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Another year has come to a close, which for most of us means time for the post-Christmas January blues to kick in and a commitment to New Year’s resolutions to be made. For retailers on the other hand, January represents another opportunity for a sales push through the notorious January sales.
Click through rate has long been hailed as the holy grail of digital advertising performance, when in reality, clicks only paint part of the picture.
2018 has been a busy year for the Product team here at Ve, who have been working non-stop to develop new and improved solutions to help solve the challenges our clients face every day. While it’s not easy to summarise 12 months’ worth of releases into 1000 words, we’ve given it a go.
When you think of Christmas, what comes to mind? Turkey, crackers and presents probably all feature. But how often do you think about what lies behind them? For ecommerce marketers it should be a common thought, as with any good Christmas present comes a path to purchase, either in-store or online, with each one representing a significant opportunity.
According to Ve data, there were early signs that the January sales would fail to materialise as shoppers continued to be apathetic about any bargain-hunting following another sustained Black Friday period.
A spike in online browsing, and a 17% rise in sales, on Boxing Day gave some reason for optimism among retailers for a late December/early January sales push. However, this failed to materialise with sales on New Years’ Day falling well below (-28%) the annual daily average, signalling the end is near for Boxing Day and the January Sales as a major consideration for retailers online.
The growth in awareness of Black Friday weekend coupled with its increase in duration looks to have led to consumers being shopped-out by the time the January Sales and even Boxing Day rolls around. For context, Black Friday and Cyber Monday were 33% and 15% bigger this year than last in terms of sales generated on the average annual day.
Early indications show that the high street may have benefitted or caused the quiet turnout online, with Next announcing a very strong end to the December in their UK stores. This is a positive sign for the retail sector as retailers desperate to find the delicate balance between online and in-store to satiate unprecedentedly high customer expectations of the shopping experience.
Shifts in Consumer Behaviour
Other notable insights from the Golden Quarter show an enormous uplift in mobile sales with 70% of all online sales in the UK coming from either a smartphone or tablet device over the discounting season – up from just 51% in 2017.
However, people still tend to browse more thoroughly via their laptop or desktop computers visiting double the number of pages per retail website compared to when they shop on a mobile device (4 vs 2).
Mobile also falls short in securing as many high-value transactions. The average order value (AOV) for a sale via a smartphone was just £58 compared to £78 on a tablet and £81 through a laptop/PC. Finally, the average shopping session lasted all of 4 minutes per website this Golden Quarter, and with the likelihood of a purchase going up incrementally the longer a customer remains onsite, this must be a priority for brands in 2019.
The slump in Boxing Day sales was not limited to the high street as our data showed modest sales performance online as retailers continue to feel the effects of the biggest Black Friday weekend on record.
While sales were up 5% online compared to the average day’s takings, Boxing Day is failing to live up to its traditional billing as one of the biggest shopping days on the calendar – this is despite heavy discounting across the board. According to Deloitte, retailers on average made discounts of 52% to shift stock this year.
In most cases, such large price cuts would likely destroy margins but in light of the increasing popularity of Black Friday, Cyber Monday et al a discount culture has developed whereby customers no longer expect to pay full price. This looks to have forced retailers into a race to the bottom which despite their best efforts has failed to rekindle Boxing Day as a shopping event.
Given that the number of sales rose by 468% on Black Friday compared to 5% on Boxing Day, it’s clear that it’s unrealistic to expect sales to continue unaffected until after Christmas with such an early start to seasonal discounting. Both in terms of retailers’ margins and buyer fatigue.
The consequences of the now commonplace extended sales period have even reached ecommerce royalty with Asos blaming “unprecedented” discounting for damaging November trading, which it said would lead to weak profit for the full year.
This change in consumer behaviour must be hardwired into plans for 2019 for all retailers operating, even in part, online.
These insights were taking from 250,000 online user sessions.
Once a staple in the seasonal calendar but Free Shipping Saturday failed to materialise this year as retailers waited for yet another rush that never arrived.
Online purchases were up 9% on the average day but while appearing positive, this figure is significantly lower than previous red-letter days such as Green Monday and Manic Monday which both occurred earlier on this month - scroll this blog for more details and analysis on these two events.
Getting its name from being the last day shoppers can buy from Amazon and expect delivery for free prior to Christmas, Free Shipping Day spilled over to retailers outside the clutches of the Bezos behemoth. Yet this year, the one-day event flopped, with traffic down 28% compared to an average day this quarter.
Uplift in sales
Drop in traffic
Average order value
As for reasons behind this poor performance, the extended Golden Quarter period looks to have taken its toll. Amazon initiated their own Cyber Week, a week before Black Friday, leaving other retailers with a decision to make – run discounting a full week prior to Black Friday, or keep their margins but risk being left behind.
Where before this race to the bottom has almost exclusively affected smaller retailers and those reluctant to embrace online shoppers, this year has seen major eCommerce brand, Asos, issue a profit warning to their shareholders – surely a watershed moment for the industry pointing towards the unsustainability of this latest extended version of the Golden Quarter.
Little Mistress CEO, Mark Ashton, presciently warned of the gravity of this situation last month, correctly predicting that this wholesale discounting for weeks on end during the busiest period of the year could not be maintained by retailers regardless of size.
Such broad-brush discounting is unnecessary, too. While the bargain culture of the last few years has created a sense of entitlement among some consumers, the majority of shoppers do not need to be offered a discount to encourage them to buy. In many cases, the right messaging or helpful information is enough to maintain interest and close the sale.
This is borne out by Ve’s shopper modes methodology where online visitors are categorised by their stage in the customer journey and targeted with messaging most likely to have a positive influence at that time. Sometimes this will mean offering a discount, but not always. And it’s by tailoring messaging and eliminating needless discounting that retailers can save their margins and limit discounting to the big Golden Quarter days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Check back over the rest of the Golden Quarter period for more updates.
Green Monday – regarded as one of the biggest shopping days of the year - has provided some well-timed good news for UK retailers causing a significant 30% spike in sales, placing it as the second biggest sales day in December this year behind last week’s Manic Monday.
Green Monday was originally established by eBay as a term to describe their biggest December sales day. Increasingly referred to as ‘Cyber Monday 2’ in the US, Ve data reveals that it may well be on its way to becoming the latest US shopping event to successfully cross the Atlantic to the UK market.
Retailers saw motivated shoppers spend less time browsing on site (4 minutes per site compared to the average 5 mins) but a much higher percentage of those visits resulted in a sale - with UK retailers seeing an enormous 56 per cent increase in conversion rates online compared to the average day.
Sales in general rose by approximately fifty per cent on every day during the week preceding Green Monday (4th-10th December) only paling slightly to Manic Monday (3rd December).
These insights were taking from 250,000 online user sessions.
We all know about Black Friday, Cyber Monday and increasingly the entire Cyber Week but one of the lesser lights of the Golden Quarter is so-called Manic Monday. Falling each year on the first Monday of December, Manic Monday has been big business for retailers in the past as Christmas shopping revs up, although this has been distorted in recent years with the rampant Black Friday only increasing in popularity year after year.
However, Ve stats show that there is still a lot of value in this date for retailers who are ready to keep up the momentum. Compared to the average day, shopping sessions were up only up a mere 12% but sales increased substantially by almost 50% with browsers averaging 5 minutes on each site and spending £64 per transaction in the UK.
Uplift in sales
Uplift in traffic
Average order value
However, Ve stats show that there is still a lot of value in this date for retailers who are ready to keep up the momentum. Compared to the average day, shopping sessions were up only up a mere 12% but sales increased substantially by almost 50% with browsers averaging 5 minutes on each site and spending £65 per transaction in the UK.
Latest insights from display advertising campaigns have shown that the traditional online shopping calendar has been altered further by the introduction of Amazon’s Black Friday week, with display advertising conversion rates up a massive 20 per cent on the week before Black Friday.
Conversion rates for display ads, defined as the percentage of ad impressions that result in a purchase, ramped up all week (19th -26th November) to peak on Cyber Monday by further 20 per cent - just ahead of Black Friday – revealing the true value in display advertising at key points during the Golden Quarter.
‘Retargeting Tuesday’ (27th November) has in the past been a boon for brands looking to attract customers who showed interest but failed to buy over the Black Friday weekend. However, with conversions rates dropping by 40 per cent, it seems the extended shopping period initiated by Amazon but now imitated by many other retailers has left consumers fatigued and less willing to spend by Tuesday.
David Marrinan-Hayes, CEO at Ve, said:
“Our advice would be to use this week to take a breath and recoup for December by transferring some display budget from this week to the days surrounding emerging red-letter days for sales such as Manic Monday (3rd December) and Green Monday (10th December) as a way to reduce budget spend and increase marketing performance.”
Ve Global (Ve) has revealed that during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, online sales increased by a massive 34 per cent compared to last year, with customers spending on average £116 across the two days.
In its latest update on the online performance of the UK retail sector during the festive shopping season, Ve analysed more than a million browsing sessions and found sales were also up by a substantial 468 per cent compared to an average shopping day.
For the second consecutive year, Ve found that Black Friday displaced Cyber Monday as the day of choice for online consumers, with 41 per cent more sales, 32 per cent more traffic and on average an extra £28 spent per purchase registered on Friday over Monday.
Other insights found that consumers spent more time onsite compared to last year, with the average shopper browsing for 7 minutes – up roughly 2 and a half minutes compared to last year – and bounce rates fell by 13 per cent for fashion and consumer electronic brands.
Ve CEO David Marrinan-Hayes, said:
“Despite Amazon and other Internet retailers triggering seasonal discounts earlier in the month, there’s no mistaking that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now the biggest online sales events in the UK eCommerce calendar.”
“What’s good to see is that consumers are spending more and more time online to research the best deals possible. This increase in browsing time gives UK retailers an opportunity to grow their customer base but only if they’ve optimised their sites with the acquisition and engagement technologies that take advantage of this increase in traffic.”
As part of its oncoming commentary on the ‘Golden Quarter’ which includes gleaning insights from its clients, Ve spoke to Little Mistress CEO Mark Ashton on why retailers are ‘scared stiff’ of losing out over this period and why there’s a growing need to go back to the traditional festive sales calendar.
“Retailers are scared stiff of not taking money and losing market share over this period.”
“You’ve got the behemoths spending outrageous sums to be placed at the top of every online search, reduced profits due to retailers discounting their goods earlier and for longer periods each year, and proposed Government policies that don’t seem to help brands online or on the high street. Put simply, retailers can’t continue like this.”
“There’s only so much money for all retailers to share. Add to this that the percentage share spend rate has doubled in online spending since 2013 to 20 per cent, and what you’re left with is a recipe for disaster for many who aren’t agile or savvy enough to react.”
Traditionally, November and December could make up to 40 per cent of your year in terms of gross profit and turnover, with most retailers relying upon this to financially plot out their first quarter in the following year. Now, it looks like we are heading for a fraction of that gross profit, and turnover will suffer if we don’t keep up with the Joneses of discount. That needs to change.”
“The Golden Quarter that’s emerged over the past three years is a 100-metre dash of sorts. Retailers are on the starting line in November and can’t wait to go before the B of the bang has sounded in order to grab their share. The problem is that in the current climate, they don’t stop running until January.”
“This race to the bottom isn’t good for retailers. You sell the majority of your stock at a heavily discounted rate and can’t replenish it quick enough for the remainder of the year. I’d love to see the industry go back to how things were traditionally, so consumers shopped how they used to shop.”
“But in order for that to happen, the big brands and retailers would need to sit around a table and all agree to stick to key sales dates so there’s a start and an end to the discounting. This is what I hope Mike Ashley will bring up with MPs when he meets with them on 3rd December to discuss how we can revive our town centres.”
On the proposed digital services tax announced by the Chancellor in this year’s budget, Ashton goes on to add that penalising digital companies may be the wrong approach if the goal is to save the high street.
“As an online business with a growing high street presence, our rent is predominately paid to Google: PPC, SEO, and other forms of paid advertising. Yes, many online retailers do not pay rent or sign leases, but there’s still considerable charges if you want to attract audiences to your site.”
“Instead of penalising digital businesses, I believe the Government should reduce the tax paid by those operating on the high street and by a considerable amount. At least by double digits if they really want to see a turnaround in the immediate term.”
On offering advice to retailers as to how they could improve their outlook for the Golden Quarter, Ashton believes brands should be working hard to create a ‘value exchange’ between brands and those customers who’ve agreed to share their personal data.
“We’ve always invested heavily in the customer experience and that includes trying to surface the clothes our customers want in the shape, size and style that they love.”
“In order for us to achieve this, we’re working closely with Ve Global to understand our customers in greater detail and develop onsite technologies that offer more meaningful online experiences for each individual. I believe other brands should follow suit if they want to see more returning customers and sales, by valuing the trust consumers place in them when offering up their data.”
Ve will be delivering online consumer data insights and expert commentary on trends emerging during Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and those key dates throughout November, December and early January, otherwise known as ‘The Golden Quarter’. You can sign up for updates, here: https://www.ve.com/blog/golden-quarter
The final quarter of the retail calendar is well-underway, with key dates including Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas fast-approaching. While the majority of holiday season strategies will have been finalized months in advance, as we reach this critical period in the annual shopping calendar brands cannot afford to become complacent and must be constantly optimizing their campaigns if they want to capitalize on these opportunities.
New technologies and attribution techniques can help improve and prove the impact of the internet’s stalworth advertising format.