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Black Friday: What We’ve Learned from 2020

Black Friday: What We’ve Learned from 2020

Jessica Richards

Jessica Richards

November 17, 2020

The pandemic has accelerated consumer shopping habits and transformed the way brands are approaching the year’s largest shopping event, Black Friday.

"An eagerness for the holidays after this  difficult year meant that an estimated 74% of consumers began shopping in Octo-ber"

Jessica Richards, EVP, Havas Market at Havas Media US, leads a dedicated  team within Havas with expertise in all aspects of eCommerce. Havas Market’s capabilities go beyond just paid media to support brands with customer insights, logistics and infrastructure, content and analytics.

Here, she explores what marketers have learned from 2020 and how brands can make the most out of Black Friday 2020. 

 

If there is one word to describe this year, it’s “unpredictable.” 

After nearly two decades of learnings and somewhat predictable shopping behaviour, 2020 was unprecedented. Not only did this pandemic accelerate a change in shopping behaviour, it transformed consumer habits forever. As we approach one of the calendar’s most prominent shopping events, Black Friday, US retailers and brands have been bracing themselves for the unknownBut, as marketers, we have learned a lot from this turbulent year. Here are some of most important learnings my team at Havas Market have taken from this transformative year.

There’s been a tremendous eCommerce growth 

So far this year, we’ve experienced record eCommerce growth. Q2 was +44.4% year-over-year, primarily driven by COVID-19 related habit changes such as click-and-collect and an accelerated adoption of home delivery via online shopping. Even small local businesses pivoted en masse by building websites and implementing order-by-text capabilities.

By all predictions, this will continue into record-setting online holiday revenue, especially with the impending cancellation of traditional drive-to-store events such as Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and the cycle of in-store holiday retail sales and promotions. Deloitte predicts that eCommerce sales will grow by 25% to 35% year-over-year during the 2020-2021 holiday season, compared to 14.7% growth in 2019, generating between $182 billion and $196 billion this season.

Consumers started holiday shopping in October! 

An eagerness for the holidays after this difficult year meant that an estimated 74% of consumers began shopping in October. Several major shopping events kicked off before Halloween, including Amazon Prime Day (which was rescheduled from July to October), Target Deal Days, Walmart’s Big Save event, along with several other retailers with similar deals and savings events (Best Buy, Macys, Wayfair, Kohls, etc.). All retailers participating reported record-breaking sales for this year. Figures released by Amazon noted a 60% jump in sales compared to last year’s Prime event and Target reported an increase of 2.5x over last year’s July deals.

Products purchased have included the common tech deals (air pods, Echo, Kindles), but many of the increased product sales included exercise equipment, home goods, and things like air purifiers which speak to lifestyle changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Leveraging media campaigns during Deals events outperformed 2019  

With so many shopping events taking place, brands have a significant opportunity to target users who are in-market shopping this year. Whether they have deals on these platforms or not, they can leverage the audience growth.  Prime Day, Deals days and Big Save media campaigns outperformed 2019 efforts, and we’ve learned a lot from this.

Firstly, we noticed a halo effect 48 hours prior to launch of these sales events which may warrant kick starting media surrounding an event earlier than we might have before. Secondly, we’ve learned it’s important to dedicate a team to monitor sales activity in real time, in order to increase bids when a purchase is most likely to occur. We also found testing a full funnel ad approach is best, from lower funnel search ads, to brand and category products ads, to using video across the marketplaces to improve a brand’s visibility, can improve overall sales.

"There remains a lot of opportunity for brands to take advantage of changed consumer shopping habits"

The customer experience extends beyond media  

Aside from media, any brand managing eCommerce needs to plan for all aspects of the operation. Customers have increasingly high expectations, and in an extremely competitive shopping landscape, the approach must center around shopper preferences. Brands must ensure they plan and address logistical challenges upfront to make the greatest impact.

Supply chains and inventory levels continue to be challenged across many retail categories leading to bare shelves and limited online availability. Additionally, brands, manufacturers, and retailers will have had challenges forecasting for the unknown. Retailers and brands will need to be mindful of their customer-facing communications across all customer touch points, including product data feeds, to avoid customer frustrations with availability. 

Another digital shopping habit accelerated by COVID-19 is the adoption of mobile payment and contactless apps. 57% of adults surveyed use mobile for 50%+ of their online purchases and 85% have payment apps. eCommerce businesses should activate payment options beyond credit cards to the to keep pace with alternative payment market adoption.  

As recently as last holiday season, shippers had challenges meeting delivery service level agreements (SLAs) resulting in many late gifts and disappointed customers. This year, USPS delays started in the Spring which does not bode well for last mile delivery in peak November and December online shopping periods.  

These issues are not unique to USPS during the holiday rush and can be expected from FedEx and UPS as well. Retailers and brands should keep a close eye on their delivery SLAs to anticipate possible customer disappointments and customer service issues as studies have shown that customers hold retailers responsible for shipping delays despite which party is actually responsible. 

 

How can brands approach Black Friday this year? 

My team and I have complied a checklist for marketers as we continue into the holiday season.

  • Be nimble, this year is not about campaign planning for a handful of days, customers know there are deals and they are seeking them now, be present consistently
  • With a surge in users looking for deals, encourage sign up for access to offers or subscription services. The online surge provides brands a strong platform to capture CRM/first-party data. Those looking to increase their customer database size and quality have a unique opportunity to build during this season. Keep in mind, there needs to be a value exchange. Plus, the usage of that data must be compliant and leveraged to create better, more meaningful experiences
  • Use scenario planning customised to potential challenges to enable quick pivoting. Planning for the entire eCommerce infrastructure, such as inventory, shipping, and stock forecasts, allows brands to identify ways to approach issues, assign resourcing, or apply changes to product distribution more quickly when plans have been mapped. Scenario planning also provides the opportunity to use consumer signals to optimise swiftly, focusing on creating the best experience whether via content, offers, and personalisation of the retail environments. You can’t plan for everything, but preparing to act is half the battle.
  • Make sure that product feeds, the online assortment, mobile functionality, and checkout are all optimised to ensure smooth shopping experiences. Shopping feeds and catalogues play a large roll in a brand’s presence across search engines, marketplaces and dynamic product ads in Social/Programmatic. It is critical they are optimised for consistency.
  • Monitor your sales data daily, be responsive to actionable insights and optimise! By applying a responsive approach to the data, brands have an opportunity to create the most meaningful experience for customers.

Overall, this holiday season, like this year, has started off unpredictable. There remains a lot of opportunity for brands to take advantage of changed consumer shopping habits. With surges in online sales, you have insight into the consumer to hone in on the experience. At a minimum, being in market now will allow for learnings for a brand’s foundational eCommerce and provide a window for rapid testing. It is critical to have a responsive approach both to accommodate logistical requirements (fulfillment, shipping, inventory, pricing) for the business and to make interaction for the customer seamless, building loyalty and advocacy.

"An eagerness for the holidays after this  difficult year meant that an estimated 74% of consumers began shopping in Octo-ber"

Jessica Richards, EVP, Havas Market at Havas Media US, leads a dedicated  team within Havas with expertise in all aspects of eCommerce. Havas Market’s capabilities go beyond just paid media to support brands with customer insights, logistics and infrastructure, content and analytics.

Here, she explores what marketers have learned from 2020 and how brands can make the most out of Black Friday 2020. 

 

If there is one word to describe this year, it’s “unpredictable.” 

After nearly two decades of learnings and somewhat predictable shopping behaviour, 2020 was unprecedented. Not only did this pandemic accelerate a change in shopping behaviour, it transformed consumer habits forever. As we approach one of the calendar’s most prominent shopping events, Black Friday, US retailers and brands have been bracing themselves for the unknownBut, as marketers, we have learned a lot from this turbulent year. Here are some of most important learnings my team at Havas Market have taken from this transformative year.

There’s been a tremendous eCommerce growth 

So far this year, we’ve experienced record eCommerce growth. Q2 was +44.4% year-over-year, primarily driven by COVID-19 related habit changes such as click-and-collect and an accelerated adoption of home delivery via online shopping. Even small local businesses pivoted en masse by building websites and implementing order-by-text capabilities.

By all predictions, this will continue into record-setting online holiday revenue, especially with the impending cancellation of traditional drive-to-store events such as Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and the cycle of in-store holiday retail sales and promotions. Deloitte predicts that eCommerce sales will grow by 25% to 35% year-over-year during the 2020-2021 holiday season, compared to 14.7% growth in 2019, generating between $182 billion and $196 billion this season.

Consumers started holiday shopping in October! 

An eagerness for the holidays after this difficult year meant that an estimated 74% of consumers began shopping in October. Several major shopping events kicked off before Halloween, including Amazon Prime Day (which was rescheduled from July to October), Target Deal Days, Walmart’s Big Save event, along with several other retailers with similar deals and savings events (Best Buy, Macys, Wayfair, Kohls, etc.). All retailers participating reported record-breaking sales for this year. Figures released by Amazon noted a 60% jump in sales compared to last year’s Prime event and Target reported an increase of 2.5x over last year’s July deals.

Products purchased have included the common tech deals (air pods, Echo, Kindles), but many of the increased product sales included exercise equipment, home goods, and things like air purifiers which speak to lifestyle changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Leveraging media campaigns during Deals events outperformed 2019  

With so many shopping events taking place, brands have a significant opportunity to target users who are in-market shopping this year. Whether they have deals on these platforms or not, they can leverage the audience growth.  Prime Day, Deals days and Big Save media campaigns outperformed 2019 efforts, and we’ve learned a lot from this.

Firstly, we noticed a halo effect 48 hours prior to launch of these sales events which may warrant kick starting media surrounding an event earlier than we might have before. Secondly, we’ve learned it’s important to dedicate a team to monitor sales activity in real time, in order to increase bids when a purchase is most likely to occur. We also found testing a full funnel ad approach is best, from lower funnel search ads, to brand and category products ads, to using video across the marketplaces to improve a brand’s visibility, can improve overall sales.

"There remains a lot of opportunity for brands to take advantage of changed consumer shopping habits"

The customer experience extends beyond media  

Aside from media, any brand managing eCommerce needs to plan for all aspects of the operation. Customers have increasingly high expectations, and in an extremely competitive shopping landscape, the approach must center around shopper preferences. Brands must ensure they plan and address logistical challenges upfront to make the greatest impact.

Supply chains and inventory levels continue to be challenged across many retail categories leading to bare shelves and limited online availability. Additionally, brands, manufacturers, and retailers will have had challenges forecasting for the unknown. Retailers and brands will need to be mindful of their customer-facing communications across all customer touch points, including product data feeds, to avoid customer frustrations with availability. 

Another digital shopping habit accelerated by COVID-19 is the adoption of mobile payment and contactless apps. 57% of adults surveyed use mobile for 50%+ of their online purchases and 85% have payment apps. eCommerce businesses should activate payment options beyond credit cards to the to keep pace with alternative payment market adoption.  

As recently as last holiday season, shippers had challenges meeting delivery service level agreements (SLAs) resulting in many late gifts and disappointed customers. This year, USPS delays started in the Spring which does not bode well for last mile delivery in peak November and December online shopping periods.  

These issues are not unique to USPS during the holiday rush and can be expected from FedEx and UPS as well. Retailers and brands should keep a close eye on their delivery SLAs to anticipate possible customer disappointments and customer service issues as studies have shown that customers hold retailers responsible for shipping delays despite which party is actually responsible. 

 

How can brands approach Black Friday this year? 

My team and I have complied a checklist for marketers as we continue into the holiday season.

  • Be nimble, this year is not about campaign planning for a handful of days, customers know there are deals and they are seeking them now, be present consistently
  • With a surge in users looking for deals, encourage sign up for access to offers or subscription services. The online surge provides brands a strong platform to capture CRM/first-party data. Those looking to increase their customer database size and quality have a unique opportunity to build during this season. Keep in mind, there needs to be a value exchange. Plus, the usage of that data must be compliant and leveraged to create better, more meaningful experiences
  • Use scenario planning customised to potential challenges to enable quick pivoting. Planning for the entire eCommerce infrastructure, such as inventory, shipping, and stock forecasts, allows brands to identify ways to approach issues, assign resourcing, or apply changes to product distribution more quickly when plans have been mapped. Scenario planning also provides the opportunity to use consumer signals to optimise swiftly, focusing on creating the best experience whether via content, offers, and personalisation of the retail environments. You can’t plan for everything, but preparing to act is half the battle.
  • Make sure that product feeds, the online assortment, mobile functionality, and checkout are all optimised to ensure smooth shopping experiences. Shopping feeds and catalogues play a large roll in a brand’s presence across search engines, marketplaces and dynamic product ads in Social/Programmatic. It is critical they are optimised for consistency.
  • Monitor your sales data daily, be responsive to actionable insights and optimise! By applying a responsive approach to the data, brands have an opportunity to create the most meaningful experience for customers.

Overall, this holiday season, like this year, has started off unpredictable. There remains a lot of opportunity for brands to take advantage of changed consumer shopping habits. With surges in online sales, you have insight into the consumer to hone in on the experience. At a minimum, being in market now will allow for learnings for a brand’s foundational eCommerce and provide a window for rapid testing. It is critical to have a responsive approach both to accommodate logistical requirements (fulfillment, shipping, inventory, pricing) for the business and to make interaction for the customer seamless, building loyalty and advocacy.

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