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6 Ways to Spread E-commerce Cheer this Holiday

The leaves have changed colors, football season is in full swing, and before you know it…it will be Thanksgiving. This can send both consumers and marketers into a panic trying to prepare for what lies ahead over the coming weeks. Don’t worry, there are still a few last-minute tips you can implement to ensure a successful e-commerce holiday season.

Find Your Best Gift Givers on Digital

The first priority for reaching customers through search is ensuring keyword lists and Google Shopping feeds fully encapsulate the products you have to offer and the ways that your customers tend to search during the holidays. The customers you see purchasing for you in Q4 may or may not be the same that you see throughout the year, which can impact which queries you might want to trigger ads for through both Product Listing Ads (PLAs) and text ads.

For example, “gift card” terms may be less productive throughout the year but are more likely to convert during the holidays, particularly as shipping deadlines loom. Advertisers should look back to queries that drove orders during last year’s holiday season and ensure relevant terms are still represented this year. And, of course, launch keywords to account for any new or hot product offerings that weren’t sold last year.

Beyond ensuring that PLA and text ad campaigns are set up to show ads for all relevant queries during the holidays, advertisers need to be taking customer affinity into account. Gone are the days when marketers could sit back and expect returns from a blanket approach for all shoppers, and brands should be looking to target existing customers and past site visitors intelligently through Google’s Customer Match and Remarketing Lists for Search Ads.

E-commerce marketers should use these audiences to test the full value of customer data this holiday season by customizing ad messaging and experiences. Each customer contributes uniquely to your business, and optimizations should seek to drive as much value out of each interaction as possible.

Consider testing audiences comprised of customers who’ve shopped with you in prior holiday periods as they may be shopping for the same gift recipient and could be more likely to buy from you again for that person. Although volume may be modest, we’ve seen very high click through and conversion rates for these holiday shopping audiences.

Tweak Your Mobile Strategy for Holiday Shopping

Mobile paid search traffic share is consistently increasing, and typically spikes around key travel days such as Thanksgiving (up over 10% from prior Thursday in 2015) and Christmas (up over 15% from week earlier in 2015), when users are less likely to have other devices available to them. Mobile share also rises at the end of the fourth quarter, presumably due to last minute brick and mortar shoppers ahead of Christmas and as a result of the new mobile devices people receive over the holidays.

E-commerce marketers need to place a high level of focus on mobile site optimization to ensure smooth interactions during this pivotal time. It’s also important that performance be evaluated in such a way so as to properly value this traffic, not only for conversions on those devices, but also for mobile research that converts on other devices and channels.

At a weekly level, we see the biggest lift from cross-device conversions in early November, across all device types. This cross device impact then steadily declines throughout the holiday season, picking back up slightly the week of Christmas:

Be On Point with Holiday Messaging

You have heard it before and I will say it again: holiday messaging needs to be consistent across platforms. Just as with other marketing tactics, e-commerce marketers need to have a content calendar in place in order to queue up timely ads. Below is a high level sample content calendar for your paid search holiday campaigns:

Spend some time looking at what worked for your business last year and tweak this year’s messaging accordingly. Ask yourself:

  • Does the new content work for Google's new Expanded Text Ads format?
  • Should site extensions that better speak to holiday shoppers be added?
  • Does the content change as key dates in the holiday season come and go?
  • Are you paying attention to post-Christmas opportunities?

Make sure your messaging is taking advantage of new content formats and key dates for early birds and last-minute shoppers alike.

Account for Holiday Media Economics

The data below shows the percentage of all sales that are happening within 60 minutes of the last ad click, and it suggests that shoppers spend less time considering purchases after Thanksgiving. This effect peaks a week before Christmas, with approximately 65% of orders a week before Christmas occurring within one hour of the last ad click.

Taking a look at the average order value for the median retail client, we find that basket size declines throughout the holiday season, bottoming out the week before Christmas. Just like declining order latency during the holiday season, this data suggests shoppers make less considered purchases after Thanksgiving, as smaller purchases are typically associated with less consideration.

In light of these trends, marketers need to make sure their ads are in front of customers during the quick turnaround gift buying times, and reevaluate typical strategies that you have in place throughout the rest of the year.

For example, removing or updating time-of-day and day-of-week bid policies makes sense for a lot of advertisers during the holiday shopping season. Since AOVs are lower, it may also make sense to rethink typical order value thresholds customers must meet to receive free shipping or other offers, since shoppers are less likely to spend as much on others as they would on themselves.

Think About Location, Location, Location

It should come as no surprise that location plays a key role in e-commerce holiday shopping, since many online interactions lead to offline sales. This is especially true for last minute shoppers who are searching for products when shipments can no longer be guaranteed to arrive before Christmas.

Online conversion rate falls sharply once those cutoffs go into effect, and across Merkle’s client-base we saw this happen around December 19 of last year, though the decline in performance for each advertiser is dependent on their own shipping cutoffs and when the shipping cost required to receive packages before Christmas goes up. Once the cost goes up or it becomes unrealistic that a product can be shipped in time, many online shoppers ultimately visit brick-and-mortar locations that have what they need.

A great way to take advantage of this trend is with Google Local Inventory Ads (LIA). LIAs look nearly identical to traditional PLAs, but highlight the in-stock products that are available at each store location, driving traffic to your physical locations via a digital format. If you’re not currently running an LIA campaign, now is the time to start the process of getting one running.

Be There Early and Late in the Season – Consumer Behavior is Changing

It is no secret that e-commerce has been consistently growing year over year. However, growth is not consistent throughout the season. The strongest growth has historically come just ahead of Thanksgiving (the Tuesday before Turkey Day) through Cyber Monday. There is also a strong “last minute” sales growth right before Christmas.

When we look closer at Cyber Weekend 2015 (the extended weekend starting with Thanksgiving Day), Thanksgiving Day had the strongest percentage growth in sales of all Cyber Weekend days, while Black Friday was second. Despite this growth, Cyber Monday continued to be the biggest shopping day for the 6th year in a row in 2015.

What is interesting is this Monday shopping trend does not stop on Cyber Monday. Looking over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas, we see that Mondays consistently remain larger shopping days. There are a few theories as to why this is the case. First, shoppers continue to try to check off their lists after weekend shopping. Second, we are spending more and more time in offices with high speed Wi-Fi access, which may be provide a convenient time for shopping, particularly for those who lack such access at home.

Also, remember that you can’t wait until the Cyber Weekend to get in front of customers. You need to start tailoring messaging and mobile targeting based on your customers’ behaviors now. Nearly a third of sales that took place between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday last year were proceeded by a first touch ad click before Thanksgiving. Shoppers are researching before big sales days.

These six strategies should give your holiday campaigns an edge during the busy shopping season. A few last minute tweaks could help you earn your spot on the e-commerce nice list and be rewarded with lots of KPI presents.