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The holiday shopping season brings in as much as 30% of a retailer’s annual sales — and 2021 will be one of the biggest yet. It’s estimated that this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) shopping events alone will surpass $10 billion in ecommerce sales. With new online marketing and omnichannel trends, the 2021 holiday shopping season is shaping up to be an exciting one. Here are six marketing campaign strategies for ecommerce merchants — including Shopify Plus stores — to capitalize on this year’s holiday marketing trends. ✨

1. Start Now, Build Anticipation, and Market Progressively and Consistently 🤩

For the last 20 years, BFCM has marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season, but now people are buying much earlier.  

In August 2020, Yotpo — an ecommerce marketing platform and Shopify Plus Certified Partner — conducted a survey of 2,000 online shoppers. It found that 20% had already started their holiday shopping — before the summer was even over. Meanwhile, a 2020 survey of over 4,000 Americans reported that a whopping 61% start their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, with 38% beginning before the end of October.

The reason for this change? If consumers learned anything from the last 18 months, it’s that nothing is certain. 

“Consumers have ongoing concerns about delivery delays and product availability, which translates to shopping earlier for the holidays than they have in years past,” says Rosa Hu, Vice President of Product Marketing for Yotpo. 

With people planning their purchases ahead of the BFCM weekend, now is the time to speak with your marketing agency about running promotional and give-back campaigns. 

There are a couple of caveats, though. November and early December remain the only months where we see a higher average click-through rate (CTR) for ad creatives that reference “holidays” compared to other promotions. Ads that include promotions of any kind, however, remain the top performers for engagement — and they do so at a volume that’s almost 20x as big as ads that refer to holidays.

In other words? Craft appropriate ad creative messaging for each phase of the holiday season.  

Remember to take advantage of October’s lower CPMs (cost per impressions) to build brand awareness. As the season progresses, shift your focus down the funnel, retarget existing shoppers, and think about how you can get more out of your marketing channels by bringing them together. Then, once November hits, roll out your official holiday-specific creative ads — these can be revised in December to focus on targeting last-minute shoppers.

This is exactly the strategy that Tiny Tags — a Shopify Plus merchant that sells personalized jewelry — used for its 2020 holiday marketing campaign. Leveraging AdRoll, a Shopify Plus Certified App Partner, Marketing Director Celine Cohen created awareness ads, validating retargeting ads, supportive emails, and meaningful social and charitable activities — all underpinned by media and influencer social proof. 

The result? Tiny Tag’s 2020 holiday sales were up 50% compared to 2019. 🚀🎉 

Cohen’s advice? “Schedule all of your comms to begin a few weeks ahead of time, even if it’s softer messaging. Abandoned cart emails and AdRoll retargeting display ads will also immensely contribute to your bottom line during this period.” 

2. Focus On Retention 🤝

Unlike last year — when we saw many first-time digital shoppers — this year’s consumers are now old hands. They know how to comparison-shop and when to expect discount codes to hit their inboxes. That’s why it’s more imperative than ever to focus on retention.

“On BFCM, there’s a push to acquire new customers, but you don’t want them to be one-time buyers. You need to have strategies in place to ensure they’ll stick around and continue to buy from your brand post-holiday,” says Hu.

To stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to leverage the ownership you have over your brand and your customer relationships. Hu also suggests creating a loyalty program.

“It’s one of the best retention strategies for turning first-time customers into loyal brand advocates and — combined with a referral program — a great tool for acquiring new customers,” she says. “Data is going to be your driving force. And with recent and looming changes to cookies and consumer data collection, it’s imperative that brands are collecting the metrics they need at every stage of the customer journey.”

Considering the entire customer journey was part of the strategy that Shopify Plus merchant Lounge Underwear employed during its 2020 holiday marketing campaign. Working with AdRoll, the lingerie brand achieved an 82% growth in click-through rates. 

“There’s so much more to digital marketing than just looking at the return on investment,” says Hannah Lewis, Head of PPC and Affiliates at Lounge Underwear. “Brand awareness and driving new customers to the site is just as key.”

3. Invest In Customer Service to Help Manage Customer Expectations 🗣

These now-seasoned shoppers also expect a cohesive omnichannel shopping experience think frictionless shopping options like buy now, pay later (BNPL), and express checkout (Shop Pay, G Pay, etc.). Convenience, however, is not enough. Remember how shoppers were burned by last year’s supply chain and shipping delays?

“Early in the pandemic, consumers cut brands a lot of slack,” says Hu. “Now that we’re more than a year into this new normal, customers are much less forgiving.”

Hu says this means that brands will need to have greater transparency around potential delays. It’s better to be conservative about delivery estimates, particularly when purchases are intended to be given as gifts.

Bottom line? Consider hiring additional customer service staff to meet the holiday sales crush if you haven’t done so already.  

4. Incorporate Your Brand’s Values Into Your Holiday Marketing Campaign 💫

Since 2019, Google searches for “support local businesses” have grown by over 20,000%. But consumers aren’t just looking to buy locally — they also want to support purpose-driven, Black-owned, AAPI-owned, women-led, environmentally conscious, and LGBTQIA2S+-friendly businesses.

This coincides with a period when consumers are more likely to make emotional purchase decisions. According to a survey by Quantum Metric, two in three consumers expect the 2021 holiday season to be more meaningful; it’s the first time in nearly two years that many have been with family. As a result, more than half of shoppers seek gifts representing a personal connection with the recipient.

“With emotions high, retailers need to create digital experiences that are personalized and intuitive,” Mario Ciabarra, CEO of Quantum Metric, said in a press release.

For example, is your audience the type who might like a portion of their purchase to be donated instead of receiving a percentage off? Does your company value time off with friends and family, and is it closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday? Share what makes you, you. 

5. Win Back More Abandoned Cart Revenue Than Any Season Before 🛒

Ecommerce cart abandonment rate is very high — up to 88% on average. While this may feel deflating, it’s actually quite the contrary. Cart abandoners are an extremely high-intent population who use checkout carts as a way to keep a wish list — checking back once they’ve budgeted, price checked, or have received a promo code.

In fact, our recent data shows that shoppers who are targeted with both ads and emails are twice as likely to convert and do so twice as fast, which is exactly why we recommend bringing your ads and emails together this ecommerce holiday marketing season. 

To learn more about abandoned cart recovery, click here, and for more about the AdRoll Abandoned Cart Recovery Recipe, click here

6. Develop a Diverse Holiday Marketing Campaign Mix 🎄

It might be tempting to relaunch the same campaign that worked last year, but that may not be possible. Throughout 2021, we’ve seen major changes to consumer privacy and trust legislation, which has resulted in the phasing-out of cookies and ad tracking. While ecommerce merchants can continue to rely on tracking user activity through third-party data to retarget ads, for now, come 2023, this will no longer be an option

We’re sure to see additional changes in the new year, so it’s best to get ahead of the ball now. How? First-party data will become the most important data that you have access to. However, this means that you’ll need to be more reliant on methods that allow you to collect data on preferences and habits, including customer retention programs (such as loyalty programs), email marketing campaigns, and social media growth and engagement.

Likewise, SMS marketing should become a key part of your holiday campaign, thanks to its high open rates of around 98% and less than 5% opt-out rate.

“When it comes to communicating flash sales and order updates, recovering abandoned carts, and creating a personalized customer experience, SMS is a highly effective channel,” says Hu. She recommends growing your subscriber list by offering SMS subscribers early access to BFCM sales.

If you’re looking for assistance with developing a diverse marketing campaign this holiday season, there’s a reason AdRoll was selected as one of the top merchants to help Shopify merchants get your store “in shape” for the holiday season. We can help. 

Need more insights and inspiration for the holiday season? Check out AdRoll’s Holidays Hub for additional resources like our CPM rate calendar and freshly released 2021 Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Trends Guide.

Author

Steph is the Community Marketing Manager at AdRoll. A relationship-builder, she’s behind the Growth Guerilla Collective (GGC); the community for D2C marketers. Before AdRoll, Steph ran Customer Marketing at a B2B SaaS company in San Francisco. She is passionate about customer-centric marketing.