Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Jill Puleri, Global Retail Leader, IBM

By Jill Puleri

As October draws to a close, consumers are breaking out their notepads and starting to compile their holiday gift lists. For their part, retailers are fine-tuning in-store and online workshops for Thanksgiving Day – the unofficial kickoff to the online holiday shopping season.

And as Turkey Day draws nearer the questions are starting to mount: will the iPad maintain dominance as the tablet of choice for mobile shoppers? What type of impact can we expect from websites, like Pinterest? And, for most retailers, what are consumers prepared to spend?

These are questions we will be monitoring closely, as November 22 approaches. However, for those seeking answers now about what we might expect from the upcoming shopping season, the recent third quarter provides some interesting insight.  

To examine Q3 we turned to our IBM Retail Online Index, which integrates factual marketplace data from the IBM Data Analytics Benchmark with insights from the IBM Social Sentiment Index, an advanced analytics and natural language processing tool that analyzes large volumes of social media data to assess public sentiment. The combination of these two tools provides the most accurate and immediate snap shot of the state of the online retail market.

According to the latest Index, Q3 brought renewed growth with overall sales increasing by 3.1 percent over the second quarter. This news comes on the heels of a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau which reported that sales for September were up 1.1 percent over August, yet another indication that consumers are preparing to spend.

When it comes to segments that stood out over this period, two maintained strong sales that we fully expect will continue through this holiday season:

  • Home goods: Online sales of home goods grew by 8.9 percent
  • Department stores: Online sales grew by 3.9 percent

To gain additional consumer insights into the quarter we conducted a sentiment analysis focused on departments in order to determine some factors that might be driving their success. What we found is that positive sentiment towards these retailers remains strong at 35.4 percent, three times that of negative sentiment for the second straight quarter. This positive sentiment was driven by three factors:

Advertisements:  Positive sentiment around ads grew to 21.3 percent, more than twice the amount of negative sentiment, with consumers not just watching ads but doing so with interest, referring to them as “catchy” and “stylish,” and sharing this feedback with friends on social networks.

  • Advertisements:  Positive sentiment around ads grew to 21.3 percent, more than twice the amount of negative sentiment, with consumers not just watching ads but doing so with interest, referring to them as “catchy” and “stylish,” and sharing this feedback with friends on social networks. 
  • Multi-Channel Experience: Departments stores continued to meet the customer’s multi-channel needs, with positive sentiment around the in-store experience reaching 22.8 percent while online topped out at 24.3 percent, both more than double the negative sentiment.
  • Online Coupons: Consumers voiced growing enthusiasm around the advantages delivered through online coupons.
  • Convenience: Whether in-store or online, convenience was critical. According the Index positive sentiment around convenience reached an astounding 67.3 percent, more than six times that on the negative side.

As we all begin to check off the days until the holiday marathon begins, many questions will remain unanswered. However, we can extrapolate from this data that consumers are preparing to shop in droves and retailers who deliver a convenient and integrated shopping experience that spans both in-store and online will be the ones best positioned to cash in. That is, once shoppers push aside their turkey and cranberry sauce.

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