Insights from our 2017 holiday retail survey

By most accounts, the holiday shopping season was an e-commerce success, with final tallies beating analyst estimates. Earlier this month, we asked e-commerce teams about their holiday marketing strategies — planning, budgeting and expectations — and what they did differently this year from last year.

Nearly 100 respondents shared their feedback. The majority (57 percent) of respondents worked in-house, while 43 percent were at agencies. The client/company size represented skewed to the smaller end, with 60 percent of respondents working with companies with annual revenues below $25 million. Nearly 13 percent represented companies with annual revenues over $500 million.

There were several interesting findings from the survey. Here are some of the highlights from the final results.

Holiday budgets rose across most platforms

Overall, search and social budgets increased this holiday season over the previous year, with 70 percent of respondents saying they increased budgets on both channels. Display retargeting budgets for more than half of respondents (56 percent) also increased year over year. Sixty-five percent used dynamic retargeting ads this holiday season.

More than three-quarters of respondents said Google budgets rose year over year, with 25 percent saying Google budgets rose by more than 50 percent. Nearly 40 percent increased Bing budgets this holiday season, and 66 percent boosted Facebook ad budgets year over year.

Source: Search Engine Land 2017 Holiday Retail Survey

Pinterest advertising remains hard to scale, and that’s reflected here. Just 8 percent of respondents increased their Pinterest ad budgets over last year’s this season, and half aren’t using the platform at all.

Amazon has been rapidly increasing its ad offerings for sellers on the platform. Among respondents, 36.5 percent are selling on Amazon, and of those, 34 percent increased their ad budgets this holiday season.

Holiday planning is primarily a fall sport, but many plan year-round

When it comes to planning holiday marketing strategies, September was the most popular month to get cracking, with nearly 18 percent of respondents starting then. Just over 12 percent of respondents said they plan year-round. Just as many said they don’t have time to plan (this gives me anxiety) as those who said they start planning in August.

Source: Search Engine Land 2017 Holiday Retail Survey

For 56 percent of respondents, planning started at the same time it did the year before, while 20 percent started planning earlier.

These and many more findings from the survey — challenges, tactical changes and consumer behavior changes, to name a few — were the basis of a lively discussion packed with jewels of insights for retailers in a webinar with Brad Geddes of Adalysis, Elizabeth Marsten of CommerceHub and Aaron Levy of Elite SEM. You can find the webinar, Holiday Retail Search Strategies 2017: What worked, what didn’t, on demand (registration required).


3 Unexpected Ways Apps Are Changing Our Lives: What’s Next?

Remember the “dark days” of 2006?

A decade ago, we were still busy scrolling through email on our Blackberry phones. It was hard to imagine using our phones to summon on-demand rides, virtually deposit checks, stream music for free, or even find instant turn-by-turn directions to our destinations. A decade later, Apple’s mantra “there’s an app for that” has become a way of life.

Whether we’re reading, playing, shopping, learning, writing, emailing, running, traveling or sleeping, apps put the world at our fingertips.

The app-driven life kicked the mobile phone revolution into high gear. Globally, we’ve adopted smartphones and tablets 10 times faster than personal computers in the 1980s and twice as fast as the Internet boom of the 1990s, according to app-tracking firm Flurry. Young adults spend an estimated one-third of their waking lives on smartphones, reports Huffington Post, with most of us checking our phones twice as often as we think we do. We’re using phones an estimated five hours a day thanks in part to habitual automatic behaviors. Waiting in the grocery line or for your morning coffee? Time to check Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. More than half of our smartphone usage comes in short bursts of less than 30 seconds of activity, which is one reason we often underestimate our usage.

Here are three key ways apps are changing our lives — and how your small business can leverage these changes for success:

1. Digital payments. Last month, popular mobile payment app Venmo processed more than $1 billion in mobile payments. Google Wallet and Apple Pay have both launched contactless payment options, allowing users to pay simply by using a thumb to verify identity on their mobile phones. Industry analysts predict mobile payments are on the edge of going mainstream: soon, paying with our phones will seem as natural as swiping a credit card. Cash will be a thing of the past, reports Due.com. And while Bitcoin may never catch on as a new digital currency, the blockchain technology that it’s based on is taking off with unexpected applications. Innovation opportunities: The digital currency marketplace is wide open for innovation. There are a number of innovative companies experimenting with blockchain technology to make transactions cheaper, easier and safer. For example, BitWage uses blockchain technology to make international payroll cheaper, faster and more reliable. Voatz is working to eliminate voting fraud and make elections cheaper and more transparent.

2. Healthcare at our fingertips. Forget heart rate monitoring during a workout; today’s healthcare apps are truly transforming the patient-provider relationship. Last September, Apple demonstrated how the new Air Strip app can change how doctors and patients interact; doctors can monitor a patient’s heart rate and other acute health statistics via the app. This would allow doctors to better monitor patients with chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes without ever having to make the trip to the hospital, reports Popular Science. Innovation opportunities: A number of health care apps are hitting the app marketplace, all aimed at simplifying symptom monitoring and management. The HIPAA-compliant app CaptureProof lets patients virtually “show and tell” their symptoms; patients snap a photo of symptoms and send it to their doctor to monitor progress, reducing unnecessary follow-up appointments. For busy parents, Fever Scout provides continuous temperature monitoring during the night, gently waking parents when a child’s temperature exceeds a pre-determined level.

3. Virtual house hunting. A decade ago, searching for your dream home required a big stack of MLS listings and a lot of in-person home visits on the weekends. Now, apps like Trulia, Zillow and Redfin have made the house hunt virtual. “Apps put real estate listings directly at a house hunter’s fingertips,” says Ocala real estate agent Fred Franks. “They let house hunters hone in on a specific community or a handful of property listings, streamlining the search process. These apps are especially helpful for homeowners who are relocating from other cities or states and aren’t able to drop by every open house on the weekend since they’re not living in town yet.” Innovation opportunities: The house hunt is about more than just finding the perfect listing; would-be homeowners need great credit and mortgage pre-approval, as well as a clear understanding of the neighborhood. Zillow’s mortgage app gives users a better idea of what their homes will actually cost when they factor in property taxes, interest, home insurance and other expenses. And apps aren’t just for house hunters; Homesnap Pro is an app built specifically for agents that gives realtors access to real-time agent-only MLS data.

Bottom Line

From how we search for our dream homes to how we split the cost of brunch with friends, new apps are changing virtually every aspect of our daily lives. Understanding these patterns of usage, including evolving consumer preferences for when and how we interact with our phones, is essential for successful mobile marketing.

Mobile Apps Photo via Shutterstock

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

Our most popular education stories of 2016

This year shaped up to be a busy one for Rapides Parish schools. Here’s a look back at the top education stories that caught your attention in 2016. (Click on the highlighted text to read the original story.)

Teacher pay

Before Rapides Parish voters approved an 8.5 percent raise paid for by a half-cent sales in April, a Town Talk report at the beginning of the year revealed local teachers are among the lowest-paid in the state. The most recent data available from the Louisiana Department of Education put Rapides Parish teacher pay at 55th out of 69 school districts in the state.

Bathroom directive

In May, the Obama administration and U.S. Department of Education ordered schools to let transgender students use bathrooms “consistent with their gender identity.” A Rapides Parish School District policy statement soon followed saying “until this situation is resolved by final and binding laws or court rulings,” students here are to continue using bathrooms and locker rooms based on their “biological sex.”

Special ed prom

A heartwarming gesture by Rapides special education teachers who organized a prom for their students touched the community. Nearly 100 students enrolled in special education classes at Rapides Parish high schools attended their first prom at Bolton High in Alexandria. Teachers organized, raised money and decorated the venue for the event and found support from local businesses, which donated everything from tuxes to limousines.

Recess in Rapides

The Town Talk’s look at recess in Rapides schools at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year created waves as parents learned that their children may have little to no outdoor playtime during the school day. Local school administrators admitted that instructional time requirements from the state influence their decisions to completely cut or shorten students’ recess time.

Those clowns

No one is likely to have forgotten just yet that time law enforcement took precautionary measures and locked down Rapides schools while investigating a social media post related to clown sightings in other states. The lockdown was lifted in about an hour, but what turned out to be a false alarm put parents on high alert.

Teacher lawsuit

An educator who sued the Rapides Parish School District after she was fired in 2001 was awarded more than $1 million in September by a 9th Judicial District Court judge. Former Tioga High School teacher Patricia Powell claimed she was fired because of comments she made to The Town Talk about former Superintendent Betty Cox. She said the district took revenge by harassing and eventually firing her, among other things.

School performance scores

The Louisiana Department of Education released 2015-16 scores reflective of student performance in November, and the report was overall positive for Rapides. More schools earned A and B letter grades from the state, helping move up the district’s overall performance score from an 86.7 B to a 92 B. Despite the 17 schools that saw a slight to several point decrease in their score, the district ranked among the top six in the state for growth due to progress at 29 schools.

3 Unexpected Ways Apps Are Changing Our Lives: What’s Next?

mobile apps

Remember the “dark days” of 2006?

A decade ago, we were still busy scrolling through email on our Blackberry phones. It was hard to imagine using our phones to summon on-demand rides, virtually deposit checks, stream music for free, or even find instant turn-by-turn directions to our destinations. A decade later, Apple’s mantra “there’s an app for that” has become a way of life.

Whether we’re reading, playing, shopping, learning, writing, emailing, running, traveling or sleeping, apps put the world at our fingertips.

The app-driven life kicked the mobile phone revolution into high gear. Globally, we’ve adopted smartphones and tablets 10 times faster than personal computers in the 1980s and twice as fast as the Internet boom of the 1990s, according to app-tracking firm Flurry. Young adults spend an estimated one-third of their waking lives on smartphones, reports Huffington Post, with most of us checking our phones twice as often as we think we do. We’re using phones an estimated five hours a day thanks in part to habitual automatic behaviors. Waiting in the grocery line or for your morning coffee? Time to check Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. More than half of our smartphone usage comes in short bursts of less than 30 seconds of activity, which is one reason we often underestimate our usage.

Here are three key ways apps are changing our lives — and how your small business can leverage these changes for success:

1. Digital payments. Last month, popular mobile payment app Venmo processed more than $1 billion in mobile payments. Google Wallet and Apple Pay have both launched contactless payment options, allowing users to pay simply by using a thumb to verify identity on their mobile phones. Industry analysts predict mobile payments are on the edge of going mainstream: soon, paying with our phones will seem as natural as swiping a credit card. Cash will be a thing of the past, reports Due.com. And while Bitcoin may never catch on as a new digital currency, the blockchain technology that it’s based on is taking off with unexpected applications. Innovation opportunities: The digital currency marketplace is wide open for innovation. There are a number of innovative companies experimenting with blockchain technology to make transactions cheaper, easier and safer. For example, BitWage uses blockchain technology to make international payroll cheaper, faster and more reliable. Voatz is working to eliminate voting fraud and make elections cheaper and more transparent.

2. Healthcare at our fingertips. Forget heart rate monitoring during a workout; today’s healthcare apps are truly transforming the patient-provider relationship. Last September, Apple demonstrated how the new Air Strip app can change how doctors and patients interact; doctors can monitor a patient’s heart rate and other acute health statistics via the app. This would allow doctors to better monitor patients with chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes without ever having to make the trip to the hospital, reports Popular Science. Innovation opportunities: A number of health care apps are hitting the app marketplace, all aimed at simplifying symptom monitoring and management. The HIPAA-compliant app CaptureProof lets patients virtually “show and tell” their symptoms; patients snap a photo of symptoms and send it to their doctor to monitor progress, reducing unnecessary follow-up appointments. For busy parents, Fever Scout provides continuous temperature monitoring during the night, gently waking parents when a child’s temperature exceeds a pre-determined level.

3. Virtual house hunting. A decade ago, searching for your dream home required a big stack of MLS listings and a lot of in-person home visits on the weekends. Now, apps like Trulia, Zillow and Redfin have made the house hunt virtual. “Apps put real estate listings directly at a house hunter’s fingertips,” says Ocala real estate agent Fred Franks. “They let house hunters hone in on a specific community or a handful of property listings, streamlining the search process. These apps are especially helpful for homeowners who are relocating from other cities or states and aren’t able to drop by every open house on the weekend since they’re not living in town yet.” Innovation opportunities: The house hunt is about more than just finding the perfect listing; would-be homeowners need great credit and mortgage pre-approval, as well as a clear understanding of the neighborhood. Zillow’s mortgage app gives users a better idea of what their homes will actually cost when they factor in property taxes, interest, home insurance and other expenses. And apps aren’t just for house hunters; Homesnap Pro is an app built specifically for agents that gives realtors access to real-time agent-only MLS data.

Bottom Line

From how we search for our dream homes to how we split the cost of brunch with friends, new apps are changing virtually every aspect of our daily lives. Understanding these patterns of usage, including evolving consumer preferences for when and how we interact with our phones, is essential for successful mobile marketing.

Mobile Apps Photo via Shutterstock

[“source-smallbiztrends”]