumers to leverage visuals, especially on social media.

My thoughts: Instagram is growing so fast because consumers are incredibly visually charged these days. It’s so easy to look at a picture with one line to describe it; you get the point without a spending a lot of time or effort on it. With Twitter, however, engagement requires a bit more work, like clicking on links. It might seem like this extra step shouldn’t deter users, but the reality is that it’s one more layer consumers need to work through before they can comment or engage. Companies like Olapic are using the technology behind Instagram to help retailers push visual elements onto their product pages and website to create greater consumer interaction with the brand. I could see this evolving in a way that would allow consumers to start tagging their own pictures with links to product information, and it won’t be as intrusive because the information is coming from a friend. Unlike a buy button, using social conversations is a natural way to introduce commerce into the social sphere.