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Three Key Trends from the 2021 Cyber Five

The most concentrated shopping period of the holiday season, running from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, is officially in the books for 2021. Known as the “Cyber Five,” this short window typically generates nearly one-fifth of all ecommerce sales for November and December. 

Retailers faced new challenges this year, stemming from the continuing pandemic and its impacts on consumer behavior, logistics, and more. As advertisers adapted, three key themes emerged that shaped performance across digital during this critical period, and will likely endure throughout the rest of the holiday season.

The holiday shopping season is spreading out, with less concentration on the Cyber Five.

Ecommerce performance across each of the three key days over the Cyber Five weekend was either flat or down slightly compared to 2020. According to Adobe Analytics Y/Y data, Cyber Monday spending was down 1.4%, Thanksgiving spending was virtually flat, and Black Friday spending was down ~1%.

Shoppers are spreading their shopping across more days in November and December, due to a number of factors:

  • Behavioral changes initiated last year when Amazon moved Prime Day to October.
  • Concerns about a repeat of the shipping challenges experienced last holiday season.
  • Prominent messaging from retailers about supply chain challenges impacting delivery times.
  • Retailers running comparable promotions outside the Cyber Five timeframe.
  • A renewed focus on spending more quality time with loved ones during the Thanksgiving holiday.

While much of this shift translated to earlier shopping, advertisers can still take several steps to capture demand for the rest of the holiday season. Ecommerce brands can respond to supply chain and shipping concerns by promoting gift cards that are delivered electronically. In addition to gift card promotion, omnichannel brands can also adapt messaging and media spend to drive more traffic to stores as inventory levels wane and shipping cutoff dates approach.

Consumers continue to favor online shopping over in-store.

Though Black Friday in-store shopping was up 48% compared to 2020, it still fell short of 2019 levels by 28%. Some brands attempted to get more in-person traffic to help alleviate some shipping challenges, tempting shoppers with exclusive in-store deals. Others, however, continued to move away from in-store shopping to a degree, with several large retailers remaining closed on Thanksgiving. All told, consumers weren’t ready to return to in-person shopping at pre-pandemic levels, with many still concerned about the pandemic and happy with the conveniences of online ordering.

In response, advertisers need to meet customers where they are. Omnichannel advertisers should ensure visibility across formats focused on both local and ecommerce, with a greater focus on local later in the season. Retailers should also prominently message the ways customers can get their products outside of traditional means, including buy online pick up in store, curbside pickup, or same-day delivery.

Advertising costs remain sky high.

CPC and CPM across channels have been elevated for the last few quarters. Businesses were forced to operate almost exclusively online in Q2 of 2020, creating a crowded ecommerce landscape where advertisers need to pay more to compete. The Cyber Five proved to be no different. Retailers experienced intense competition, which in turn led to significant Y/Y CPC increases.

To combat rising CPCs, advertisers can focus budget in the areas most likely to convert. That means leaning into audiences and more targeted advertising. They can additionally find savings in areas that are less likely to convert, like on items that are backordered until after holiday shipping cutoffs. Some Merkle advertisers increase the frequency of inventory updates during the holidays to spend only on products that are in stock and deliver a positive customer experience. This is especially impactful this year, with supply chain challenges making inventory more volatile than ever.

There’s still a lot of holiday shopping left this season, and advertisers can work to capture those dollars by showcasing options that circumvent supply chain issues, meeting shoppers where they are, and being targeted with ad spend. By adapting to this year’s unique challenges, retailers can close out 2021 strong and carry positive momentum into the new year.

Thought Leadership Contributors:

Andy Warren, Director of Commerce
Jen Karlson, Commerce Strategist
Ashleigh Ball, Relationship Marketing Strategist