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Merkle RKG 2015 Cyber Weekend Search Marketing Recap

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us, hopefully most retailers can breathe a little easier now that they have made it through the two biggest US online shopping days of the year, and the critical Cyber Weekend period.

Last year, the five days from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday produced 29% of the sales retailers generated from search ads over Thanksgiving through Christmas and we may top that number in 2015, as consumers have increasingly front-loaded their holiday purchases over Cyber Weekend.

If 2014 is any guide though, there are a lot more sales to be had between now and the end of the year, but it helps to get off to a solid start.

Cyber Weekend Overall Sales Growth

The results over the past week certainly point to a strong showing for Cyber Weekend online this year as retailers’ year-over-year sales growth picked up significantly from early Q4 levels and from the growth levels they saw just ahead of Thanksgiving Day.

Echoing results from 2014, search ad-driven sales growth jumped from 19% Y/Y in the 10 days before Thanksgiving to 39% growth on Thanksgiving Day itself.

While sales growth on Thanksgiving far outpaced other days over the extended weekend, performance from one retailer to the next also varied more than on other days, likely reflecting the impact of different promotional strategies, this year and last.

Growth dropped to 25% Y/Y on Black Friday, but that was still well above the 11% growth retailers saw in the first half of the quarter.

Saturday and Sunday sales growth nearly matched the gains achieved on Black Friday, coming in at 22% and 24% respectively.

As we’ve seen for the past couple of years, Cyber Monday was once again the largest online shopping day during the extended Cyber Weekend, however, its rate of sales growth was the slowest at 19%. Cyber Monday sales outpaced Black Friday by 9% in 2015, down from a 15% advantage in 2014.

The shift in traffic to mobile is helping to close the gap between Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, as Black Friday is the largest US shopping day of the year on mobile. At the same time, retailers’ promotional strategies are also helping to flatten the performance differences across Cyber Weekend, and spread sales volume more evenly across the individual days.

Product Listing Ads Continue to Drive Search Ad Sales Growth

As expected, Product Listing Ads drove the bulk of sales gains from search ads during Cyber Weekend. The median retailer running both Google PLAs and text ads saw PLA-driven sales grow at nearly five times the growth rate of text ad sales.

PLAs are growing particularly strongly on phones, however, they are also driving impressive results on desktop and tablets, where in the run-up to Cyber Weekend, sales from text ads were in decline.

Mobile Leads the Way in Traffic, Sales Performance Improves

In the Cyber Weekend preview report we released a couple of weeks ago, we noted that phones and tablets were poised to account for as much as 60% of Google search ad clicks on Thanksgiving Day. We didn’t quite hit that figure, but with a click share of 59% on Thanksgiving, mobile devices did reach new traffic share highs.

In early Q4 and the run-up to Thanksgiving, phones and tablets produced 50% of retailers’ Google search ad clicks. On weekend days prior to Cyber Weekend, mobile was reaching 57% of clicks.

With so many shoppers traveling, mobile traffic share has historically spiked on Thanksgiving, and we again saw this in 2015.

Mobile traffic share on Black Friday was 56%, a level more reflective of a typical weekend day. Over Saturday and Sunday, mobile share edged up slightly to 58% and 57%, respectively.

On Cyber Monday, mobile traffic share fell sharply to 45% as most customers returned to their normal routines. This level was slightly below a typical Monday result in the earlier part of the quarter.

More importantly, the share of retailer sales produced by phone and tablet search ads also spiked over Cyber Weekend, and to a greater extent.

Due to lower conversion rates, mobile still produced a smaller share of sales than clicks over Cyber Weekend, but that gap narrowed compared to earlier in the quarter.

On Black Friday, mobile search ad sales share was 38%, which was 18 points lower than its share of clicks. Before Thanksgiving, the gap between mobile sales and click share was running closer to 22 points.

The Weeks Ahead

In 2014, four of the top 10 holiday shopping days online occurred over Cyber Weekend, and that will almost certainly be the case again in 2015. The day after Cyber Monday was also the sixth biggest sales day last year, but volume has historically dropped off significantly from Wednesday until the next Sunday and Monday.

The Sundays and Mondays between now and shipping cutoffs will likely continue to produce some of the biggest sales of the season, but not necessarily year-over-year sales growth rates.

Just as Cyber Weekend has grown more important over time, so too have last-minute orders in the week or so before Christmas. In between, sales volume has been strong, but sales growth rates have not matched those retailers have seen at the beginning and end of the season.