4 New Ways Holiday Shopping Has Gone Digital in 2016

By Mike Whitney

Holiday shopping is one of those yearly tasks that everyone must do, and yet so many people put it off until the last minute.

With the advent of ecommerce in the mid-90s, holiday shopping took its first steps down a decidedly digital path. No longer was it necessary to brave the long lines at department stores at the crack of dawn. Although this tradition is still alive, the digital options for holiday shopping are making strides towards replacing it.

As we enter the third decade of ecommerce’s development, the trend worth considering is not merely its growing popularity, but its move to mobile.

Of course, there are still items that consumers prefer to buy in person, such as cars and furniture. And certain people, regardless of what type of gift they are looking for, prefer to see it up close before purchasing. But on average, more and more purchases are occurring online — and an increasing number of those are done through smartphones.

Let’s take a look at some of the most recent changes in social media and technology that will likely impact your holiday shopping in 2016.

Instagram’s Shoppable Ads

Instagram is an extremely influential marketing platform. Brands of all sizes and industries use it to build their audiences and spread the word about new products. Now, these promotional style posts can be built with actual purchase capabilities integrated into the photos and videos.

In order to activate shopping mode, the user simply taps the photo and is presented with one or more available products featured. Much like tagged users have appeared within photos in the past, the full name and price of each product can be included. From there, the user simply taps the price and is taken to a checkout page.

Now, it’s worth noting that this step does involve leaving the Instagram app, so the function ins’t fully immersive. But the important step forward here is that in the past, businesses on the platform were extremely limited in their linking capabilities. In fact, the only area to place working hyperlink was in the account bio (hence the endless stream of “<< Link in Bio” addendums in photo and video captions).

Moving and expanding hyperlink capabilities will make it far easier for brands to meet readers where they spend the most time. Hopefully, Instagram will take its time implementing these changes so that our feeds don’t immediately become chock full of sponsored posts and shoppable ads — at the expense of our actual friends’ posts.

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook’s Marketplace app was recently rolled out as a proposed competitor to eBay and Craigslist, two platforms that have lost some momentum over the past few years. The platform is perfect for finding more personally meaningful gifts.

It’s unclear whether Facebook wants to position Marketplace as a competitor with Etsy as well. Etsy, unlike Craigslist, is more specifically suited to building real audiences and establishing stores as lasting entities. They work to brand themselves uniquely and win the loyal support of repeat customers. Craigslist is more about pure functional efficiency.

With Marketplace, you could see a little of both. Since sellers automatically have access to the friend lists they’ve built over the years, they’ll be able to leverage those contacts for more personalized sales opportunities. At the same time, the process should be smooth and efficient since people already spend so much time in their Facebook app.

The mobile app gives Marketplace particularly prominent placement, nestled right between the Facebook Live and Notification icons in the main toolbar. If Facebook chooses to bolster Marketplace with its rich resource of user data and knack for smooth multi-level UX, we might be seeing the dawn of a very useful holiday shopping resource.

Etsy Sellers Can Now Accept Apple Pay

Apple Pay is a digital payment service that links directly with users’ iPhones. The service is becoming increasingly popular, as mobile ecommerce continues to make transactions more efficient. As more and more users become used to its speedy benefits, more platforms will start to cater to that demand.

Etsy joins the ranks of most major retailers and restaurant chains accepting Apple Pay as a viable payment method. The platform rose to prominence by facilitating the sale of handmade products from individual artists and craftspeople. While the site is now home to bigger stores as well, the individual spirit is still a major part of its branding, making it a perfect place to find crafts, artwork, and home décor oddities that you can’t easily find elsewhere.

These items make great, personable gifts for the holidays. Now, with Apple Pay, you can shorten the time between the inspiration for the gift and completing the actual purchase, even on-the-go. The function will be available on Etsy’s desktop site as well, continuing a trend of Apple Pay moving beyond the smartphone. This enables Apple users (on devices like iMacs) to have an alternative to PayPal. Once desktop purchases are made through Apple Pay, the information is confirmed behind the scenes through a connection with the user’s mobile device.

Voice Shopping With Amazon Alexa

You see it all the time in movies and TV shows. A wealthy character dictates orders to a butler or attendant who diligently obeys. It’s usually meant to come off as stuck-up and demeaning to the employee.

Well, with the rise of virtual home assistants like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, anyone can feel the thrill of a luxuriously hands-off shopping experience (without all that icky pretentiousness). Alexa, the AI-enabled software included in all of Amazon’s Echo home devices (plus its Fire Echo Dot model and Fire TV), will listen to your commands and immediately start searching the millions of products available through Amazon Prime (so you’ll need your own Prime account) for something that suits your needs.

Once she returns with what you’re looking for, you can confirm the purchase by simply responding, “Yes” (In order to do this, your account will need one-click ordering activated).

Some elemental aspects of holiday shopping will always be the same — the joy of giving, the stress of buying, etc. The nuts and bolts of that process will continue to change though, and as new technologies enter the mainstream, consumers will reap the rewards of increased choice and flexibility.


Originally published on Mainstreethost’s digital marketing blog on December 7, 2016.

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