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Five Takeaways from Cyber Weekend

Like much of 2020, this year’s Cyber Weekend was unprecedented. The usual in-store rush for blockbuster deals shifted online, and large family gatherings shrunk to smaller celebrations. The big holiday weekend looked different from a search perspective, too. Now that the dust has settled, here are five notable trends that our retail clients and teams observed during the critical Cyber Five period (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday).

1) Demand was pulled forward, leading to softer Cyber Monday performance than expected

When Amazon moved Prime Day from its usual July timeframe to mid-October, advertisers started discussing how it might cause the holiday season to kick off early this year and pull demand forward. Throughout November, retailers did end up seeing stronger performance than usual leading up to Thanksgiving, which is typically known for customers researching rather than buying. However, the increased demand leading up to Thanksgiving did not appear to diminish revenue on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, with many retailers seeing strong year-over-year performance and record-breaking online sales.

Cyber Monday was a different story, performing softer than most retailers expected. A few factors might’ve been at play. With in-store traffic down 52% on Black Friday, customers that typically shop online for Cyber Monday may have instead moved online for Black Friday. Additionally, with more people staying home for the holidays or attending smaller gatherings, there may have been more willingness to shop on Thursday and Friday instead of waiting until Monday.

Consumers have also been aware of inventory challenges facing retail this year – Commercenext showed that 47% of internet users surveyed had concerns about items being unavailable this holiday season. Shoppers that were worried about missing out on the items they wanted may have been willing to buy a bit earlier than usual. Regardless of the cause, sales growth over the early days of the Cyber Five was better than Cyber Monday for many retailers.

2) Competition was particularly fierce for some categories on Cyber Monday

In addition to softer performance on Cyber Monday, many retailers also saw increased competition in search. Part of this was likely due to huge expectations for the day. The positive performance of November as a whole and strong predictions from eMarketer led retailers to expect really impressive demand on Cyber Monday, and they were willing to pay more to get greater visibility.

There also may have been greater competition from omnichannel retailers that wanted to make up for lost in-store revenue with increased online sales. Amazon, which did not advertise for several months earlier this year, may have had more remaining marketing dollars than usual to invest on Cyber Monday, as they appeared prominently in auction insights reports for Monday. As we learned, the increased spend did not end up turning into as much revenue as expected, leading to some lower efficiencies for the day.

3) Inventory issues put a damper on the weekend

The shifts in consumer trends this year due to COVID-19 drove strong demand in certain categories earlier this year, straining inventory for many retailers in those spaces. With the volume of orders that occurred through the month of November, advertisers had to be nimble to shift budgets, update bids, and change promotions as different categories or products got depleted. Facing these issues, some retailers saw success with swapping in similar products when a particular item went completely out of stock.

4) Automation tools were successful overall, though there are key learnings for next year

Google rolled out many automation tools in the past 12 months, including auction-time bidding across all campaign types within Search Ads 360. Many retailers took advantage of this tool to capitalize real-time on auction landscape shifts this year.

Overall, the performance on auction-time bidding was extremely favorable for the Cyber Five, requiring few manual adjustments in order to bid appropriately to the value of traffic. However, the ramp down post-Cyber Monday happened slower than expected, requiring more manual intervention to bring efficiency in line with target. This was a key learning that brands using Google’s tools can get ahead of next year with proactive bidding adjustments after Cyber Weekend wraps.

5)  Preparation was especially critical this year given 2020’s unique challenges

While weeks of preparation are always important for key holidays, they were especially crucial this year. Many teams created retailer-specific holiday strategy guides outlining preparation tactics, intraday monitoring protocols, promotional calendars, communication plans, and more. Businesses were in a uniquely challenging environment this year and having a concrete plan putting retailers and advertising teams on the same page was a critical piece of holiday success.

Despite some challenges, on the whole, the Cyber Five was very successful for many retailers due to heightened demand, scaled automation, and preparedness. Advertisers were challenged in many new ways and while next year’s holiday season will undoubtedly look different than this year’s, the learnings and experiences from 2020 will create a strong foundation for success in future holiday peaks.