Retail CMOs Plan Less Aggressive Discounts this Holiday Season – BDO USA Survey

November 2015

Alana Gold
Bliss Integrated Communication

Chicago - Retailers continue to expect the cost-conscious consumer, the growing class of customer born of the recession, to impact sales and marketing trends across the industry this holiday season. Seventy percent of retail chief marketing officers (CMOs) anticipate retailers across the industry to offer more discounts and promotions this holiday season versus 2014, according to the tenth annual BDO Retail Compass Survey of CMOs, a survey of 100 retail chief CMOs at leading retailers throughout the country.
However, when thinking about their own marketing strategies for the 2015 holiday season, CMOs are not planning to discount at the same level they expect of their competitors. In fact, nearly four-in-five CMOs surveyed will be offering levels of discounting and promotional activity consistent with last year.
"Many retailers are feeling less compelled to initiate heavy discounting  because doing so can diminish their brand value," said Doug Hart, partner in the Consumer Business practice at BDO USA, LLP. "That's not to say, however, that they won't ultimately implement a discounting strategy in reaction to pricing pressures from competitors or clearing inventory throughout the holiday season."
These findings are from the most recent edition of the BDO Retail Compass Survey of CMOs, which examined the opinions of 100 CMOs at leading retailers located throughout the country. The telephone survey was conducted in September and October of 2015.
Additional findings of the 2015 BDO Retail Compass Survey of CMOs include:
Retailers Reinvigorate In-Store Experience. When asked where retail CMOs will focus the majority of their discounting and promotions this holiday season, 38 percent pointed to their physical stores. This number is only slightly less than the percentage of those who will focus equally in-store and online (41 percent), highlighting the value of brick-and-mortar stores in retailers' marketing strategies. And, for the second year in a row, retailers will focus on offering exclusive in-store deals and discounts (45 percent) as their primary tactic in driving consumers from behind their screens.
Unlocking E-Commerce’s Holiday Sales Potential. Retailers also know the importance of having a strong online presence to complement their physical stores. To boost the effectiveness of their e-commerce sites, many retailers are providing consumers with more perks and options in relation to their purchases. While free shipping is the most frequently cited promotional tactic, with 27 percent of CMOs noting it as such, the percentage of retailers identifying search engine marketing as their leading tactic quadrupled. Search engine optimization may be what retailers use to stand out from the pack in the crowded digital marketplace, and is also perceived as lending itself to more precise measurement of a retailers' return on investment then other online spending. In fact, nearly one quarter (24 percent) believe search engine marketing will produce the most overall online sales, up from just 6 percent last year.
Will Black Friday and Cyber Monday be a Boom or Bust? Although retailers are modest in their sales projections, forecasting a 2.4 percent increase in Black Friday sales and a 2.9 percent increase in Cyber Monday sales, the percentage of CMOs expecting sales boosts on both days has grown. Forty-one percent of retailers expect their Black Friday sales to increase this year, compared to 30 percent last year. Meanwhile, nearly one-in-three (32 percent) of retailers project Cyber Monday sales to increase in 2015, compared to only 20 percent of retailers who felt the same level of optimism in 2014.
Traditional Sales Events Give Way to a Longer Holiday Shopping Season. The majority (64 percent) of retailers surveyed are planning to spread their holiday promotions throughout the holiday shopping season, as opposed to focusing on a specific day, compared to 49 percent in 2014, signaling the diminishing perception of Thanksgiving weekend as a major retail holiday. Just 14 percent of CMOs said they'd be launching most of their holiday promotions prior to Black Friday, down from 34 percent last year. And although some retailers like REI and Staples have announced store closures and reduced hours during Thanksgiving weekend, 15 percent of CMOs surveyed still hold high hopes for heavy promotional activity during Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend.
Retail Rightsizing Not Expected to Impact Marketing Strategies. Retailers like Forever 21 and Old Navy have recently announced plans to shrink their store sizes to appeal to tech savvy, experience-craving shoppers, moving away from the once-attractive mega-stores of the past. Among the 13 percent of surveyed retailers who have reduced their square footage in the past year, most (84 percent) do not expect their rightsizing efforts to impact their holiday marketing efforts. By focusing on bolstering omnichannel strategies to harmonize with more intimate physical stores, retailers are proving that they're listening and responding to evolving consumer preferences.
The BDO Retail Compass Survey of CMOs is a national telephone survey conducted by Market Measurement, Inc., an independent market research consulting firm, whose executive interviewers spoke directly to chief marketing officers, using a telephone survey conducted within a scientifically-developed, pure random sample of the nation’s retailers.
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