Preparing for a promotional retail event — like Black Friday or Cyber Monday — is always a challenge. But it’s especially difficult when you are in the midst of a pandemic. Media outlets already are reporting on a possible “shipageddon” (the collision of online pandemic and holiday shopping further stressing shipping and delivery services).
To help brands prepare, we pulled together advice from the following eCommerce experts who have been through many promotional seasons:
Analyze past promotional events to know what worked and when — by campaign, by tactic, by day — and place your bets there. Take the holiday season as an example. Do you know when traffic to your product pages spiked last year? Was it Black Friday? Monday before Christmas? Friday before Christmas? Know your high traffic days, and adjust what you can, e.g., search spend, to hit the right days.
Know your retailers’ shipping cutoff dates. They could be earlier than ever this holiday season due to constraints on shipping capacity. So, it’s a good idea to try and pull demand forward though paid search earlier in the season. As Stacy Hanks at Master Lock puts it, “If I don’t have the inventory or the ad budget left on December 20, I’m ok with that. I have to move faster and get as much [sales] as I can earlier this year.”
Make sure what you promote is still relevant. Crises, like pandemics and recessions, are disruptive to established consumption patterns. So, you’ll want to pay close attention to forward-looking indicators like trending keywords and growth in traffic to product pages. Understand what consumers are most interested in. For example, PUMA is focusing on performance gear, loungewear and athleisure wear during the Q4 holiday season to align with work-from-home trends.
When we think about what we did last year to execute paid search, it's all about winning the right days. And being really surgical about what days had the most traffic, especially as we got closer to the holiday.
Stacy Hanks, Director of eCommerce, Master Lock
What to do the days leading up to prepare
Audit success factors, like content: Promotions and paid search campaigns are tied to SEO and optimized language in your content. But what happens when your product pages get switched up on you, whether due to third-party sellers or a retailer making a mistake? How will you know about it? Using tools like Profitero, take time in the week leading up to your big promotion to double check product detail pages and content for accuracy and completeness to avoid any last-minute fire drills, and the possibility your investment falls flat because of content snafus. Master Lock ran into precisely this kind of situation recently the week before Prime Day. The brand found the product descriptions for many of its top items were completely changed to reflect different products altogether (tablets and laptops). Fortunately, they worked with their Amazon account manager, who helped get everything corrected within 24 hours — before Prime Day hit.
Build “budget fluidity” into the process. Mindy Fashaw, COO of Pacvue defines budget fluidity as the ability to move budget flexibly and quickly without layers of decision makers across platforms, channels and retailers based on just-in-time information. Budget fluidity can make or break you during eComm promotional events. So get budgets (and any built-in flex) approved in advance to avoid last-minute scrambling during the actual event.
Set your contingency plans. Chances are the retail supply chain will be choked up at some point. Devise a plan to respond to any inventory issues (e.g., out-of-stocks) quickly. It’s better to be transparent with consumers and keep them informed than risk those relationships due to poor service levels. Know where backup inventory exists that can be re-allocated as needed quickly.
It's about agility and building empowerment within the team. There's a lot of transparency as to where we're at, where we should be, and how we pivot off of that. We have some pre-canned ideas so we're always ready to go — and then pull the trigger or pivot if we need to.
Rick almeida, VP ecommerce, puma
What to do during the event to win
Empower the eComm team to make decisions: Give them the authority to spend more when something’s working, pull the plug if it’s not, or quickly deploy backup plans as needed. Pacvue’s Fashaw shares an example from Prime Day of a pet brand that didn’t run any deals this year. During the deal-heavy event, it found its investment in paid search wasn’t working either. The brand found impressions up 50%+ (versus the lead-up daily average) but click-through rates were way down and ROAS (return on ad spend) fell from $5.00 to $1.00. So, to minimize wasted ad spend, the brand scaled back paid search on day two of Prime Day. Now it has more ad dollars left in the coffers to spend at a later date when it can get better returns.
Implement a daily huddle. “Our daily huddle process is a 10-15 minute stand up to review the most important metrics to our day and make immediate decisions driven by that data to take actions where we see either challenges to mitigate or opportunities to capitalize on,” says Hanks of Master Lock. (Learn more about Master Lock’s “Daily Huddle.”)
Monitor KPIs in real time. Identify the 3-4 KPIs you want to track in real time on the day-of and understand what tolerance levels you’re willing to accept. Metrics you may want to put on your watch list include:
Traffic & conversion
Best Seller Rank (BSR) movement
Share of visibility (e.g., share of page 1, share of top 10 spots)
Cost per Click (CPC) and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)
3 metrics that Master Lock closely tracks during promotional events
Real time sales velocity (Source: Amazon)
To quickly identify how sales look early in the day, and compare that to other days to understand how velocity is trending during a promotion
Best Seller Rankings on Amazon (Source: Keepa)
To see how quickly a promotion or paid advertising impacts best seller ranks, and if results are as expected
Pricing (Source: Profitero)
To make sure prices on deal day are what is expected, and that the retailer didn’t unexpectedly make any changes
Prioritize exception-based reporting. Forget what’s working. Focus on what’s broken. Look for red flags and figure out what you need to do to fix it. This is an excellent time to deploy a test & learn approach. If something’s not working, change it.
You can schedule your paid search strategy in advance. But it's important to audit your approach the day-of, and make necessary adjustments. The beauty of self-service advertising with retailers [like Amazon or Walmart] is the ability to pivot in real time.
mindy fashaw, chief operating officer, pacvue
Contact Profitero to learn how you can get the eCommerce data and performance analytics you need to monitor and adjust your seasonal event strategies in real time.