While most people spend July and August enjoying the sun and warm weather, marketers begin turning their attention toward driving online sales. Significant summer shopping events like Amazon’s Prime Day have created a “Christmas in July” scenario, with many major retailers holding their own sales to compete. Even more importantly, now is the time that we marketers must begin planning for the all-important holiday shopping season, which lies just beyond the horizon.
This holiday shopping season traditionally kicks off with the so-called “Turkey Five” (the busiest shopping days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday), which has become increasingly competitive over the past few years. As we enter the 2022 holiday season, you’ll need solid, data-driven advertising strategies for guidance.
Reviewing the 2021 Shopping Season
We often look to the previous holiday season for guidance before making our preparations. Last year, Logical Position did a deep-dive compiling industry data and our client’s 2021 Turkey Five shopping results just days after Cyber Monday ended and made some surprising discoveries. Here’s what we found:
Persistent supply chain worries driven by the pandemic forced many consumers to shop earlier than usual, causing Black Friday online sales to decline for the first time ever and Thanksgiving sales to plateau.
- Consumers made $8.9 billion in online purchases on Black Friday, down from $9 billion in 2020.
- Thanksgiving sales were flat over 2020 at $5.1 billion.
As sellers ramped up competition for fewer buyers, cost-per-click (CPC) prices soared to record levels.
- During the 2021 Turkey Five period, CPCs were 30% higher than in 2020.
Mobile traffic saw considerable growth as the pandemic limited in-person shopping.
- Smartphones accounted for 44% of all sales on Black Friday, up 10.6% year-over-year.
- Smartphones also made up 62% of all visits, meaning many consumers shopped on their phones before making purchases on their desktops.
Consumers returned to brick-and-mortar retail locations but not at pre-pandemic levels.
- Traffic to physical retailers was up 47% over 2020 but still down 28% from pre-pandemic levels.
As planning for the 2022 Turkey Five begins, you may be wondering what this year will hold and how you can build a successful holiday advertising strategy despite lingering market uncertainty.
The 2022 Marketing Landscape To Date
The trends we identified during the 2021 Turkey Five season continued through the remainder of the fourth quarter and into the first half of 2022. Today, advertising costs remain stubbornly high. In fact, Google CPCs have risen even more than expected — 20-25% year-over-year. Demand, at least on the e-commerce side, has also continued to soften. After a big spike in online shopping during the pandemic, e-commerce as a portion of total retail sales has dropped steadily.
This environment leaves businesses facing declining sales and high advertising costs, which can be difficult, particularly for direct-to-consumer organizations. Even blue-chip retailers are feeling the heat. Amazon, the biggest name in e-commerce, saw its net product sales fall in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the first quarter of 2021.
Inflation certainly plays a role in declining e-commerce sales. As goods become more expensive, fewer people will purchase them. However, this could also indicate a post-pandemic hangover shaking out in the market. Online shopping activity over the last two years suggests consumers have purchased the products they wanted. During that same time, their travel was restricted, along with their enjoyment of in-person entertainment like concerts or movies. As a result, pent-up demand for experience consumption is still taking a significant bite out of e-commerce spending. So, what can this information signal for the rest of the year?
What’s In Store for the 2022 Holiday Season
Making accurate predictions five months out is always tricky. However, we can draw a few conclusions about the general conditions the industry will face during the 2022 Turkey Five.
Turkey Five Sales Will be Stagnant
Despite high inflation, we’re still experiencing relatively high consumer demand and sentiment, while savings and employment rates are also looking positive. Families will be able to get together this holiday season and buy gifts for each other, which also supports sustained holiday demand. It’s unclear right now whether experiential spending will wane enough for retail and e-commerce to bounce back before the end of the year. With that in mind, Turkey Five sales will likely remain the same year-over-year.
Higher Costs Will Squeeze Margins
Even if demand holds over 2021, advertising costs will continue to rise on Facebook, Amazon and Google through the end of the year, setting fourth-quarter records yet again. The end result will squeeze margins with retailers taking home less profit.
Large Retailers Will Discount Early
Last year, we were all worried about supply chain issues, so consumers shopped early. In contrast, major retailers like Target and Walmart have too much inventory this year and need to liquidate it to free up capital. Add the possibility of a rumored second Amazon Prime Day in the fall, and retailers will be motivated to offer significant discounts earlier than ever. If consumers spend their money early to take advantage of these discounts, e-commerce sales growth could be suppressed during the Turkey Five.
5 Tips for Building Your Holiday Plan
Now’s the time to take this information and begin building your holiday shopping strategies. As you start that process, keep these tips in mind:
1. Make a Plan but Stay Nimble
As the holiday shopping season nears, you must be willing to pivot in the face of changing conditions or risk losing customers to the competitors. Watch data points like conversion rates, search volume and margins as the season progresses for success and failure indicators. If you see these signs, pivot quickly.
2. Appeal to Existing Customers
With acquisition costs for new customers being sky-high this holiday season, a good strategy to engage your existing customer base will be important in the fourth quarter. Large retailers that can deploy clean, first-party customer data into Google will garner more efficient and effective results. To compete, smaller businesses must differentiate themselves from larger competitors by building direct channels to their customers and creating customer loyalty programs.
3. Think Outside the Box
This year, retailers and brands that think outside the box will have an advantage. As you build your strategy, consider ways to collaborate with strategic partners to grow both of your brands. Activities like list sharing, co-marketing or creating product packages can supersize your holiday sales. Partnering with influencers could also be an effective component of your overall strategy. Brands that can capture influencers right now and have them get products in front of their followers before the holidays will earn big dividends in the fourth quarter.
4. Zig When Others Zag
You may also find valuable leverage by utilizing opportunities others are avoiding. For example, Apple’s recent privacy changes have complicated data-gathering, making it difficult to determine an accurate return on ad spend on Facebook. As a result, many marketers are pulling money out of Facebook branding campaigns. This situation presents a potential investment opportunity in Facebook brand-building activities in an environment with less competition and lower advertising costs.
5. Rethink Your Goals
The marketing landscape is changing faster than ever. People don’t just click the buy button anymore, and the path to purchase has become much more nuanced. Consequently, the marketing goals you developed two years ago are likely no longer relevant. For example, increased CPC costs could make your return on ad spend targets unrealistic. As you develop your 2022 holiday marketing strategy, review your marketing goals with fresh eyes to see if they still align with your company goals. Your strategy should also consider what each channel is designed to do and how they support each other. Marketing goals that don’t take these factors into account will be ineffective in helping you succeed.
Facing an Uncertain Marketplace
Even though there are many unknowns about what’s to come this holiday season, you can count on significantly higher advertising costs in the pursuit of fewer buyers. In response, you need to stay as flexible as possible while exploring novel ways of connecting with new and existing customers. If you can do that successfully, you’ll see the best possible results this holiday season.
Follow Your Customers and Your Data
In many ways, it seems as though the marketing landscape has shifted from one extreme to another over the last few years. Such wild swings have made planning more challenging than ever, and that paradigm likely won’t shift this holiday season. As you move through the remainder of the year, keep your eyes fixed on your customers and the data. They’ll provide the cues you need to put together an informed and creative holiday shopping marketing strategy.