With holiday sales forecasted to hit $78.7 billion this year — a 15% increase from 2012, according to Forrester Research — it’s no surprise retail marketers are scrambling to get a piece of the seasonal shopping pie.
Among the key trends marketers are watching is the forecasted surge in mobile price comparisons and commerce; comScore estimated the latter would account for $10 billion in Q4 alone. But despite the opportunities, there are a couple of key challenges to consider.
First, this is the most constrained holiday shopping season since 2002, with only 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Second, consumer purchase behaviors have significantly evolved in recent years.
“The trend over the past few years is that people have been shopping earlier looking for deals and that was primarily driven by the recession,” said Michael Griffin, founder and CEO of Adlucent. “Then, people were waiting longer and longer to purchase.”
About one in four holiday shoppers started their deal search in September, according to global brand development agency SGK. This affects the retail marketer who may have relied on the boost that Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions provided in the past. Now, brands must think about longer-term amplification opportunities.
“Customers are looking for some kind of deal in these early days, especially free shipping,” Griffin said. “It’s almost a necessary benefit that retailers will provide today. … [I saw a stat that] no more than 30% of consumers will consider shopping at a retailer without free shipping. Free shipping trumps actual price, so a discount is less motivating than the promise of free shipping.”
There are a number of data-driven strategies advertisers can deploy to take advantage of the days between Thanksgiving and the start of the new year.
Different Strategies For Different Days
This holiday, 41% of adults and 76% of smartphone owners will use their device for holiday shopping research, according to Google’s 2013 Holiday Shopper Intentions study. One in four consumers also expressed plans to use their mobile device to make a purchase, a 21% increase from last year.
Are Traasdahl, founder and CEO of Tapad, recommended taking advantage of this mobile use by maintaining comparable ad spend from Black Friday through Monday. “They are now all big days for digital shopping,” he said. “That said, weight your buys to smartphones on Thursdays and Fridays when people are most likely to be at physical retail [stores]. Phones are always in hand.” Saturday through Monday, marketers’ best bet is to buy evenly across all screens, he added.
More retailers are eyeing cross-platform targeting from an online vs. offline perspective. Staples, for instance, incorporated mobile into a flash sale in-store last holiday season, instituting online-only deals from 11 p.m. Thanksgiving night until 5 a.m. Black Friday. From 5 a.m. to noon, deals were surfaced for mobile users that were only redeemable in-store.
“Creative approaches we've seen include previewing brick and mortar ‘Black Friday’ or ‘Cyber Monday deals on digital,” Traasdahl said. “ Another major retail chain is also running a countdown to Black Friday clock on digital – [a] clever use of the small screen.”
Optimize, Optimize, Optimize (For Mobile)
In the race to the mobile finish line, there are the front-runners that are at the top of their game and then there are the laggards.
“The reason why retailers are dragging their feet is because mobile is not driving a lot of transactions on the mobile device itself,” Griffin said. “People end up purchasing on their desktop or in-store, and retailers are not understanding the mobile search influence. … In the next two years, mobile impressions will overtake desktop so it’ll be critical for retailers to figure this out.”
According to a survey of 100 retailers by mobile consultancy and technology solutions company Pure Oxygen Labs, 67% of retailers’ sites displayed “irrelevant redirects” — for instance sending individuals searching for desktop pages to mobile homepages or to unrelated content. This leads to search downgrades. With 40% of multichannel retail marketing budgets appropriated for paid search according to Forrester, the results should align with the investment.
In addition to ensuring form and content match to the right URL, Forrester recommends having the proper mobile infrastructure. This includes responsively designed pages with successfully tested links that can handle traffic spikes.
Bid Intelligently On Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs)
Holidays will be prime time for the Google Product Listing Ad (PLA) — a commerce-centric ad format that since last June has been sold under a pay-for-performance model. Since then, retailers and their PLA-management providers have seen positive momentum. In some cases, paid PLAs are generating twice as much revenue for retailers compared to when the product listings were free.
But retailers need to get smarter about their PLA bidding strategy. One of the top roadblocks for brands is ensuring Google surfaces the best possible products based on retailers’ data, said Ethan Batraski, VP of product and experience at Adchemy.
The important thing to remember as a retailer bidding on PLAs is the rate at which these units spike. Conversion rates increase faster and higher than the conversion rate for traditional text ads, Adlucent’s Griffin said. With Google introducing new PLA formats like “local PLAs,” mobile-device targeting will broaden the capability of what was traditionally viewed as a Web search function.
Mobile PLAs essentially allow marketers to surface ads for local, in-store inventory, although this is in limited rollout right now. “Mobile and local PLAs are driving people to stores and people are using it to purchase in-store, which is enormous opportunity” for Google and search marketers, Griffin said. “About 90% of commerce still occurs offline.”
Properly Prep Product Listing Ads
Because Google PLAs saw a 54.7% increase in quarterly adoption in Q3 among 10,000 retailers according to an analysis by global investment bank Jefferies Group, it’s pertinent to grasp competitive implementation tactics.
“The better the match between [product and query] you’ll show up more on search,” Batraski explained. For instance, a consumer searching for “blue eye shadow” may not know to enter all of the nuances used by merchants (who might describe their blue makeup as “azure”). By effectively optimizing PLAs, marketers can ensure only best-selling products are surfaced, that they’re priced correctly and that they generate clicks or conversions for diverse consumer search queries.
Similarly, PLAs should be strategically deployed to meet inventory demands. Last holiday shopping season, an Adlucent customer was at risk of having a surplus of boots in stock after an unseasonably warm winter. By running product-level promotions, which is a new Google PLA feature, the shoe retailer was able to drive demand prior to the end of the holiday period to avoid placing the excess inventory on clearance.
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