End of Year Marketing Strategy for eCommerce Brands: Part 1

September 27, 2023 | Chris Kervinen, Carmen Bozga

Marketing Strategy for eCommerce

The end of the year is often considered as the most significant period for eCommerce brands. A fact evidenced by the staggering statistic that eCommerce Holiday spending exceeded $889M in 2021 in the US alone. Moreover, there is a continous growth forecasted for the following years which will manifest in 2023 as well. Such an impressive figure prompts the question: How can brands tap into this immense potential, and more importantly, do so profitably?

Historical holiday sales

For ecommerce brands, this season is more than just holiday cheer. It’s an interplay of strategic marketing campaigns, well-timed sales, and memorable brand stories. The mosaic of events, Singles’ Day, Black Friday ,and Christmas, —offers brands a unique canvas to showcase their yearly accomplishements, engage their customers, and drive unparalleled growth. Adding to the allure of the season is the insight that the top gifts consumers expect to give are actually clothing and accessories, accounting for a significant 55%.

However, navigating this intricate web of events requires more than just knowledge; it demands a robust strategy. And at the heart of this strategy lies understanding the significance of each end-of-year campaign. Let’s delve deeper into these and explore how your brand can make the most of this golden period with the help of several marketing planning strategies and of course Media Mix Modeling (MMM).

Top holiday gifts

This blog post series is split into two parts in order to provide a comprehensive guide for eCommerce brands gearing up for the end-of-year rush. The first segment delves deep into end-of-year marketing strategies, showcasing tactics and nuances that can empower brands to make the most of the festive season. It provides insights into crafting effective campaigns, engaging audiences, and maximizing sales. The subsequent section presents to the role of MMM. Part 2 explains how MMM acts as a pivotal tool, aiding brands in implementing the strategies outlined in Part 1, ensuring both tactical precision and strategic foresight. Together, these posts offer a holistic roadmap for ecommerce success during the crucial year-end period.

Understanding the eCommerce Calendar

As we transition from the warm summer to autumn and then chilly winter, the eCommerce landscape undergoes a transformation as well. This is characterized by a series of high-profile events and shopping extravaganzas, each with its own flavor and appeal. Navigating this maze requires a firm grasp of the eCommerce calendar. In this article, we will focus on 3 main events:

Singles' Day (11/11): The Global Shopping Phenomenon

Singles' Day, celebrated on November 11th, originated in China as an acknowledgment of individuality and self-appreciation. Over time, it has evolved from a cultural observance into a colossal global shopping event, surpassing even the likes of Black Friday in sales volume. The day's significance is twofold: it promotes the celebration of one's single status, and it marks a massive commercial opportunity for businesses worldwide.

In terms of product offerings, the theme of Singles' Day lends itself well to items centered on self-care and individual indulgence. Self-care products, whether they be skincare routines, wellness kits, or leisure items, resonate with the day's ethos of pampering oneself. Similarly, treats tailored for individuals, from gourmet meals to personal gadgets, can be a hit, catering to the idea of treating oneself on this special day.

When it comes to promotions, the transient nature of Singles' Day offers an ideal backdrop for limited-time sales. One-day mega deals can drive urgency and encourage immediate purchases, while tiered discounts—where savings increase with the amount spent—can boost average order values. On the content front, there's a rich tapestry to explore around the themes of celebrating singlehood and embracing self-love. Crafting content that shares stories of individual empowerment, self-discovery, or even fun narratives about solo adventures can engage consumers, making them feel seen, valued, and inspired to shop.

Black Friday & Cyber Monday Power Moves

The whirlwind duo of Black Friday and Cyber Monday holds unparalleled significance in the eCommerce calendar. These days, coming on the heels of Thanksgiving, represent two of the most intense shopping sprees globally. For eCommerce businesses, they not only promise a spike in sales but also pose the challenge of capturing and retaining consumer attention amidst a vast sea of deals and discounts.

To truly stand out in a saturated market, brands need to be strategic and innovative. Flash sales, offering steep discounts for a limited window of time, can generate buzz and urgency. Early bird specials, where the first few shoppers receive exclusive deals, can incentivize customers to shop as soon as sales go live. Additionally, understanding the potential hesitations of online shoppers, businesses can introduce extended return policies, ensuring customers feel secure in their purchasing decisions.

However, with the ever-growing shift towards mobile shopping, ensuring an optimized mobile experience is paramount. Mobile users expect seamless browsing, swift checkouts, and intuitive navigation. By prioritizing mobile optimization, ensuring fast loading times, and perhaps even introducing exclusive mobile deals or app-only specials, brands can cater to this significant segment of shoppers, setting themselves apart from competitors and ensuring a smooth shopping experience for all.

Christmas: Capitalizing on the Festive Spirit

Christmas is not just a holiday but a season of joy, gift-giving, and celebrations. For businesses, it embodies an immense opportunity to cater to consumers looking to indulge their loved ones and themselves. When it comes to product offerings, gift bundles can be a winning choice. By grouping complementary products together, brands can offer perceived value and simplify the gift-buying process. Additionally, releasing limited edition festive merchandise, be it themed apparel or special edition items, can tap into the season's unique charm and drive demand.

Promotion-wise, Christmas offers a plethora of creative opportunities. The "12 days of Christmas" deals, where brands release a new discount or special offer each day leading up to the holiday, can keep consumers engaged and returning to the brand throughout the festive season. Similarly, advent calendar promotions, where daily deals or surprises are unveiled, add an element of anticipation and excitement to the shopping experience.

On the content front, Christmas is a goldmine of inspiration. Gift guides tailored to different demographics or interests can assist indecisive shoppers and drive product interest. Festive DIYs, whether they're craft ideas or holiday recipes, can engage audiences looking to add a personal touch to their celebrations. Additionally, sharing heartwarming Christmas stories, perhaps about the brand's traditions or heartwarming customer experiences, can foster a sense of community and warmth around the brand.

Preparing for the End of Year Rush

As the end of the year approaches, eCommerce brands stand on a precipice that overlooks a sea of both immense potential and risk. The final months of the year usher in explosive shopping events like Singles' Day, Black Friday, and Christmas. These events, if leveraged correctly, can cause revenue to skyrocket in an unprecedented manner. But there's a catch. The allure of short-term gains can lead brands astray, tempting them to roll out hasty discounts that not only dent profits but also jeopardize the integrity of subsequent campaigns. A reckless Black Friday promotion, for example, might cannibalize the potential of a well-thought-out Christmas campaign. The end-of-year landscape, thus, becomes a strategic battleground where opportunities and threats intermingle.

Importance of Preparing Early:

Time is of the Essence: Just as shoppers are making their lists and checking them twice, eCommerce brands need to be several steps ahead. Initiating preparations early not only gives

Stock Inventory and Streamline Delivery Processes:

Stocking the Shelves: One of the most significant pain points for any consumer is finding their desired product 'out of stock'. Brands must ensure that their inventory aligns with the forecasted demand. This requires meticulous planning, understanding past sales data, and gauging market trends.

Delivering Promises: The festive season is rife with stories of delayed or lost parcels, turning happy occasions into frustrating experiences. To prevent this, ecommerce brands must reinforce their delivery processes. This involves collaborating closely with logistics partners, offering real-time tracking, and perhaps even exploring options like same-day delivery or local pick-up points.

Website and App Optimizations for High Traffic:

Scaling Up: During peak shopping days, websites and apps will experience an influx of users, often simultaneously. To prevent crashes or lags, it’s crucial to ensure that your digital platforms can handle this surge. Regular stress tests, server optimizations, and exploring cloud solutions can be beneficial.

User Experience (UX) Enhancements: The festive season is not the time for users to grapple with complicated checkouts or unresponsive pages. Prioritize a smooth, intuitive UX that allows visitors to find what they're looking for and complete their purchases with ease. Additionally, ensuring your platforms are mobile-optimized is non-negotiable, given the increasing tilt towards mobile shopping.

Security Measures: With increased traffic comes increased scrutiny. Protecting customer data and ensuring secure transactions should be top priorities. Regular security audits, SSL certifications, and transparent privacy policies can enhance consumer trust.

How to avoid cannibalization?

Cannibalization in marketing refers to a reduction in sales volume or market share of one product as a result of the introduction of a new product by the same producer. In the context of ecommerce and sales campaigns, it can also refer to a situation where one promotion eats into the potential sales of another promotion, as we mentioned earlier regarding the Black Friday and Christmas campaigns. Here are some tips to avoid such scenarios:

Strategic Scheduling: Ensure that promotions for different products or campaigns are spaced out adequately. Avoid overlapping sales periods or back-to-back heavy discounts on similar products.

Differentiate Offerings: Each promotion should have a unique value proposition. For instance, if Black Friday is focused on broad category discounts, perhaps Christmas could focus on exclusive product launches or bundled deals. Understand Your Customer Segments: Not all customers are looking for the same deals. Segment your audience and tailor promotions to different segments. This can help in directing the right promotions to the right people without diluting sales from another segment.

Limit Stock for Flash Sales: If you're conducting flash sales, limit the stock. This creates a sense of urgency and can lead to quick conversions without impacting subsequent promotions.

Evaluate Previous Campaigns: Review past campaigns to see if there were any signs of cannibalization. If one product's sales dipped significantly during another product's promotion, consider changing tactics.

Bundle Products: Instead of giving discounts on individual products that can compete against each other, consider bundling complementary products together. This can increase the perceived value and prevent one product from overshadowing another.

Monitor and Adjust in Real-time: Use analytics to monitor your campaigns. If you notice signs of cannibalization, be ready to adjust your strategy on-the-fly. This could mean changing promotional messaging, adjusting discount levels, or even pausing a campaign.

Clear Communication: Ensure your marketing messages are clear about the unique benefits of each promotion. Ambiguous messaging can lead consumers to pick one promotion over another even if they would have otherwise been interested in both.

Loyalty Programs: Encourage repeat purchases by offering loyalty points or rewards for shopping during both sales events, instead of just one.

Feedback Loop: Regularly gather feedback from your customers. Understanding their purchasing decisions can offer insights into how your promotions are perceived and whether they feel one is detracting from another.

Key takeaway:

Remember, the goal isn't just to drive short-term sales, but to build lasting relationships with customers and establish brand loyalty. Strategically planning promotions while keeping an eye on the long-term health of the brand is key.

Potential Pitfalls for eCommerce Companies During Year-End Campaigns

The year-end season brings a blend of opportunities and challenges for e-commerce businesses. As companies strategize to maximize sales and engagement, there are potential pitfalls they must avoid to ensure profitability and brand value. Here's a closer look:

Over-reliance on Target ROAS for Campaign Optimization:

  • The Narrow View: Target Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) is a popular metric, but exclusive reliance can skew focus towards only high-performing products. This approach can lead to neglect of other products and reduce overall sale diversity.
  • Broadening the Scope: An effective strategy would consider multiple metrics and a broader range of products, reducing the risk of overstocking and eventual markdowns.

Engaging in Unprofitable Promotions:

  • The Price War Conundrum: In attempts to outpace competitors, companies might excessively slash prices. Such aggressive discounts, while boosting short-term sales, can diminish profit margins and set a precedent that devalues the brand in the long run.
  • Strategic Discounting: Offering calculated and meaningful discounts, rather than blanket price cuts, can preserve both profitability and brand integrity.

Overlooking the Implications of Shipping and Returns:

  • The Hidden Expenses: Offering blanket free shipping can be costly. Not accounting for this, or for the costs associated with a high return rate, can silently eat into profits.
  • Striking a Balance: While free shipping can be an enticing offer, it's essential to factor in these costs. Equally, a transparent and efficient return process is crucial for customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

Not Anticipating Post-Christmas Demand Dynamics:

  • After the Festive Fever: The post-Christmas period often sees a slump in demand. Companies that heavily stock up, without anticipating this dip, risk being left with surplus inventory.
  • Inventory Management: Predictive analytics and understanding past sales patterns can help in striking a balance, reducing the need for post-seasonal heavy discounts.

Read more on eCommerce KPIs in our 4 parts series here.

Strategies for eCommerce Success During Year-End Campaigns

Success isn't solely about capitalizing on consumer enthusiasm—it's about a carefully calibrated strategy. Here's how e-commerce companies can not only survive but thrive during these pivotal campaigns:

Strategic and Tactical Alignment:

  • United Front: Campaigns should be built on a foundation where strategy and tactics are in harmony. A clear overarching goal combined with detailed, actionable steps ensures that all efforts pull in the same direction.

Crafting Smart Promotions for Unique Product Lines:

  • Value Over Price: If you're a fashion e-commerce brand with a distinct product line, your strength lies in your uniqueness. Loyal customers recognize this value and aren't likely to jump ship over minor price variations. Instead of deep price cuts, consider more nuanced promotions, like 'buy two get one free' or '10% off the entire range'.

Gaining Traction in Competitive Markets:

  • Creating Exclusive Spaces: If your offerings mirror that of your competitors, it's essential to build momentum in spaces you control. Encourage customers to subscribe or sign up, promising them exclusive first access to deals. This approach not only bypasses intense competition but also fosters a direct relationship with your customers.

Promotion Effectiveness and Analytics:

  • Balancing Revenue and Profit: It's not just about how much you sell, but also about the profit margins. Deep dive into analytics to determine the best discount structures for each category. Find the sweet spot between enticing discounts and profitability to ensure sustainable growth.

Leveraging Discounts for Inventory Management:

  • Clearance Strategy: The excitement around discounts can be harnessed to move older stock. Strategically positioning near-clearance items during sales can free up inventory space and resources for newer products.

Social Media & Influencer Collaborations

The landscape of marketing has been revolutionized by the advent of social media platforms, each requiring a distinct strategy. For instance, while Instagram might be ideal for visually appealing product showcases, TikTok can be leveraged for short, engaging video content, and YouTube for in-depth product reviews or tutorials. Adapting to the unique strengths of each platform is crucial for a brand's digital success.

Influencer collaborations have emerged as a powerful tool in authentic promotion. By partnering with influencers whose audience aligns with the brand's target demographic, businesses can tap into a pre-established trust. This form of promotion feels more genuine compared to traditional advertisements, given the personal connection influencers share with their followers.

Beyond influencer partnerships, user-generated content (UGC) stands as a testament to genuine customer satisfaction. Encouraging customers to share their experiences, reviews, or creative ways they use a product can not only provide brands with valuable content but also foster a sense of community. Such organic endorsements can significantly boost credibility and drive conversions.

Email Marketing: Engaging the Loyal Customer Base

While social media and influencer marketing have their strengths, email marketing remains a potent tool in directly engaging a brand's loyal customer base. Segmenting email lists allows brands to tailor their campaigns to specific subsets of their audience, ensuring the content is relevant and resonates with the recipient. Personalized recommendations, based on past purchases or browsing behavior, can significantly elevate the email's impact.

However, with the potential of email marketing comes the responsibility of not overwhelming subscribers. Striking a balance is essential. Bombarding subscribers with daily emails can lead to them tuning out or, worse, unsubscribing. It's vital to ensure that each email provides value, whether in the form of information, promotions, or exclusive insights.

With holidays and festive seasons come opportunities for creative newsletters. Whether it's a Halloween-themed layout, a Christmas gift guide, or New Year resolution inspirations, brands can capitalize on the festive spirit to engage their subscribers. Such themed emails, when executed with creativity and genuine value, can stand out in a cluttered inbox and deepen the bond between the brand and its audience.

Conclusion: Post-Campaign Analysis & Future Preparations

Once the hustle of a campaign concludes, it's imperative for businesses to pause and assess the results. By tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), from conversion rates to customer engagement metrics, businesses can gauge the success of each campaign. This data-driven insight provides a clear picture of what resonated with the audience, which strategies bore fruit, and where there might be room for improvement. The post-campaign period is not just about celebrating successes but also about understanding the areas that didn't perform as anticipated.

Every campaign, irrespective of its outcome, is a learning opportunity. While it's essential to identify and learn from mistakes, it's equally crucial to understand the reasons behind the successes. By pinpointing the strategies that worked, brands can incorporate similar tactics in future campaigns. Conversely, understanding missteps—be it a misaligned promotional strategy, a product that didn't resonate, or any other hiccup—ensures that the same mistakes are not repeated in subsequent campaigns.

While post-campaign reflections provide invaluable insights for future strategies, what if you could adjust your tactics as the campaign unfolds? Enter the realm of Media Mix Modeling (MMM). MMM serves as a compass, helping brands navigate their campaigns while they're live. It doesn't just paint a retrospective picture but offers real-time analysis, enabling marketers to make informed decisions on the fly. By leveraging MMM, businesses can ensure they're not merely reacting to market trends after the fact but actively shaping their campaigns for maximum ROI. As we delve deeper into the next section, we'll explore how MMM can become an indispensable tool in a brand's marketing arsenal, ensuring every dollar invested is strategically positioned to yield the best results. We will deep dive into MMM strategies in Part 2 !

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