Rachel is an account manager at Vovia with a background in the exciting world of websites and digital project management. When she's not analyzing reports, strategizing with clients or crunching numbers, you can find her enjoying hanging out with her family and friends, exercising, creating a new salad mix for lunch or travelling.

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Win The Holiday Shopping Season With These 4 Tips

For those of us in Calgary, it’s felt a bit like Christmas since that first snowfall at the end of September and the multiple snowy days since. By now, midway through November, we’re actually getting close to the big day which means we’re into the holiday shopping season. If you’re a retailer (online, direct to consumer, or brick and mortar), this season holds a lot of promise, and a big need to drive sales before the end of the year. For many, it can make or break sales targets for the year. Based on our prior holiday campaigns with retailers (both with online and physical stores) and some industry research from 2018, here are our key tips to driving sales and getting the most out of your campaigns for a successful holiday season.

Image of wrapped Christmas present with holly on it

1. Start Early – But be Strategic

It seems like every year we start seeing and hearing holiday sales and advertisements earlier and earlier. This year, with the lateness of American Thanksgiving, many retailers started their push with holiday sales and deals before Halloween. 

A long window for sales and promotions will only work if you have a solid strategy to see you through to the end of December. We have seen success with e-commerce campaigns that leveraged a ‘Pre-Black Friday’ sales message in mid-November with a dedicated landing page. 

This early campaign should still feature compelling deals, but the primary goal should be to start building awareness for your brand and the ‘major sales’ (like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day) and to start building remarketing lists. Think of this lead up to Black Friday like a warm-up for the major sales and shopping period. Offer good deals while getting in front of customers so you’re top of mind on the big sale days, and have good-sized remarketing lists you can leverage. 

It should surprise no one that the November – December window is a hugely cluttered space on all types of media with holiday sales and deals – but being present early matters. We know that consumers start researching and browsing for their shopping lists early and do this primarily online – take advantage of this behaviour by reaching them with display and direct response (paid search) ads a couple of weeks before Black Friday. This allows you to inspire your potential customers with items they may want to purchase. Be relevant here by leveraging ‘gift-giving’ messaging and incentivize action with compelling sales. Even if they don’t buy during that time period, they could come back later to buy an item they found while researching, and you can get in front of them later with a remarketing ad. 

It’s also worth noting that getting sales from those early shoppers may help you reach your goals. A 2019 study in the US by Deloitte on the 2018 holiday shopping season found that shoppers that start earlier tend to spend significantly more. However, retailers shouldn’t bank on this alone. That same study said that “while the early start certainly opens the wallet, shoppers still count on holiday deals and promotions”. This is where your pricing and promotions strategy really comes into play. 

2. Price is Paramount

This may sound obvious, but it bears repeating – given the saturation of sales, offers and discounts available to consumers during the holiday sales period, competitive prices are critical to a retailers’ success, both in-store and online. 

When planning your holiday strategy and execution, consider your pricing and discount strategy and figure out where your biggest opportunities are over your competitors. From our experience with retail clients and holiday campaigns, we’ve seen that customers become less brand loyal during this period and price will be the differentiator. Knowing that customers shop around during this time and have done their research, they will know if the price you’re advertising is not the best one available. 

Given that, retailers should be prepared to switch up their strategy if things aren’t working. If on Black Friday, you notice one of your main product deals isn’t moving (likely due to competition – or a better price elsewhere), you may need to pause that campaign and divert your funds elsewhere. Competitive pricing (with diligent research ahead of time) will set you up for success, but you do need to be nimble during this time period to ensure you are not wasting funds. 

Retailers can also take advantage of the nimble nature of digital ads during this period and do message testing. Potential customers might be responding better to a percentage off as opposed to a dollar value in savings. We have seen this several times in our own experience managing e-commerce campaigns; ads with percentages tend to do better and leave more to the imagination.  

When it comes to promotions, retailers can’t just rely on the ‘big ones’ (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day) to see them through to a successful Q4 – a sustained promotional strategy from November (even pre-American Thanksgiving to execute that ‘warm-up’ period) through to early January is key to success for the period. While the big ones might offer the very best deals on big-ticket items (think electronics and appliances), a sustained approach helps ensure you stay top of mind and relevant throughout the whole period. 

So you’ve got your pricing and promotional strategy figured out – now you need the right media mix to get it out there. 

3. Maximize your Media Investment with the Right Channel Mix & Execution

As mentioned above, the holiday shopping season is cluttered with messaging, and it can be hard to stand out. But it’s also a really lucrative time of year to get great returns on media investment. It comes down to the right channel mix and getting the most of your investment.

Digital channels give you the opportunity to maximize your revenue and realize your return on ad spend (ROAS), while also presenting you with a number of ways to drive in-store and online traffic and sales.

From our 2018 holiday campaigns and experience since then, Google presents two compelling tactics for 2019 campaigns in the form of automated bidding strategies and Smart Shopping. In 2018, one e-commerce holiday campaign we ran saw a return on ad spend (ROAS) of 1.52 with ‘regular’ Google Shopping campaigns versus a ROAS of 16 on Smart Shopping campaigns.

If you want to read more about leveraging Google products for your digital holiday campaigns, check out Viveks post on 5 New Google Shopping Features for e-Commerce Retailers in Canada. 

Earlier in 2019 Google also launched Local Campaigns. This Google product came on the heels of a shift from many brick and mortar retailers to focus on driving in-store traffic, either in addition to online traffic or instead of it. Local campaigns leverage all Google platforms (search, display network, YouTube, Gmail and Maps) to feature advertiser store listings and information with the goal of driving and optimizing to store traffic. Google then uses location data and beacons to ascertain how many people who clicked on an ad then came in-store within a 30-day window. 

If you’re a brick and mortar retailer, segmenting a portion of your digital spend on a campaign like Google Local that drives and reports on store traffic allows you to address your goal of driving in-store traffic. Coupled with in-store conversion rates and basket sizes, you can even figure out your ‘offline’ ROAS from these ads based on your investment. 

Last but certainly not least, traditional media investment on channels like TV, radio and out-of-home will help you maintain an even larger share of voice during this highlight competitive time period. The key here, especially with broadcast TV, is buying early to secure the best rates. Your investment will go further if you’re able to buy as soon as rate cards are released. 

Traditional channels also allow you to ensure that while you’re maximizing your revenue on digital channels and driving online traffic and sales, you’re still building and maintaining awareness during the long and competitive holiday shopping season.

The right media mix sets you up for success, but there are a few other levers you can pull to help you win the season – think convenience and your customer experience, both in-store and online. 

4. Focus on Convenience & Experience

After price, there are a few other areas you can use to be competitive and attract customers during the holiday shopping season. Fast shipping and free shipping, in particular, are big ones. This makes sense – after price, convenience is a deciding factor for many shoppers, regardless of the retail category. The fast-paced shopping period raises the intensity of the need for convenience too. And in some way, perhaps it’s partly a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether your customers are waiting until that last minute to try and get the best price, or they are just last-minute shoppers by nature, some of the busiest shopping days are those few days ahead of Christmas. This used to only be true for brick and mortar retailers, with them getting the majority of sales during this time period. However, click-and-collect and omnichannel experiences for buying and fulfillment have changed this up a bit now. Leverage both your online and in-store channels to increase your sales all the way through to Christmas and beyond with same-day fulfillment. Customers can browse online and make their purchase, and pick up the same day or the next day. 

The click-and-collect fulfillment model is 2019’s two-day shipping, especially in Canada where two-day shipping is expensive and hard to guarantee within that last week before Christmas. And the experience here is key – the last thing you want is a customer to buy from your online store by your shipping deadline, but then fail to get their purchase in time for Christmas. That’s a customer you probably won’t have next year. 

Surprised that click-and-collect is a key selling feature for shoppers during the holidays, given it requires customers make that mall trip you thought they would avoid? Studies back this up: a 2019 US study on the 2018 holiday shopping season found that “brick and mortar stores are rising in popularity with nearly every age cohort. Shoppers are coming to expect omnichannel fulfillment prowess, with more than 40% saying they plan to use buy online and pickup in store services”. It makes sense – given the volume of sales in the last week before Christmas, customers don’t want to gamble with online shopping and delivery. 

Retailers should use these ‘convenience-boosting’ services in their messaging across online advertising during the holiday season, knowing that more than ever these two channels (online and in-store) are being leveraged by consumers to get their shopping done with ease.

Here’s a recap of 4 winning strategies we’ve outlined here to help set you up for success in your holiday campaigns:

  1. Start early – get in market early with a ‘warm-up’ promo campaign to start building awareness and remarketing lists
  2. Price is king – be competitive and ready to adjust as needed. Don’t just focus on the big days for deals – offer discounts to your customer throughout the period
  3. Get the right media mix – leverage digital and offline channels to maximize your media investment & drive in-store and online sales
  4. Focus on convenience and experience – make it easy for customers to shop you, all the way up to Christmas and beyond

Interested in chatting with us more about driving sales during the holiday shopping season? Reach out and let’s chat.