For nearly all US retailers, November and December can bring in more sales than all other months combined, as shoppers look to stock up on Christmas and Hanukkah gifts. Comscore estimates $46.5 billion was spent online (excluding mobile) during the 2013 holiday season, representing a new record, and a 10% increase over 2012 spending. Apparel and accessories narrowly beat out smartphones and electronics for the largest category increase.
Nordstrom’s commitment to e-commerce as a growth category is apparent in many areas. They acquired Hautelook to boost the performance of Nordstrom Rack, their chain of discount stores; there have been strategic investments in digital first retailers Bonobos and Bauble Bar; recently, of course, there’s also the acquisition of Trunk Club, reported to have cost the retailer $350 million. With estimates that the website is bringing in 1 out of every 3 dollars in revenue, compared with Macy’s estimated 11%, it’s a strategy that seems to be paying off.
While most estimates project further growth in e-commerce sales this holiday season, it’s what Nordstrom is doing in the off season that’s even more remarkable. Most fashion retailers have summer sales where a little bit of luck when it comes to timing can mean snagging deeply discounted items that are still in season. Also, in news that’s equivalent to water is wet, shoppers like sales any time of year. In spite of that enthusiasm for a good deal, summer tends to be slower for most retailers – certainly nothing equivalent to the holidays.
Nordstrom’s recent Anniversary Sale was a clear rejection of that idea, as aggressive promotions to affiliates and specialized outreach to influential bloggers pushed overall traffic and referrals to levels above larger competitors like Macy’s, and to same site levels previously seen last November, when holiday sales start to take off.
According to data from SimilarWeb, referrals accounted for 7.1 million visits to Nordstrom’s site in July, and 26.87% of total traffic over a 3 month period. While standard affiliate commissions for department stores and clothing sites ranges from 3-8%, in the run up to their Anniversary Sale, the commissions on items in certain categories went as high as 25% through various affiliate networks. That includes RewardStyle, the network that aggregates offers from fashion focused online retailers. Many of the publishers who use RewardStyle are under-the-radar influencers. While they have strong conversion rates, engaged site audiences and more than respectable social media followings, they aren’t the bloggers who necessarily get the most press or have millions of followers.
But they can drive serious interest. Pink Peonies, a blog by Utah based 20-something Rach Parcell, sent more traffic to Nordstrom’s site in July than Amazon. Parcell has encountered negative feedback for posts which did not originally disclose the commercial relationship between the blogger and the department store. With roughly 62,000 visits to Nordstrom’s site attributed to the blogger in July alone – a 155% increase from June, according to SimilarWeb data – regular readers seem more forgiving of the momentary lack of transparency.
With 44,000 Facebook followers, 31,000 Pinterest followers and more than 200,000 followers though, Parcell has a pretty sizable audience. But follower counts alone aren’t the best measure of influence or potential impact.
Mint Arrow, a deal focused blog that’s part of the Reward Style network, sent approximately 12,000 visits to the Nordstrom site in July. While it would take 5 blogs of Mint Arrow’s size to send the same amount of traffic as one Pink Peonies, the overlap in audience is small enough to make it worth the effort of developing promotions that are appealing to influencers of all audience sizes. How small is the audience overlap? Between the 44,000 people on Facebook who like the Pink Peonies page, and the nearly 6700 who like Mint Arrow, Facebook estimates that more than 100 like them both.
Size of audience aside, what both blogs have in common with the many others who posted about the Nordstrom Anniversary sale, are multiple, continued posts for the duration of the sale. Without direct access to their campaign, this is only an educated guess, but those types of results very rarely happen with a one and done approach to outreach and promotion.
From the outside, the massive traffic increases Nordstrom saw from bloggers and influential social media mavens are almost surely the result of frequent and repeated promotion of the business benefits to the blogs that frequently and repeatedly promoted their offer.
There are larger, higher traffic sites which were undoubtedly included in any promotional plans; by putting equal effort into promotions with smaller, but highly relevant publishers as well, Nordstrom has driven record amounts of traffic at an otherwise unremarkable time of year for retailers.
Considering the success of the approach and resulting Christmas in July traffic levels, a similar approach to holiday promotions should ensure a very merry increase in e-commerce revenue this December.
By YM Ousley
818 Analytics and Content Strategist, Founder/Publisher of Signature9
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