Marketing Briefing: Disappointing Black Friday sales leaves advertisers questioning their strategies and future retail holidays

shopping laptop

Say goodbye to the days of late night and early morning doorbuster deals exclusive to the week of Thanksgiving. Black Friday as we know it is no more.

Instead, people shopped online earlier this year, suggesting that major retailer holidays are, “rallying points for ad copy versus a reality for how people are purchasing,” said Noah Mallin, chief strategy officer at IMGN Media. 

According to marketers and advertisers, there are a few reasons for this year’s change. Firstly, supply chain issues have led advertisers to roll out deals and “buy now” messaging earlier than they have in years prior, meaning shoppers are buying earlier. The pandemic has also significantly spurred the growth of online shopping, thus blurring the lines between in-store and online efforts around the big shopping moments this time of year: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. 

Looking at it by the numbers, Adobe reports that online sales have dipped to $8.9 billion on Black Friday, slightly below 2020 levels of $9 billion. Per Adobe, it’s the first time the insights team has seen a decrease in spending on major shopping days since Adobe first began reporting on e-commerce in 2012. 

For marketers, it all points to the idea that holiday shopping will start earlier and the actual day of Black Friday will take up a smaller share of holiday e-commerce spend, blending in with Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday to become a digital holiday retail conglomerate. 

“Black Friday and Cyber Monday are morphing into one continuous cyber/retail marathon to try to get you, from Wednesday to Tuesday, to participate,” said Allen Adamson, brand consultant and co-founder of Metaforce. “[Deals] were available on sale, online well before you finished digesting your turkey on Friday morning.”

As the digital advertising space, from banner ads to email inboxes, becomes more crowded with both shoppers and advertisers, it’ll take brands a lot more to break through this holiday shopping season. “Everyone’s screaming as loud as they can and it’s really hard to have anyone break through,” Adamson said.

Ahead of the retail holiday shopping season, New York City-based marketing services collaborative, Rosie Labs, says not even upping discounts, from 15% to 25% for one client specifically, were enough to see a lift in online sales. 

“I think the consumer has fatigue,” said CEO David Song in an email. “They know they will get a similar deal later in the year or were waiting for a Cyber Monday deal.”

Katya Constantine, CEO of performance marketing agency DigiShop Media, echoed something similar: if retailers don’t offer significantly different discounts than what’s regularly offered online, they’ll miss out on shoppers. 

Per Song, it’s too early to tell what the ramifications will be. But he said, “I do know my clients are already putting more money into holiday [shopping] now based on disappointing Black Friday online sales.”

All in all, this Black Friday proves that marketers and advertisers need to become much more agile, according to David MacDonald, GVP of commerce strategy at Razorfish agency. Black Friday inventory is typically set up in advance. But with supply chain issues, brands need to be more nimble with their campaigns, MacDonald added.

“Customers enjoy having the holiday sales start earlier in the season, so a longer holiday season event could become normal. Black Friday used to be the kick-off of holiday shopping, but this year it was post-Halloween,” MacDonald said via email.

3 Questions with Alaynia Garnsworthy, Campaign Marketing Manager at Waldo

As a DTC eye-care company brand, how is Waldo scaling to reach new shoppers?

As a brand, we have expanded exponentially in the past few years (nearly by 500%), but of course, scaling and reaching new shoppers is always challenging. One thing that has presented a new set of challenges most recently has been adapting to new privacy policies within the iOS update. Like most advertisers, Waldo has been adapting and testing new strategies, approaches and channels to tackle the current challenge and be ahead of the game for a digital world without cookie tracking. A few ways we are scaling includes omnichannel strategy, ensuring that our brand is present across every stage of the funnel from awareness to purchase, [being] data-centric, understanding our customers and metrics, test and learn [approach] in everything that we do. We are constantly testing new channels, audiences, formats and A/B tests to be as informed as possible.

What’s the retail strategy ahead of the holidays this year?

Our approach to the holiday season from a retailing perspective is to add value, rather than discount. We believe that our products are a more affordable option compared to our competitors and therefore focus on adding even more value through impactful partnerships and gifting moments. This approach also attracts a customer that typically has a higher lifetime value compared to a customer who is more driven by discounts.

With supply chain issues creeping up already, any plans around that ahead of the holidays?

This holiday is truly unlike any other in terms of supply chain issues. At WALDO, we’ve chosen to focus on a few things: Plan ahead, book space with freight forwarders earlier than usual, share forecast volume with fulfillment parties, [and] boost relationships with suppliers.

By the numbers

The social commerce space continues to heat up as more players, like Pinterest with its new shopping list feature or TikTok’s latest innovation with shoppable videos. However, the U.S. has only a small piece of the social commerce pie compared to China, which is still about 10 times bigger, according to eMarketer. That being said, new research from 3Q Digital marketing agency reveals that more marketers, especially those at tech brands, are ready to invest in the social commerce space sooner rather than later. Find details from the report below:

  • Tech brands are expected to substantially increase social commerce budgets from an estimated $120,000 this year to $370k in 2023, an average of 208%.
  • 77% of tech’s marketing leaders think social commerce is important.
  • 85% of the tech brand leaders surveyed are already investing or planning on investing in social commerce.

Quote of the week

“Getting our story in front of consumers in unique ways has had a positive correlation with our brand awareness. For our evergreen campaigns meant to drive mid-to-lower funnel objectives, we prioritize in-house digital channels like direct-to-site partnerships, programmatic, paid search, paid social, and affiliate. These campaigns provide much more immediate performance results, and as the in-house media agency, we are able to nimbly shift budgets based on performance and priorities.”

— Jenny Shi, associate director of media for cannabis brand Charlotte’s Web, on how the brand is approaching media buying.

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