Three Business Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Three Business Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Advertising

One year ago, could you have predicted that our economy would come roaring back and that more than half of the U.S. adult population would be vaccinated against COVID-19? I sure didn’t.  As we approach the midyear point in 2021, I am grateful for family, friends, co-workers, and our clients at a time when many people have suffered loss. This is also a humbling time. In 2020, many business owners were facing uncertain futures. It was not easy to understand what was around the corner, and sometimes we were flat-out wrong when we attempted to look ahead. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now say we’ve learned some things. I have shared below some of my own lessons learned based on my experiences at True Interactive:

1 Conventional Wisdom Is Flawed

Conventional wisdom says that during uncertain times, people save more and live cautiously. And during the pandemic, people did save. But they also spent. (And invested — the stock market soared.) Consumers spent in ways that make sense in hindsight, but not necessarily so at time. For example, consider the surge in spending on home maintenance and groceries as people in lockdown focused on home repair projects and learning how to cook. Or think of the surge in short-term travel. Americans could not board airplanes and go to far-flung places (especially big cities), but they did take shorter trips to smaller towns and parks. That’s a reason why Airbnb saw a big turnaround in its business later in 2020 after suffering a downturn initially. Businesses that allowed conventional wisdom to dictate their decisions were in for a surprise.

2 Predicting Future Behavior Can Be Dangerous

There was no blueprint for predicting how people would behave and how businesses would make decisions during a global pandemic. When a national emergency was declared on March 13, 2020, in the United States, agencies such as True Interactive could have been forgiven for predicting hard times ahead. After all, during uncertain and difficult times, businesses often scale back their advertising and marketing budgets. But that didn’t happen to us, thank goodness. I could not have predicted that our digital media clients would experience a spike in demand – not once, but many times in 2020. I could not have predicted that one of our clients, a photo-sharing app, would benefit from people living in lockdown and spending more time at home working on craft projects. And certainly the predictions of economists were not useful. The pandemic required businesses to think differently. To be flexible and agile – relying less on long-term predicting and more on agile planning, meaning that we constantly examined our performance, keeping an open mind to revising our plans from one month to the next.

3 Real-Time Analytics Rule

I mentioned that we needed to be more agile in our thinking. We could do that because we relied on real-time analytics — data such as clients’ conversions and website traffic that told us just how well they were performing. As I mentioned, our digital media clients saw spikes in demand. Fortunately, they were watching their numbers in real time just as we were watching their digital ad performance in real time. The analytics did not lie: those clients were doing just fine during the pandemic. Not everyone was, though, as anyone in the travel and tourism industry can attest. The reality of 2020 is that each industry was affected differently, and even inside industries, businesses were affected in different ways. Many retailers suffered greatly, but others prospered because they benefitted from services such as curbside pickup. The truth was in the real-time numbers. Anyone who relied on historic data was at a disadvantage.

Real-time analytics are serving us well now. We know that travel and tourism is back – not because of what we read in the news, but what our client data says.

Onward in 2021

At True Interactive, we continue to grow thanks to great clients and an incredibly talented and committed team. And we will continue to learn – together. In real time. What are your lessons learned?

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Amazon Unveils New Ad Units Across Its Ecosystem

Amazon Unveils New Ad Units Across Its Ecosystem

Amazon

Amazon keeps giving advertisers more reasons to choose its advertising platform, Amazon Advertising.

We recently blogged about the fact that Amazon and Facebook are steadily chipping away at Google’s online advertising marketshare. As eMarketer reported, Amazon’s share of the online advertising market increased from 7.8 percent in 2019 to 10 percent in 2020. Amazon just reminded us why Amazon Advertising will keep growing: product innovations.

We’ve already talked about how Amazon keeps launching ad units such as Sponsored Products and Sponsored Brands that make it possible for businesses to place ads on Amazon, which functions as a powerful search engine for people looking to purchase things. As reported in Advertising Age, Amazon is rolling out new products that extend beyond the Amazon site:

  • Amazon will expand advertising opportunities on Fire TV, which competes with devices such as Apple TV and Roku to stream content on connected TVs for millions of viewers. Fire TV is more than a device. It’s a way for advertisers to reach people as they browse and discover new entertainment. One new ad unit, Sponsored Content Rows, is designed for businesses to promote content such as new shows and movies in the form of a row (or carousel) of sponsored content while people browse for shows on their connected TVs (akin to sponsored search results in a Google search engine results page).
  • Amazon also expanded the places where it will show display ads across the Amazon network, including Fire TV, Prime, IMDb TV and Twitch. “We’re making it easier by introducing sponsorship opportunities paired with high-quality content from Prime Video, IMDb TV, Twitch, and third-party content,” Amazon said. This is an important development because it shows that Amazon is expanding its advertising reach beyond the core Amazon site. Many consumers are not aware that Amazon’s network of brands includes sites such as IMDb and Twitch – but indeed they’re part of Amazon’s empire. Amazon is figuring out more ways for advertisers to monetize those popular sites. (Twitch ranks 32 among the world’s 50 most popular websites, with Amazon ranking 13.)

This news comes on the heels of a huge week for Amazon. On April 29, The company announced quarterly earnings that exceeded analysts’ expectations. Although Amazon does not disclose revenue results for Amazon Advertising, it’s estimated that Amazon Advertising realizing revenue growth of 77 percent year over year to achieve $6.9 billion in the first quarter alone.

Earlier in 2021, Amazon scored a huge advertising coup when Amazon Prime Video became the first streaming service to secure an exclusive NFL national broadcast package, which will begin in 2022. The agreement will open up more advertising revenue streams as Amazon monetizes the value of the audience that relies on Amazon Prime Video.

It’s important that advertisers keep their options open by capitalizing on the power of platforms such as Amazon that are harnessing the value of their first-party data to create ad units. (We’re seeing the emergence of more similar platforms such as the Macy’s Media Network.) True Interactive works with brands to capitalize on these offerings such as Amazon Advertising and Walmart Connect, along with our longstanding work with advertising partners such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.  To succeed on these networks, contact us. We can help!

Why Amazon and Facebook Are Catching up to Google

Why Amazon and Facebook Are Catching up to Google

Advertising Amazon Facebook Google

The race to lead the online advertising market is getting tighter. According to a new report from eMarketer, Amazon Advertising and Facebook are catching up to Google’s share of the online advertising market. Let’s take a closer look.

What eMarketer Reported

eMarketer says that in 2020:

  • Amazon’s share of the online advertising market increased from 7.8 percent in 2019 to 10 percent in 2020.
  • Facebook’s share increased from 23.6 percent to 25.2 percent.
  • Google’s leading share dropped from 31.6 percent to 28.9 percent.

To put this data in perspective, eMarketer says Google’s share of online advertising was 38.6 percent in 2017.

What Does the Marketer Data Mean?

  • Amazon Advertising is only going to get bigger. That’s because Amazon delivers advertisers insight on its vast customer base – and not just casual searchers, but people searching with intent and making purchases. Per eMarketer, Amazon is enjoying growth across the board — search revenues from Sponsored Products and Sponsored Brands, and video ad revenues on properties including Amazon Fire TV, Twitch, and IMDb TV. It’s worth noting that Amazon’s growth is coming not just from ads on Amazon.com but from the Amazon network, as noted (e.g., Twitch and IMDb). That means Amazon is figuring how to use data about its customer base to expand its ad services across the web. In addition, as we noted on our blog recently, Google’s crackdown on third-party cookies is favorable to companies such as Amazon that know how to sell ads based on their massive inventories of first-party cookie data.
  • Facebook and Google are doing just fine. Despite Google’s drop in market share, the company generated a whopping $147 billion in ad revenue in 2020. Google saw a dip in its ad revenue in 2020 because its travel advertisers were hit hard by COVID-19, but the company came roaring back in the back half of the year. Google’s ad revenue actually increased by 9 percent year over year. The decrease in Google’s market share may actually help the company combat multiple anti-trust lawsuits at the state and federal level. Meanwhile, Facebook continues to reap the benefits of being the world’s largest and dominant social media network. Despite numerous controversies, Facebook enjoyed advertising growth in 2020. An increase in its user base has played an important role. That growth spiked owing to the massive uptake of social media that occurred during COVID-19, but Facebook’s user base has been climbing for years. Simply put: there is a disconnect between news media criticisms of Facebook and the behavior of its user base.

What Advertisers Should Do

  • First, follow your audience. Make your advertising investments based on the journey your own customers are making. Most customers rely on multiple digital touchpoints on their way from awareness to purchase. It’s likely that no single ad platform will (or should) dominate your spend. Incorporating Amazon, Facebook, and Google into your ad spend is probably not going to be an either/or choice (more about that on our blog).
  • Do your homework. The ad giants are going to launch more ad tools as the market place becomes more competitive. Amazon recently launched Amazon Live, which makes it possible for retailers to use livestreams to sell products – part of the live commerce trend we blogged about recently. In addition, up-and-comers such as Walmart Connect and Macy’s will launch more ad products as they capitalize on their own first-party data to generate more ad revenue.

Contact True Interactive

At True Interactive, we’ve been helping businesses succeed through online advertising for many years. Our services span Google, Facebook, Amazon Advertising, and much more. Contact us to learn how we can help you.

 

2021 Advertising and Marketing Predictions from True Interactive

2021 Advertising and Marketing Predictions from True Interactive

Advertising

If 2020 had a few surprises up its sleeve, the year certainly set the stage for 2021. In the months ahead, businesses are poised to transition more boldly to a digital-first economy, which includes a more seamless approach to e-commerce and increased opportunities for engaging with people through immersive experiences such as e-sports. At the same time, businesses will continue to navigate an increasingly complicated consumer privacy landscape. All those trends, and others, will influence the uptake of digital advertising and marketing in 2021. Read on for our fearless predictions for the year:

E-commerce Grows Up

We’ve all heard the same statistic bandied about: in 2020, the pandemic accelerated the shift to e-commerce by five years, according to IBM. But that doesn’t mean the acceleration went smoothly. As we saw during the holiday season, the surge in online commerce has exposed cracks in the seams for many retailers. Sellers struggled with a variety of issues ranging from stocking items properly to following through with orders. Going into 2021, these challenges are forcing companies to integrate all their processes (online, in store, shipping logistics, etc.) more seamlessly. Larger retailers such as Target and Walmart have already successfully expanded services such as curbside pick-up, which make it possible for shoppers to buy online and pick up merchandise at the store without needing to go inside. Going forward, they’ll follow Amazon’s lead and invest more in their own shipping and delivery services to own the order fulfillment process (Target and Walmart already have them – they’re still refining them, though). As we have seen during the holidays, the strain on shipping services such as FedEx and UPS is becoming unacceptable to retailers, and if they lack the resources to build out their own delivery services, they will partner with businesses such as InstaCart.

In addition, learning from the events of 2020, retailers will likely become more nimble in their approach to advertising and supply chain management in order to adapt to quickly changing shifts in consumer demand. They’re going to do a better job using tools such as Google Insights to adapt their campaigns to consumer behavior. The key will be to ensure their supply chain processes are as nimble.

— Kurt Anagnostopoulos, co-founder

Rough Sledding for Facebook

It may be rough sledding ahead for Facebook in 2021. Do a quick Google News search for Facebook and you will see a slew of articles depicting the challenges the social media giant currently faces. At the top of the list? News that more than 40 attorneys general and the U.S. government are expected to sue Facebook for alleged antitrust violations. And while Mark Zuckerberg has routinely appeared at congressional hearings addressing concerns of privacy, misinformation, and censorship, this latest lawsuit might be a final awakening for businesses who use Facebook as an ad platform.

Adding to Facebook’s already uphill battle is the release of the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, which explores the dangerous human impact of social network platforms as told by tech experts who expose secrets behind their own creations. Many media outlets reported a wave of people canceling their social media accounts after viewing the documentary. Of course, Facebook has slammed the documentary, claiming it’s full of misinformation, but is the damage already done? Even if the documentary did not get all the details right, it has undeniably affected public perception of social media platforms. And if even a fraction of current users de-activate their accounts, this will absolutely have a negative impact on audience size available to advertisers. More importantly, with the continued negative publicity surrounding the biggest social media platforms, are businesses really going to want to ramp spend on Facebook and Instagram? My prediction is no. After a crazy year filled with pandemic fears and general social unrest, I do not believe businesses are looking to invest in platforms embroiled in controversy. And if media spend is pulled from some of the social media giants, it may leave the door open for other search engines or community-based ad platforms to emerge. Stay tuned!

— Beth Bauch, director, digital marketing

Walmart Gains Ground as an Ad Platform

The Walmart marketplace is still very much in its infancy. I believe that 2021 will lead to exponential growth of Walmart’s advertising services, and the company will become more competitive with Amazon in this regard. The current platform is still very small scale and, technically, still in beta or just out of it. Many larger advertisers have not been invited to join the Walmart marketplace because it is still so brand new. I believe that Walmart will enjoy a large jump in advertising on their app and site Q1-Q2 2021.

— Tim Colucci, vice president, digital marketing

Augmented Reality Takes Hold

I think in 2021 we will see more brands invest money into creating virtual experiences for their customers. Augmented reality (AR) was already becoming popular before the onset of COVID-19, but now, given the urgency to shop online during the pandemic, consumers are missing the in-store experience of physically trying on items. And retailers are responding with AR: Warby Parker, for example, has created a virtual try-on for their glasses via their app. My glasses broke this weekend, and instead of going to a Warby Parker store to try on different frames, I could use their app to see what the glasses would look like on me, and felt more confident ordering online. Another brand capitalizing on the opportunities inherent in AR? A make-up line called NARS. They allow you to experiment with their products, such as blush and eye shadow, through a virtual try-on feature. Overall, I think more retail brands will create virtual shopping experiences for their customers in 2021.

— Taylor Hart, senior digital marketing manager

E-sports Dominates

The world of e-sports is never one to stop changing. With e-sports accumulating a total revenue that reached more than $1 billion in 2020 (a $150 million increase from 2019), we can only expect that to continue to rise in 2021. Given the ongoing global pandemic and application of stricter stay-at-home rules, more and more people will turn to e-sports as another form of entertainment. It all starts with streaming services that allow e-sports players to become household names in the gaming industry. Giving these players an opportunity to reach tens, potentially hundreds of thousands of viewers without leaving their home is something advertisers can only dream of. Players will do sponsored streams, with designated ad reads to be presented at certain points during the broadcast. The NFL is also getting involved with Twitch (the biggest live streaming platform), getting some of the big name streamers (e.g., NICKMERCS and TimTheTatman) to watch Thursday Night Football on stream with various advertisers as sponsors. Watch for more professional sports and entertainment services to follow in the footsteps of the NFL and try to reach this large, somewhat untapped market.

— Max Petrungaro, digital marketing associate

Privacy Dominates the Executive Agenda

For years, CEOs and CMOs have treated consumer privacy as a problem for their information technology teams to worry about. No longer. Privacy is rapidly becoming a C-level problem that can damage a company’s reputation if managed poorly. A variety of forces have elevated the importance of privacy in the United States. First off, the state of California rolled out a tough privacy act, the California Consumer Privacy Act, in January 2020, and then made the law more strict in November. Because California is one of the world’s largest economies and is a bellwether state, what happens there will influence how other states treat consumer privacy. In addition, the big technology firms are already under close scrutiny, and the new presidential administration is likely to take an even closer look at their privacy practices.

Speaking of the tech giants – their actions are casting a spotlight on privacy. As widely reported, Facebook has launched a public campaign attacking Apple’s privacy iOS 14 updates, which are going to make it harder for Facebook and other platforms to target users with ads. Meanwhile, Google continues to move forward with its plans to stop supporting third-party cookies on the Chrome browser by 2022 – an action that continues to reverberate across the ad industry. In 2021, businesses will face a year of transition as they navigate an increasingly complicated consumer privacy landscape. The challenge involves more than reacting to changes in legislation and cookie tracking technology; advertisers also need to stay on top of emerging tools such as Verizon Media’s ConnectID, designed to manage ads without the use of third-party cookies. School will be in session constantly.

— Mark Smith, co-founder

More Social Shopping

With the world of online shopping expanding in 2020 due to the pandemic, I predict that 2021 will bring new ways to shop across social. Instagram has already released its e-commerce store to elevate shopping online. I predict that the platform will continue to refine its online shopping tools, even as more social networks follow Instagram’s lead and create additional opportunities for shopping right from consumer smart devices.

— Bella Schneider, digital marketing manager

Online Video Explodes

Online video is going to explode as the number of streaming services expands. I believe we are also going to see a cheaper, monthly subscription option (akin to the base Hulu subscription) that includes video ads as a way to subsidize lower-cost services. It is rumored that HBO Max will offer this option, but I believe we will see similar offerings from Peacock, Disney+/Hulu (which I believe will be combined at some point . . . in 2021?), and Amazon Prime. I think the opportunity for more ad space is going to be too good to pass up as more and more consumers cut the cord OR sign up for multiple streaming services. In addition, I believe we will see other live TV options becoming available from streaming services: cord cutters will still have the opportunity for live TV . . .  plus the ad space that goes along with it.

— Tim Colucci, vice president, digital marketing

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

The Holiday Shopping Season Delivers Early Lessons for Retailers

The Holiday Shopping Season Delivers Early Lessons for Retailers

Retail

The holiday shopping season is in full swing now. Granted, it’s a looking a lot different than it did in years past, with the pandemic influencing consumers’ moods and their shopping habits. But already, some important lessons are emerging that may affect retailing all year-round:

  • Online retailing is bigger than ever. During Thanksgiving Weekend, shoppers broke records for online purchases, with Cyber Monday 2020 becoming the biggest online shopping event ever in the United States. In addition, Black Friday broke a record for most online sales. Although e-commerce was already booming in 2020, it was not certain that Black Friday and Cyber Monday would be this big. Retailers such as Walmart, had been spreading out Black Friday sales online going back to early November, which raised the question of whether those sales might cannibalize the “real” Black Friday occurring November 27 this year. There was no need for worry.
  • Thanksgiving Day is turning into a huge shopping event. According to Adobe Analytics, Thanksgiving Day spending online rose by nearly 22 percent year over year to $5.1 billion, hitting a new record. Businesses that advertised Thanksgiving Day deals online probably benefitted from the fact that many big retailers closed on Thanksgiving Day, reversing a growing practice of launching Black Friday deals in stores on a day when families normally would be gathering to eat turkey and watch football. But Thanksgiving Day 2020 was different. People visited less with families and friends given the safety risks of in-person gatherings. Apparently, they had more time on their hands to go online. And they shopped.
  • Brick-and-mortar stores still matter. Even amid the pandemic, 124 million Americans shopped in stores over Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). But offline stores got less foot traffic – down 52 percent from 2019. Stores offering curbside pickup saw traffic increase by 52 percent, according to Adobe. The lesson for brands is to ensure that your digital advertising and organic content plays up the availability of options such as curbside pickup, as well as clear instructions for how to use curbside.
  • Mobile keeps growing. Shopping on smartphones rose 25 percent to $3.6 billion, making up 40 percent of total online spending on Black Friday. But people are using mobile in different ways now – searching and purchasing online but also booking curbside pick-up services offline. All told, cross-channel shoppers – those who visited websites and brick-and-mortar stores — spent an average $366.79 over the holiday weekend, which exceeded by 25 percent the spend generated by people who shopped in a single channel, according to the NRF. Stores that integrate a complete cross-channel mobile experience are in the driver’s seat.

What Businesses Should Do

Retailers need to be nimble. They need to plan ahead for the holiday season as they’ve done in the past, but they also need to be ready to adapt to changing consumer behavior. For example, it’s clear now that Thanksgiving has arrived, but only retailers that paid attention to shopping trends and adapted their online advertising strategies benefitted from that shift. In addition, consumers have shown a remarkable penchant for suddenly wanting to buy products ranging from chess sets to puzzles in 2020, as they manage the realities of social distancing. But how many retailers adapted? Fortunately, tools such as Google Insights help advertisers monitor changes in consumer behavior and adjust their advertising strategies accordingly.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

Photo by Roberto Cortese on Unsplash

Why Facebook Acquired Kustomer

Why Facebook Acquired Kustomer

Facebook

Facebook continues to turn itself into an advertising and commerce destination. On November 30, Facebook announced the acquisition of Kustomer, a customer relationship management platform that specializes in conversational commerce, or forms of commerce derived from chat, messaging, and other interactive channels. The acquisition is clearly intended to beef up Facebook’s messaging and chat features as revenue generators.

We’ve been blogging about Facebook’s growing role as an advertising powerhouse for quite some time. Facebook is now the second-largest online advertising platform behind Google, according to eMarketer. Despite some occasionally bad publicity (and ad boycotts) Facebook’s ad revenue just keeps climbing in 2020, as I discussed on our blog in August.

Meanwhile, Facebook has been steadily building out messaging services as ways for brands to build and manage customer relationships. Businesses regularly use Facebook Messenger to engage with customers (as Spotify does) and manage transactions (as Paypal does). Developing Messenger as a form of conversational commerce is important to Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. As Sandberg told investors in 2019,

Messaging is one of the fastest growing areas for online communication–especially between businesses and people. We’ve seen businesses use Messenger to reach customers, generate new leads and even sell cars. For example, French auto manufacturer Renault used a combination of Instagram Stories and Click-to Messenger ads to drive sales of a limited-edition vehicle, the Captur Tokyo. Facebook was their only advertising channel, and over the span of 30 days, they sold 100 cars—20 directly through Messenger. This quarter we added a Click-to-Messenger feature in Stories so businesses can grab someone’s attention in Stories and then continue the conversation.

In fact, Kustomer already helps businesses manage apps such as Messenger and WhatsApp effectively. It’s the software that makes it possible for business to aggregate and respond to customer inquiries via Facebook Messenger. Kustomer must be doing its job well. By purchasing the company, Facebook will provide capital and resources to scale Kustomer’s platform across Facebook’s global business. As Bloomberg tech reporter Kurt Wagner wrote on LinkedIn:

Facebook has a vision to turn its messaging services into de facto websites for businesses. In Facebook’s perfect world, a business could post its product catalogue, process payments, and handle customer service requests — all within WhatsApp. Buying Kustomer should help Facebook with that third part.

Indeed, in announcing the acquisition, Facebook said more than 175 million people contact businesses via WhatsApp. By acquiring Kustomer, Facebook will certainly become even more appealing to advertisers. Why? Because Facebook will be able to own both awareness building (via advertising) and customer conversion (via conversational commerce). As CNBC noted,

By bringing Kustomer into the fold, Facebook will be providing small businesses that use its service to advertise and sell goods more features to close sales through the social network’s services. This should seemingly lead these businesses to spend more on Facebook advertisements. That’s key for the company, which makes nearly 99% of its revenue from advertising.

What Businesses Should Do

  • Take a closer look at Facebook’s conversational commerce features such as Messenger and WhatsApp. Messenger Ads can spark interest, for example, and the Messenger the app can be a brilliant customer service tool. And combine Messenger with Stories for an engaging and ultimately personal customer experience.
  • Watch how competitors such as Amazon Advertising and Google respond. Google especially has a huge opportunity to help businesses build out their Google My Business listings with conversational commerce tools such as chat.

Contact True Interactive

How can your brand benefit from digital advertising? Contact us. We can help.

No More Shopping Stampedes: How Black Friday Is Changing

No More Shopping Stampedes: How Black Friday Is Changing

Retail

Black Friday is changing radically in 2020.

A Google-commissioned Ipsos survey found that 74 percent of U.S. shoppers said they plan to shop online more than they have done in previous seasons. And people who shop in stores will rely on services such as curbside pickup to limit their contact with other people. In response, retailers are taking a hard look at their Black Friday experience.

Retailers Reinvent Black Friday

Consider what some of the heavy hitters are doing to re-imagine what Black Friday means during a year when many people simply don’t want to go into stores.

As noted in RetailWire, “Walmart has long been one of the retailers noted for performing at a high level when facing down natural disasters and economic tumult.” The retail monolith’s response to Black Friday is no exception. As reported by CNBC.com, Walmart is taking an innovative approach, staggering three holiday sales events through the month of November. Each sales event will begin on the Walmart website. Brick-and-mortar stores will continue the sales a few days later, after some demand has presumably been satisfied online (thus mitigating crowds). On the holiday sales days, stores will open at 5:00 a.m. local time. Shoppers will encounter COVID-era precautions: single-file lines; limits on the number of shoppers inside at any given time; sanitized shopping carts; and store “health ambassadors,” who will greet shoppers and remind them to wear a mask. Bargain hunters who prefer to bypass in-store shopping can shop online, or take advantage of Walmart’s curbside pickup.

As Scott McCall, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., shared in a news release, “By spreading deals out across multiple days and making our hottest deals available online, we expect the Black Friday experience in our stores will be safer and more manageable for both our customers and our associates.”

Walmart’s not the only one to re-think what Black Friday looks like this year. Many other retailers have announced that they are redefining the traditional in-store Black Friday sales as a digital experience that occurs over days, weeks, or even months. Home Depot set the tone early, announcing in September that Black Friday prices would be available throughout the entire holiday season, both online and in-store. Though a few “unique deals” are planned to launch later in the season, the store is orchestrating a campaign that consciously sidesteps that single day of crowded, feverish shopping.

Retailers are also capitalizing on opportunities like Amazon Prime Day to generate a surge in sales that businesses often associate with Black Friday. This year’s event ran for two days, October 13 and 14, during which marketplace sellers netted $3.5 billion+. Third-party merchants on Amazon generally reported good results. As noted in practicalecommerce.com, along with the increased sales came increased advertising costs. At the same time, the results speak for themselves: for one of our clients, we secured 44 percent more revenue and a 33 percent increase in return on ad spend on Prime Day — with only an 8 percent increase in advertising costs. We were happy with the outcome, as our client was.

Shipping during the 2020 Holiday Season

As retailers respond to a changing retail landscape, they must also face the reality that with a surge in online ordering throughout November comes the potential for shipping delays as businesses send more packages. More packages being delivered puts more of a strain on shipping services – and possibly a strain on retailers’ fulfillment capability. On the other hand, FedEx has said it is hiring 70,000 seasonal workers to manage an expected surge, and bellwether retailers such as Target are hiring aggressively to ensure they can handle the increased volume in online orders.

What Should You Do?

How do you plan to stay competitive during an unprecedented year? We recommend:

  • Don’t wait for Black Friday to promote your holiday deals. Activate your display advertising, search marketing, and paid social media programs now.
  • Consider creating events of your own. Don’t worry about creating a blowout on the scale of Amazon’s Prime Day. Instead, take a page from Walmart’s book and ask yourself how you might create your own “Black Friday” digital events. Learn from the bellwether brands!
  • It goes without saying, on the operational side, prepare yourself for the expected uptick in orders. Assuming you have done so, promote any deals you’re offering on shipping (something we’ve blogged about here). In addition, set expectations with your customers. Let them know that waiting until the last minute to order and ship may incur additional delays this holiday season in particular.
  • Be mindful of tone in everything you do. People want to shop, yes—but as we’ve blogged here, they are also under stress. Many shoppers will be ordering gifts for loved ones from whom they will be socially distanced this holiday—and feeling a sense of loss as they do so. Others may be overwhelmed by COVID-19 news: fearful of a spike in the virus, or a lockdown of stores and businesses. Be sensitive to these anxieties in your messaging.

Contact True Interactive

In a year like 2020, even traditions like Black Friday are going to look different. We can help you maximize digital and rise to the occasion. Contact us.

Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash