10 Steps to a Successful 2020 Ecommerce Holiday

Holiday preparations for paid search efforts should be on every digital advertiser’s mind this month.

According to eMarketer, retail sales are expected to decline significantly for the first time since 2009 — they project a 10.5% decrease in U.S. retail sales, to the tune of roughly 571 billion USD. The bright side is that there’s an 18% projected increase in U.S. ecommerce sales. That’s going to make this holiday online shopping season even more important, and busy, than ever before.

A Google-commissioned study with Ipsos found that the vast majority of US shoppers, 69% to be exact, plan to shop online more for the holidays this year. 

4 Strategic Marketing Planning Steps

Before we get to paid search planning, it’s important to think about your overall marketing plan, because the decisions you make here will help you plan for your pay-per-click (PPC) efforts.

1. Determine Your Shipping Cut-off Date

If you have a date when you stop guaranteeing arrival by Christmas, make sure you highlight it on your website. With concern about the increased demand for shipping fulfillment and shipping companies not guaranteeing arrival by certain dates, making your shipping cut-off date prominently visible is even more important this year than ever before.

2. Plan Your Promotions and Sales

If you have any holiday offers, the sooner you plan for them, the better. Come up with a calendar now based on key shopping dates, your shipping cutoffs, and insights from your own data over the past years. Share the calendar with key stakeholders in your company, as well as any vendors outside your company that need to know your important dates.

Source: Microsoft internal data, Nov 2019 – Dec 2019

3. Update Your Website to Be Holiday First

  • “Holiday-ify” Your Website: Change your website to have a winter or holiday theme. It could be a thematic background, a holiday banner, or anything festive that gets people into the holiday shopping spirit. 
  • Highlight Important Dates: Make sure your website highlights your shipping cutoff dates and encourages people to order early to help avoid shipping delays outside of your control.
  • Emphasize Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP): Every page of your site should highlight your USP. Do you offer free shipping on all orders or free shipping on orders over a certain size? Are you extending your return policy into January? Do you offer a free warranty? Whatever it is, make sure what sets you apart from your competitors is visible on every page.

4. Consider Free Shipping

In an Amazon Prime-conditioned world, people do not want to pay for shipping. According to the National Retail Federation’s Annual Holiday Survey, 91% of those surveyed plan to take advantage of free shipping. If you aren’t offering free shipping, and your competitors are, you are at a distinct disadvantage.  

A few years ago, a client and I conducted an experiment to test free shipping versus a percentage off. Buyers actually saved more if they used the percentage off and paid for shipping, yet free shipping was the clear winner. 

6 Paid Search Planning Steps

Now that you’ve thought through your promotions, important dates, and your website is ready — it’s time to tackle your paid search.

1. Update Ad Language

When it comes to PPC, if your promotion runs for less than five to seven days I don’t suggest running ads for it. The nature of PPC means that, with a short promotion, the ads never get a chance to fully get up to speed before the promotion ends and they get shut off. 

I highly suggest creating promotion extensions that can be shown on your existing ads. 

If your promotion is longer than five to seven days, you should create new ads that highlight your offers. Make sure your new ad copy includes when your offer ends to create a sense of urgency.

In addition, if you have Shopping ads, you can set up promotions in Google Merchant Center and Microsoft Merchant Center. Anything you can do to highlight your sale or promotion will help make your ad stand out to potential customers.

2. Create New Image Ads

Build new holiday-themed ads that highlight your promotions and USPs for any display campaigns, especially for remarketing campaigns. Consider scheduling a series of ads leading up to your shipping cut-off date to promote urgency, and continuing through the post-holiday shopping period. This plan has been successful for my clients in the past and I have seen it in action boosting sales numbers.

3. Add Seasonal Shopping Audiences to Campaigns

Both Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising have created audience lists for Black Friday and Christmas shoppers. 

Google’s Audiences

Microsoft’s Audiences

Layer some or all of the audiences into your existing search and shopping campaigns — either with a 0% bid adjustment if you just want to observe or with a positive bid adjustment if you want to be more aggressive.

4. Test New Campaign Types

  • TrueView for Action (TV4A) Campaigns on YouTube: We’re seeing very strong ecommerce results for those clients who are doing TV4A campaigns on YouTube through Google Ads. These campaigns are goal-focused — whether for leads or sales — and use a call-to-action in the ad.
  • Discovery Campaigns: Google’s answer to social media, Discovery campaigns have shown interesting results for clients, even ecommerce clients, especially when coupled with remarketing lists.
  • Microsoft Audience Network (MSAN) Image Campaigns: Microsoft’s answer to Google’s display network, MSAN is a great way to expand your reach on the Microsoft platform. Microsoft makes it easy by importing your Google display campaigns into Microsoft. Keep in mind that since Microsoft doesn’t have responsive display ads, you’ll want to add more ads to make up for the difference.
  • MSAN Shopping Campaigns: If you have a shopping feed, MSAN shopping is one of the easiest campaign setups you’ll ever do. You don’t even add an audience or need any ad assets, all of the information is pulled directly from your shopping feed.

5. Plan to Increase Your Spend

Think about what kind of increased budgets you want — but since this isn’t a typical year, be flexible with your budgets and prepare to increase them even more if necessary to accommodate the extra traffic. You should start to increase your ad spend now if you haven’t already. 

According to the Google study referenced earlier, 62% of U.S. shoppers will plan their holiday shopping earlier to avoid items being out of stock.” In a typical year, searches on Black Friday terms start weeks before the actual date, so most likely we will see this trend accelerate when studies are done on the 2020 holiday shopping season.

In addition to budget increases you make now, I highly recommend boosting budgets — and even doubling, in some cases — starting on Thanksgiving. Make sure you watch the ad spend closely through the rest of December, revisiting the calendar with peak search days above.

6. Think Post-Holiday Sales

The National Retail Federation’s survey further found that 68% of shoppers are planning on continuing their buying after December 25th, and 51% say that sales and promotions will get them to actually pull the trigger and buy.

After the holiday rush is over, shoppers begin buying for themselves. Some will have gift cards to spend that are burning holes in their pockets while others will be returning things and want to purchase something else. Since we normally see sales numbers remain high through the second or third week of January, keep your budget elevated to support the post-holiday volume.

Key categories from Microsoft’s internal data from 2019 showed increases in search volume for skincare, haircare, makeup, clothing, home theater audio, and major appliances after December 25th, 2019. It will be interesting to see which categories show volume increases after this unprecedented year.

We can read all of the predictions available, but the truth is that no one really knows exactly how the 2020 holiday shopping season will go. We do know that coming up with a plan using the steps listed above will give you the best chance to take advantage of the large number of online shoppers coming your way.

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