Online Marketing Lessons from the Holiday Season

holiday online stats

Some of the data is in and the holiday shopping season was a resounding success for online marketers and ecommerce players.

There are a number of valuable takeaways that can be learned from the data we’ve seen related to shipping, returns, and the influence of millenials.

The data can be used to make better decisions going forward through this new year – as well as for the next holiday season. We will follow up with another blog post related to holiday shopping as more interesting statistics become available.

Shipping Options

The Data: Many retailers altered their shipping programs this holiday season.There was free shipping with no minimum threshold. In store pickup gained momentum as a way to give shoppers more ways to get their purchases. And then, online retailers were aggressive about offering specific products for last minute delivery. Mobile searches related to “same day shipping” have grown 120% since 2015, Google says.

UPS said the holiday season of Nov. 24-Dec. 31 hit a record 750 million packages, up more than 5% from the 712 million delivered during the 2016 season. FedEx also recorded parcel volume this peak season. And the U.S. Postal Service delivered nearly 850 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Amazon delivered its last package at 11:58pm on Christmas Eve. That was only 58 minutes after it was ordered.

The Takeaway: Consumers want to buy online, but they also want fast delivery ensured. Amazon worked hard (and up to the last minute) to deliver holiday packages. If other retailers want to compete with Amazon they need to think more about distribution and shipping and look for innovative ways to get goods to consumers.


The Data: An estimated $90 billion worth of unwanted items will be sent back to retailers, according to CNBC, which cited Optoro, a tech firm that helps retailers organize and manage their returned goods.

When it comes to various return policy options, consumers look for the same thing, according to a survey by For example, when shopping in-store, 37.9% of those polled said getting a full refund – not just an exchange or store credit – was their most important return-related concern. Almost as many consumers (33.6%) felt the same way with regard to digital shopping.

Whether shopping in-store or online for gifts (either for themselves or others in the past six months), a good number of respondents said it’s important that the retailer accepts returns without tags or original packaging. What’s more, nearly as many said it’s important that retailers accept returns for used items.

The Takeaway: Flexible and clearly stated return policies are becoming more important to online shoppers. And some consumers will avoid buying from online stores that don’t have options like returning to a physical store or getting a full refund. This means ecommerce players will have to figure out how to better handle returns for customers and maybe even promote their return policies as a differentiator. Online retailers must find different ways of liquidating returned good that can’t be restocked.


The Data: More than 70% of millennials planned to spend as much or more than they did last year for the holiday season, while only 30% said they planned to spend less, according to a survey by

The Takeaway: Online retailers and marketers who don’t have messaging that is specifically aimed at the millennial demographic are leaving money on the table. Millennials make up one quarter of the US population with a total of 77 million. (Nielsen). Their generation is larger than the Baby Boomers and 3 times the size of Gen. X. (Aimia). Also, millennials wield about $1.3 trillion in annual buying power. (Boston Consulting Group). They will have the most spending power of any generation by 2018. (Bazaar). And specifically, their spending power is projected to reach $3.39 trillion by 2018. (Oracle). So, if you’re not already targeting millennials with a message that appeals and resonates with them, you need to do that immediately.