Doug Rozen

Chief Media Officer, 360i


The holidays are a time of year we typically associate with friends, family traditions and lots of cheer, but this year is masked by uncertainty and unrest. The global pandemic set off a chain reaction that is culminating in Q4, which means this holiday season is shaping up to be unlike any other.

For advertisers, planning cycles and best practices are being turned upside down due to lingering unknowns. The question being asked by all is how do you succeed in a time of such ambiguity?

  • Amazon’s decision to move Prime Day to the first week of October will pull forward holiday spending and purchase behavior much earlier than in years’ past.
  • The same-day and next-day delivery that online shoppers have grown accustomed to will no longer be reliable as an uptick in e-commerce demand makes it impossible for fulfillment services to keep up.
  • Ravenous Black Friday crowds will be a thing of the past as stores close their doors to reduce the risk of spreading COVID.
  • A divisive election is underway that will have direct ramifications on consumer spending, behavior and consumption – not to mention taxing the mail service further.
  • And finally, there’s the cultural shift from in-person to virtual which will alter how the holiday – and gift giving – is experienced in totality.

Our prediction: This year’s retail holiday season will be demanding, not a dash. Cyber Week is a thing of the past. ’Tis the Cyber Season. Here’s why. 

Peak Season, Not Peak Week

Holiday related searches have already begun, increasing by as much as 300% on advertising platforms such as Google. 80% of consumers are planning their holiday shopping earlier to avoid crowds & fulfillment issues. 2020 is the year to jump the line and go early. There is a rare opportunity to compile large wins leading up to the historical peak days.

What should marketers do?

  • Budget up to 35-40% of Q4 ad spend for October.
  • Prepare for the “Prime Day” effect, as well as the possibility of additional stimulus checks reaching U.S. households at some point in October.
  • Begin ramping up ad spend in the 4th week of September by up to +10% in preparation of Prime Day across performance media.
  • Structure remarketing strategies with cookie pools captured in October to use in early November, Cyber Week, and December. This will provide a competitive advantage that historically did not exist as buying patterns were so condensed to one week.

Less Physical, All Digital

Half of all shoppers feel unsafe trying on clothes in retail locations. And a third will avoid going into stores altogether to limit the spread of COVID ahead of family visits. Additionally, consumers are just as concerned with the safety of store employees as they are with their own safety. With many retailers proactively announcing store closures on Thanksgiving and Black Friday to limit crowds and large gatherings, this will further accelerate the shift to online channels in Q4.

What should marketers do?

  • Pressure test a variety of potential obstacles inclusive of landing pages experiments, widespread promotional changes, and website conversion funnel analysis.
  • Test shoppable commerce on Instagram or Pinterest throughout October. These are emerging platforms that consumers have become more acquainted with due to purchase habits changing as a result of the pandemic.
  • Focus on making physical locations become more digital. Personal shoppers or store employees leveraging Zoom or FaceTime can provide loyal customers with the in-store experience they crave.

Contactless, curbside & convenience

Expectations have shifted in how consumers interact with retailers. Nearly 90% of consumers demand businesses to offer curbside pickup or contactless delivery. 54% of consumers have changed their shopping habits due to the pandemic. 77% now consider whether they need to come in contact with others before visiting a store. The pandemic has forced retailers to find new ways to get their products and services into the hands of consumers, safely.

What should marketers do?

  • Make sure your digital storefront is in synch with your physical storefront. This highlights the critical role of search engine optimization and underscores the importance of accurate store listing information including hours of operations, safety precautions and/or restrictions.
  • Reduce the strain on delivery logistics and fulfillment issues by incentivizing shoppers to opt for alternative fulfillment options via promotions and faster order pickup times.
  • Shift out cleanliness, safety or other COVID related creative and create a content strategy tied to convenience, reliable shipping, urgency and frictionless experiences.

The Known Unknown

While the historical data indicates retailers should anticipate a lift on Black Friday during election cycles, 2020 is not your typical election year. What if election outcomes are unresolved due contested victories or delays related to mail-in ballots? What if civil unrest occurs in cities across the United States that puts holiday spending on hold, especially given current cultural tensions? What if physical stores opt to close due to concerns with safety? What if the uncertainty extends beyond Black Friday? No one really knows what's in store for us. 

What should marketers do?

  • Prepare a pivot plan by mapping out 3-4 impactful “what if” scenarios that could play out: from Black Friday being a normal Friday to stimulus checks hitting in December.
  • Budget over 5% of your total Q4 spend for an unknown opportunity after the election.
  • Calculate pre-determined benchmarks that trigger reactive moves? Surprises will be plenty, but overreacting will result in revenue loss. Be methodical by creating thresholds that signal reaction and avoid knee-jerk decisions.

Ultimately, thanks to technology, consumers no longer "go shopping" but are rather "always shopping." We are about to experience the first holiday season since this paradigm shift has been accelerated overnight and has all of a sudden reached new consumer demographics. It's going to be an interesting pressure test for brands and, for many, a significant point in their learning curve identifying the solutions they need, from acquisition all the way to post-purchase loyalty, in order to be successful in this new world. 

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