Black Friday has historically been seen as the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season, but new research from the data solutions company Lotame and the digital intelligence firm Jumpshot indicates that consumer interest actually peaks almost one month earlier. Retailers that wait until late fall to launch their holiday campaigns could be missing out on sales.
With holiday sales predicted to top $1.1 trillion this year—a 5% to 5.6% increase over 2017—retailers are preparing for a busy season. Capitalizing on the momentum generated by strong consumer confidence and low unemployment rates means optimizing the timing of seasonal campaigns and ramping up audience targeting to match consumer interest.
Looking closely at visit and transaction data within a range of product categories on e-commerce websites and marketplaces from September through December 2017, Jumpshot’s data science team discovered that web searches for Black Friday ahead of Thanksgiving saw the biggest growth rate, with a bigger spike showing up immediately after Halloween than the week of Black Friday.
“Timing is very critical, as the week of [and] leading up to an event like Cyber Monday or Black Friday is when everyone is pushing their messaging,” explains Ryan Rolf, vice president of data solutions at Lotame. “You risk getting ‘lost in the chaos’ if you wait until then to ramp up your campaigns.”
The data in Lotame’s new report indicates that holiday-focused campaigns should start earlier in the season, instead of waiting until the one to two weeks leading up to Black Friday.
As consumers feel more comfortable researching and purchasing gifts on mobile devices, the shopping season itself has become more fluid. For example, shoppers don’t have to wait until they have time off work to visit a retail store and make their purchases, since they can make those same purchases from their iPhones on a lunch break.
“There isn’t always a set date for the explosion of purchases to happen,” Rolf says. “Of course, a day like Cyber Monday is huge, but it becomes more fluid in terms of research and timing for purchases, and most of that is happening on mobile.”
Also intriguing in Jumpshot’s data set was the difference between how consumers shop for more expensive items versus less expensive items. Jumpshot found that for higher-priced categories like electronics and appliances, consumers wait to jump on Black Friday week deals. During the 2017 season, the appliance category saw an 80% increase in conversion rates the week beginning with Cyber Monday. Although conversions remained steady through the rest of the season, views on items in this category dropped again in mid-December.
Rolf says the research has allowed Lotame and Jumpshot to build new actionable audiences. He says Lotame Holiday Intent Audiences, powered by Jumpshot, are very high-value audiences to test, and he hopes this research yields a more effective methodology of studying the data and building targetable audiences, compared to selecting more generic categorizations around the holidays.
Despite the amount of data and research now available, Rolf says it can still be a challenge for brands to avoid getting caught up in the hysteria of holiday shopping. Too many brands are rushing use to holiday shopper segments, which can be large and more broadly based audiences, versus sticking to some of their core audience demographics and audience strategies.
“’Holiday Shoppers’ is too broad, so [my advice is to] stay focused on your category, your product, your retail demo,” he says. “Of course, it doesn’t hurt to add some additional targets to test if you see better lift with your holiday messaging, but do not abandon the core audience targets you’ve been learning and building to all year.”
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.