Why All CEOs Must up their Online Game

Retailers enjoyed another bumper Thanksgiving weekend, though those slow to improve their online offerings may have been crushed in the stampede. And even though the focus was on consumer shopping, the shift in customer behavior toward online affects all companies, whether large or small, B2C or B2B. 

Of the record 154 million customers who shopped between Thursday and Sunday of Thanksgiving week, 44% went online and 40% shopped in store, according to the National Retail Federation. The surge helped online sales surpass the $3 billion mark for the first time in history, with a similar-sized haul expected to be recorded for Cyber Monday.

The figures underline the need for both B2C and even B2B CEOs to continually assess their e-commerce strategies to tailor to customers’ increasingly changing desires. Pure-play tech companies such as Amazon are leading the charge with ever-more sophisticated online sales platforms, but traditional retailers such as Walmart are catching up with cyber offerings of their own. For instance, in August, Walmart agreed to buy e-commerce platform Jet.com, whose CEO, Marc Lore, is now heading up the retail giant’s online offering.

Under Lore’s guidance, Walmart started its Cyber Monday sales on Friday. Target, meanwhile, kicked off its online sales drive on Sunday.

“It’s a combination of a great in-store experience and a great online experience. And when that comes together, we think we win.

Target has spent “billions of dollars” over the last couple of years on technology and its supply chain to better compete with the likes of Amazon, according to CEO Brian Cornell. “We want to make sure it’s really easy for our guests to shop our brand any way they want,” he said over the long weekend. “It’s a combination of a great in-store experience and a great online experience. And when that comes together, we think we win.”

There was some bad news for CEOs this Thanksgiving, however, with shoppers spending $289.19 each on average, down from $299.60 in 2015, indicating discounting was needed to bring them out in force. “It was a strong weekend for retailers, but an even better weekend for consumers, who took advantage of some really incredible deals,” NRF CEO Matthew Shay said. “In fact, over one third of shoppers said 100% of their purchases were on sale.”

The head of the world’s biggest retail trade association is also fearful that Donald Trump’s pledge to start slapping tariffs on imported goods from China-to-Mexico will strike at the very heart of what makes the U.S. economy tick. “Two thirds of what goes on in this country is driven by consumption,” he told CNBC. “And when you import $2 trillion worth of goods to make the economy work, if we’re going to tax those goods, the people who are going to be hurt most are consumers.”

Still, like Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, Shay isn’t sure if Trump will actually follow through on all of his campaign pledges. “One of the things that we have to keep in mind is that you have one set of conversations when you campaign,” he said. “You have another set of conversations when you govern.”


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