Ramping Up Online Campaigns for the Holiday Season

As multichannel merchants continue their holiday preparations and campaigns, they should look back and learn from last year, plan ahead to ensure readiness, and take action with care and agility to respond to emerging opportunities in the season ahead.

Learning from last year
Last year, online sales during the holiday season reached new heights. Fueled perhaps by a price conscious public looking for better deals, consumers showed no hesitation in shopping online for their holiday gifts. MasterCard’s SpendingPulse eCommerce Index reported a year over year increase in spend of 15.4% with an estimated total of $36.4 billion spent online. ComScore reported slightly more conservative numbers with $32.6 billion in total online spending and a yearly growth rate of 12% compared to the 2009 Holiday Season.

Of all the online channels, paid search showed the biggest gains as consumers continued to use search engines to find goods and products. Consider some numbers from Kenshoo’s 2010 Holiday Season Online Retail Report. Consumers who clicked on paid search ads spent 69% more online than in the previous year. Kenshoo advertisers spent 52% more on paid search advertising than in 2009, and they captured 87% more transactions.

The numbers seem to indicate that even in a stagnant economy sales growth can be achieved online. Companies will spend more online during the holidays to capture the expanding online opportunity. Marketers should be sure to allocate enough budget to keep up with competitors as budgets and costs per click inflate.

Plan ahead
Marketers should examine their own calendars from last year. Which days delivered the best revenue and ROI? If those numbers aren’t available, consider published numbers.

Kenshoo’s 2010 Online Retail Holiday Season Report showed that many consumers got a jump on their holiday shopping. Black Friday brought the highest revenue day of the holiday season, and Thanksgiving was not far behind. The second and third highest revenue days were Cyber Monday (the Monday following Thanksgiving) and Green Monday (the final Monday with at least ten days before Christmas).
Marketers should try and capture online sales volume when people are in front of their computers and looking to shop, either at home during the holiday or back in the office on Monday mornings.

Be agile but smart
One of the trickiest aspects of online advertising during the holiday season is ensuring campaigns use the correct calls-to-action at the right times. Over Thanksgiving Weekend, Black Friday promotions should be up and running. Be ready to activate or reallocate budgets for Christmas and holiday promotions by Saturday to get the jump on Cyber Monday.

Mondays are important days for online sales during the holiday season. Savvy marketers fight the urge to review weekend data and tweak campaigns on Monday. Changes to paid search or paid social campaigns can result in the loss of impressions while publishers update and approve ads. Every hour counts during high volume days; so marketers should only make changes during low peak times like Fridays or late nights.
Free shipping is always a good call to action during the holiday season, but marketers waste money and risk creating poor customer experiences when their ads offer free shipping after a free shipping deadline passes. Marketers offering virtual goods should push those products especially hard after the free shipping deadline, because competition will have tailed off while a large opportunity remains to connect with procrastinating consumers.

These and other lessons can help marketers enjoy the fruits of a successful 2011 holiday season.

The numbers cited in this article can be found at CNBC, ComScore, and Kenshoo.

Ariel Rosenstein ([email protected]) is director of product marketing for digital marketing software provider Kenshoo.