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did christmas peak early?

When Black Friday first kicked off, the initial concept was to get businesses back into the black. Selling off cheap stock they no longer want, the event allowed them to restock for the year ahead.

But as we’ve seen for many years now, the Black Friday shopping event takes place over a longer and longer period each year. And that’s not the only change. In this blog, I share first-hand insight into Black Friday performance, what’s changed, what to be aware of and how we adapted our paid media campaigns to drive the best results possible for clients.

an evolving landscape

The digital landscape is an ever-changing one. As a specialist paid media agency, we’re well-positioned to observe and react to these changes in real-time.

After the accelerated shift to digital that the global pandemic spearheaded, we expected to see a larger number of shoppers making a comeback as a (hopefully) more normal Christmas was on the cards. However, the volatility 2020 brought to retail left us all unsure of what to expect from Black Friday this year.

Thankfully, 2021’s Black Friday shopping extravaganza was a success, ringing in its biggest sales day ever. Just take a look at the numbers:

Always keeping one eye on the market and working with many clients to make the most of their paid media activity at this time of year, here’s what we saw…

a change in attitudes towards deals

There has been a lot of debate around the credibility of special offers brands have been promising their customers. This year, customers seemed to have got wise to falsely inflated prices and are all-round less interested in discounts. Last year it was proven that 85 percent of Black Friday offers were in fact cheaper in the months prior to or after Black Friday – it’s no wonder, therefore, that people have become more sceptical.

key brands chose not to take part

Although marked as the largest annual retail event, many brands chose to opt out of taking part in Black Friday. There could be many reasons for this, but research puts it down to the negative impact Black Friday can have on the planet, the encouragement of unsustainable practices like fast fashion and the unfair treatment of workers manufacturing products.

Some choose not to offer any type of sales at all while others do but with the promise to donate their sales to charity instead. Examples of businesses who didn’t participate in Black Friday or made it their own this year include:

  • ikea: IKEA took part in the sales event in their own way, branding it as ‘Green Friday’ and using it as a way to incentivise their customers to recycle. Instead of offering Black Friday discounts, it encouraged IKEA members to take advantage of the company’s buy back and resell scheme.

  • b&m: With more than 680 shops across the UK, B&M chose to opt out of Black Friday altogether. The discounter brand said that they offer a large number of reductions and discounts across the whole year instead.

  • marks and spencer: M&S don’t usually run an official black Friday sale. Instead, they focus on offering great value throughout the season including over the Black Friday weekend.

  • independent brands: Many independent retailers chose to boycott Black Friday altogether. Nearly 85 percent of smaller sellers protested against online eCommerce giants like Amazon. In an act of objection, they closed their websites and promoted sustainable practices such as donating their profits to charity and planting trees to offset carbon emissions created by the increased demand this shopping event brings. In line with this, Small Business Saturday also gained more recognition this year with platforms such as Instagram creating stickers to promote the cause and more brands getting involved.

not just for retailers

Riding the waves of black Friday, incentives were not unique to retailers alone this year. We saw clients in all kinds of industries - from travel to automotive and even property - reap the benefits of Black Friday. An incentive that proved particularly popular was the offer of a Fortnum and Mason hamper that piggybacked on peak to increase their brand awareness and social following.

In fact, one of our travel clients saw a massive 376 percent increase in revenue despite there still being such uncertainty around COVID. Although people are dropping out of holidays left, right and centre, with the various assurances that were put in place, the right messaging and considered targeting, they still experienced tremendous success.

deep discounts were out

Are huge discounts becoming a thing of the past? This is something we saw this year. Even though flat discounts were still being offered, they typically sat around 20 percent rather than the whopping 50 – 70 percent we saw in previous years.

Less interest has been seen from users on simply getting the cheapest deal, particularly if their order won’t arrive before Christmas. Therefore, better results were seen around other offers such as express delivery over discounts where people were prepared to pay a premium for the product.

brands got creative with their deals

Trying to stand out in the competitive online market is never an easy task. But throw in the biggest sales event of the year and thousands of brands competing for the attention of their customers’ and it becomes a whole lot harder.

This year was the year to do things a little differently. We saw a rise in brands getting creative with their Black Friday promotions from daily deals that kept interest levels high to advent calendar style offers too. The likes of fashion retailer, Mint Velvet, has even extended this approach into December as they offer a daily advent, giving shoppers the opportunity to win different gifts.

peripheral items over flagship deals

Rather than a core product being discounted, there were more peripheral deals on offer such as free delivery or discount on one product when you buy another.

Proving this approach can work well, one of our automotive clients deployed this tactic. Over the Black Friday period we saw an increase of 52 percent in conversions and their cost per acquisition was down 10 percent.

changes to campaigns seen this peak

a change in kpis

This year, not all Black Friday campaigns were designed to drive immediate sales and revenue. Brands got savvy and growing those all-important social media followings was at the top of their wishlist.

more interest in social

Social advertising is by no means new, but this year we saw a notable increase in the interest our clients had in running social campaigns to support their Black Friday efforts. Pinterest in particular was a popular channel of choice thanks to the inspirational and discovery nature that engages customers while they’re browsing online. In line with this, it’s no surprise that mobile shopping continued to dominate as more people adopt social media for product discovery and making purchases.

an appetite to try new channels and campaign types

With the ups, downs and uncertainties of the last two years, there has been a notable increase in the openness of businesses to try something new. While there were of course still KPIs to hit and solid objectives to reach, exploring new ways to drive even higher performance and get better results were well and truly on the table this peak.

more first party data usage

With a cookie-less world on the horizon, something we’ve been encouraging more of is the use of first party data. As such, it has been great to see more collaboration with clients wanting to share first party data to support targeting and increase the success of their campaigns.

leveraging automation

Our campaigns are always designed to generate incrementality for our clients using machine learning across social, search, video and display, but this peak we’ve leveraged automation more so than ever before.

Auction-time bidding (which is effectively real-time bidding) helped us to achieve things that humans can’t possibly do alone. This is where smart bidding really comes in to its own. With automated smart bidding technology, we’re able to make real-time bidding decisions a lot more effectively, and as such, have been a lot more efficient. Being able to bid towards the user behind the device rather than the keyword which enhanced performance across many of our accounts.

facebook success, despite tracking challenges

Despite confidence waning in the Facebook and Instagram platform due to their various trackability issues, we found that Facebook and Instagram CPMs (cost per 1,000 impressions) have actually increased year on year.

Although not ones to blow our own trumpets – we like to let our results do the talking - the equation team has done a great job at going after what can be measured on Facebook. This approach showed that there are still impressive results to be had with Facebook with one of our clients seeing an increase of 69 percent in revenue generated and an increase of 43 percent ROI too.

success at christmas and beyond

The biggest sales weekend of the year has been and gone but the learnings are something we can take into the year ahead.

As a specialist paid media agency, our focus is always on improving our processes to drive even better results for our clients. To find out more about the way that we work and how we can help you create a paid media strategy designed for success, get in touch with our team of experts.

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