Oath’s Sarah Martinez On Why Retailers Have Reasons For Optimism For 2018 Holiday Shopping

Personalization matters more than ever to consumers, Martinez says, and technologies like voice activation and AR/VR are helping brands deliver more relevant experiences.

Major retail brands have been on consistently stronger footing this year, as shown by the recent Q2 earnings by the likes of Target the past few weeks.

But how have brands been preparing for the all-too-crucial holiday season?

Sarah Martinez, VP & Industry Lead, Retail, at Verizon’s Oath, has been particularly bullish on the use cases for AR/VR, as well as artificial intelligence and voice activation for generating retail success in terms of engagement as well as sales — and as along as retailers use those tools to target and promote more personalized shopping experiences, loyalty, and convenience, they’ll remain ahead of competitors that narrowly connect marketing to a single sale.

GeoMarketing: Looking at the “state of retail” so far this year, what’s the story you’ve seen? Is it resurgence? Is is stasis? Is it worse than 2017?

Sarah Martinez: The industry has seen a great transformation this year, as retailers adjust to changing consumer interests and shopping behavior. But early outlooks are optimistic; the NRF recently adjusted its 2018 retail sales outlook to account for a projected increase in spending. So all signs are pointing to the year closing out strong, which is great news for retailers headed into the holiday shopping season.

Is the retail success (or lack thereof, if that’s the case) different for e-commerce and brick-and-mortar? Or are the two sides moving in the same direction, sales-wise?

In-store purchases continue to be an important part of the shopping experience, even if the customer’s path starts on desktop or mobile. And vice versa: mobile continues to be an important part of the in-store shopping experience, as consumers use their smartphones to look up reviews and compare prices.

Today’s shopper wants utility and an omnichannel strategy, from e-commerce to driving foot traffic is what will set winning retailers apart from the rest this year.

What retail trends are you seeing emerge for this holiday season?

‘Tis the season for mobile! Mobile has completely transformed the way people not only research purchase decisions, but the way they shop, too. Forty percent of retail ecommerce sales will be transacted on mobile devices this year, so there’s a big opportunity for retailers.

It’s not just about reaching their target audience on mobile; it’s about giving them the utility they’ve come to expect, whether it’s through augmented experiences that help them visualize products in their own home, or things like mobile coupons that make shopping easier.

A recent study found over one third (37 percent) of consumers are willing to pay more for a product or service, provided they can get a superior shopping experience on mobile.

It’s the end of August and many retailers are in the throes of back to school. What should they generally be doing and thinking about now to prepare for the holiday season?

Retailers are smart to be planning their holiday strategies now. While younger shoppers might not start until Black Friday or later, a study found that most Gen X and baby boomers do most of their holiday shopping between September to November.

So to reach consumers when it matters most, the earlier you can start, the better. There’s no better time to start having conversations about how to leverage mobile, rich data, and utility-based ad formats to reach shoppers this season on their path to purchase.

What role will emerging technologies like AR/VR and voice activation play (if at all) for retailers this year?

Personalization matters more than ever to consumers, and these technologies are helping brands deliver more relevant experiences. The consumer appetite is there: nearly 75 percent of consumers already expect retailers to offer a mobile AR experience. We’re seeing brands test these formats in creative ways that not only provide an exciting, enhanced experience, but also deliver added value for the shopper.

For example, last holiday season Home Depot leveraged AR ad units within the Yahoo Mail mobile app to help consumers view what a Christmas tree with decorations from the store would look like in their own home.

This was an innovative experience for busy consumers that also drove great results – users on average spent 2+ minutes within the experience. Ad format innovations like mobile wallet coupons can deliver the personalized and convenient experience shoppers are looking for on mobile as well.

Is omnichannel (for lack of a better buzzword) still going to be a sizable investment for retailers going into the holiday season? Will there be an emphasis on things like in-store/curbside pickup by retailers? Do consumers need to be better educated or informed about these offerings?  

Shoppers are still relying on multiple channels, and so retailers should continue investing in using each channel as a touchpoint. Tools like geotargeting and promotions on mobile not only deliver a personalized experience, but they can help drive foot traffic in-store.

Any other predictions or thoughts about the 2018 holiday season?

It’s obvious but retailers should always have their full sales funnel top of mind. When retailers are laser focused on sales only, the entire customer acquisition cycle and ultimately brand loyalty suffer.

Millennials, the largest generation in our history and key demographic for brands, especially value brand loyalty. The NRF notes that half (49 percent) of millennial parents will make purchases from a retailer or brand they’re loyal to, even if there’s a cheaper option available.

Retailers are also realizing the value of content in driving brand loyalty and sales, whether it’s published editorial on their website, custom videos, or mobile tools that offer unique brand amplification. Story-led campaigns can be an essential differentiator for brands this holiday shopping season.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.