The busiest shopping period of the year is once again fast approaching and this year’s Black Friday extravaganza, is again expected to exceed previous years for e-commerce.
Black Friday has long been a popular shopping day in the US, traditionally the day after Thanksgiving when retailers kicked off the festive sales period and ‘moved into the black’. This day has been the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season in the US as far back as the 1920s, with the term ‘Black Friday’ becoming popular since the 1960s.
In the last decade, Black Friday has become increasingly important for e-commerce for the holiday shopping period in the US, UK, and other global markets. There have been many digital spin-offs too with Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, being the most notable.
The Digital Rise of Black Friday
In recent years, consumers have become increasingly familiar with the images of long checkout queues and stampeding bargain hunters which is further fueling the shift from offline to online. More shoppers are choosing to avoid the manic in-store experience and instead, pick up bargains from the comfort of their own home, particularly in the UK and other markets outside the US where Black Friday falls on a normal working day. This resulted in high street sales over the 2015 Black Friday period being relatively disappointing whilst online, websites crashed due to the large surges in online traffic.
A look at Google Trends for ‘Black Friday’ shows how this online search interest has been increasing consistently over the past decade with year-on-year growth exceeding 20% over the past two years.
The Global Evolution of Black Friday
Despite originally being a US-only retailer event, Black Friday sales have strongly taken hold in the UK and many other international markets in recent years. In 2015, UK Black Friday sales hit a record £1.1 billion with £3.3 billion in total generated over the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend according to Experian. Using Google Trends to map search interest year-on-year shows how Black Friday awareness has evolved from the US to a global phenomenon.
Up until 2006:
Black Friday is a US only event, overtaking the last Saturday before Christmas as the busiest shopping day of the year from 2003 onwards.
Black Friday popularity spreads to Canada following cross-border shoppers flocking to the US in previous years.
Black Friday awareness spreads over the border to Mexico and across the Atlantic to the UK and Germany mainly due to advertisers originating from the US promoting Black Friday deals.
Black Friday searches spread to South America, other markets in Western Europe, Australia, and India.
Awareness spreads to Russia, Scandinavia, Central/Eastern Europe, and South Africa.
Black Friday searches increase further across Europe and awareness also starts to extend as far as Singapore and Pakistan.
Despite the growing interest demonstrated from the Google Trends charts above, Black Friday was still a relatively low awareness event in many European markets in 2015, however, despite this, the year-on-year growth figures from Google Trends shows that this awareness is increasing rapidly with growth exceeding 500% in markets such as Spain, Denmark and Ireland.
And with the increasing adoption of retailers running Black Friday sales in markets such as France, Germany, and Spain, we expect that this awareness will continue to grow further in European markets in the 2016 holiday period and beyond.
So what are the key dates for the 2016 holiday shopping period? What trends can we expect to see, and what actions can we take to maximize the performance of our paid search campaigns?
Key Days for Online Sales 2016
Thanksgiving & Black Friday
In recent years, retailers have started launching Black Friday promotions increasingly earlier, often starting on Thanksgiving afternoon in the US to entice turkey stuffed bargain hunters, or even up to a week or two before Black Friday in order to spread sales more evenly over the period.
The Monday following Black Friday, expect many retailers to switch from ‘Black Friday’ to ‘Cyber Monday’ deals. Similar to Black Friday, awareness of Cyber Monday has spread from the US to Canada, the UK, South America, and Australia although awareness is significantly lower in European markets.
Google trends for ‘Cyber Monday’
The Sunday within the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend, known for driving high traffic volumes, particularly from mobile and tablet devices, as consumers shop from the comfort of their sofa.
Manic & Green Monday
The first and second Monday’s in December are two of the busiest online shopping days for ordering Christmas presents.
Starting as a relatively recent shopping day for single people in China in the 1990s, November 11th is now a massive online sales event for China and South East Asia. E-commerce revenue generated on this day in 2016 is set to top that of Black Friday sales due to the vast population in that market.
2015 Performance Trends
In terms of predicting trends for the 2016 holiday shopping period, looking at last year’s performance data provides a good indication on what we can expect to see this year.
Black Friday was Still No. 1 for Revenue
Aggregating performance data across a sample of NMPi clients shows that Black Friday was still the clear winner in terms of both traffic revenue generation with Cyber Monday coming in second.
Black Friday, by far, saw the greatest uplift in traffic volumes, however conversion rates actually peaked on Cyber Monday with strong uplifts in conversion rate also seen on the first three Mondays of December as shown in the chart below:
2015 Saw the First Mobile-Dominated Black Friday
Black Friday 2015 saw mobile traffic overtake desktop for the first time, accounting for around 46% of traffic from our sample of accounts. We can expect this trend to continue for Black Friday 2016 with the percentage of traffic from mobile likely to increase further.
Mobile & Tablet Conversion Rates Increased Significantly on Key Sales Dates
In addition to the higher percent of traffic, conversion rates on mobile devices (which traditionally lag behind that of desktop) actually saw a greater percentage of uplifts. Mobile conversion rates on Black Friday jumped to more than double that of the November-December average.
Black Friday is Daytime-Dominated
The two charts below comparing traffic by hour of the day shows how Black Friday traffic volumes from our client samples were heavily weighted towards the early part of the day, particularly on desktop and mobile devices as consumers rush to pick up the best bargains both overnight and in the early morning. In comparison, the trends for Cyber Monday follow a more typical weekday trend.
Top PPC Tips for the 2016 Black Friday & Christmas Sales Period
• Have a full digital strategy in place that can track and attribute conversions across devices and channels.
• Ensure your website is optimised for mobile devices as well as desktop and ensure it can withstand peak traffic and stock levels for key sales dates
• Analyse performance from last year and integrate previous learning into this year’s strategy. e.g.,
o Which products/ categories performed well – clothing, gift cards, electronics, and toys tend to be top of shoppers gift lists?
o What keywords drove performance?
o Which ad copy messaging generated the highest CTR?
o What days, times, geographic locations, devices and audience segments performed the best?
• Ensure campaign budgets are increased to accommodate the additional traffic.
• Schedule device level bid multiplier adjustments to maximise on the expected uplifts in conversion rates on key times of day for Black Friday and other important days based on performance data from 2015.
• Use AdWords Ad Customizers combined with Expanded Text Ads to push Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales messaging and countdown to sale end dates.
• Maximize use of Ad Extensions–sitelinks, callout extensions, structured snippets etc. to push key information shoppers will be looking for e.g., free/next day delivery, free returns etc.
• Integrate with promotional landing pages and use AdWords Scripts to flag landing pages where stock has been depleted, or any noted site downtime to avoid wasted ad spend.
• Ensure ‘Black Friday’, Cyber Monday’, ‘gift’ and any other applicable seasonal keywords are added to your campaigns.
• Utilise remarketing and RLSA targeting.
• Make use of the new Demographic for Search feature in AdWords to increase bid multipliers or separate out campaigns for top demographic segments.
• Maximize shopping campaigns – adjust bids and make use of campaign priorities to maximise impression share on key sales driving products and categories.
• Ensure Bing opportunities are maximised including Bing shopping campaigns