The holiday shopping season has been underway for some time now, with many retailers kicking off “Black Friday” deals in early November and consumers aware of the potential for extended delivery times this year. Even still, the period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, also known as the “Cyber Five”, saw impressive growth for many retailers in terms of sales attributed to ads, as well as a highly competitive digital ad ecosystem.
Here we’ll dive into some of the key trends observed for retailers active on Google, Facebook, and Amazon, using samples derived from more than $2 billion in annual ad spend under Tinuiti management.
Retailers See Surge in Sales Driven by Google Search, Higher CPC
While many retailers saw significant year-over-year declines in cost per click (CPC) in the early days of the pandemic, that trend has long since reversed itself for many. Throughout the course of the Cyber Five, paid search CPC increased meaningfully for retailers, with growth the highest across both desktop and mobile devices on Thanksgiving Day.
Among the biggest questions surrounding paid search heading into Thanksgiving was what would Amazon’s strategy be. After pausing Google ads entirely for several weeks early on in the pandemic to catch up with demand, Amazon chose to keep Google search ads running throughout its October Prime Day, in contrast to 2019 when it paused Google ads during its premier sales event (which occurred in July).
Using Google Auction Insights reports, it appears Amazon went entirely dark in Google Shopping auctions on Thanksgiving and was nearly invisible in text ads as well.
It’s difficult to say why Amazon chose to go dark on Thanksgiving specifically, but by the end of the weekend, it was back to its prior impression share across formats. By comparison, the impression shares of advertisers under Tinuiti management remained roughly stable across ad formats. Interestingly, CPC growth was the highest on Thanksgiving when Amazon paused, and the forces impacting ad pricing are more complex than any single advertiser dropping in or out of auctions.
Taking a look at the sales driven by paid search ads across Google Shopping and text ads, retailers saw significant year-over-year gains over the course of the Cyber Five, particularly from Thanksgiving through Sunday. Cyber Monday sales still grew across formats, but at a much slower pace than the four days prior, as the digital shopping ‘holiday’ seemed to suffer from earlier 2020 shopping behavior more than other days, as well as potential cannibalization of Q4 digital demand from an October Prime Day and November-long discounts.
Breaking down sales growth by device type, desktop growth outpaced mobile growth on every day of the Cyber Five except Sunday. With many US families choosing to forego traveling for large gatherings in light of the surging number of COVID-19 cases, many shoppers found themselves at home with their laptops during a time when they might usually be shopping out of pocket at relatives’ homes.
Taking a look at the share of paid search clicks attributed to desktop in 2019 compared to 2020 seems to confirm that fewer shoppers were on the move and using mobile devices. Desktop click share rose year over year on every day except for Cyber Monday.
Given that the pandemic continues to make travel a riskier proposition than in typical years, it’s likely we’ll see similar year-over-year upticks in desktop use relative to mobile devices around Christmas Day.
While the strong growth in online sales shows that holiday shoppers were still active over the course of the Cyber Five even during the pandemic, multiple indicators show declining interest in in-store shopping. Ad clicks from the ‘Get location details’ click type, which primarily come from ad clicks on Google Maps, decreased 28% year over year for the Cyber Five. Clicks for Local Inventory Ads, which are a variation of Google Shopping for brick-and-mortar advertisers to feature in-store availability, were down 47% year over year.
Amazon Ads Performance Shows Similar Cyber Monday Slow Down as Google Ads
Much like retailers saw in Google search ads performance, Amazon advertisers found slower Cyber Monday growth than Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Conversions driven by Sponsored Products still grew 10% on Cyber Monday, but soared 55% on Black Friday when many consumers stayed home as a result of the pandemic.
Segmenting conversion growth based on the product category that each advertiser is most active in, Cyber Five growth was strongest in the books and apparel categories. Categories that have seen a surge in online demand since the beginning of the pandemic, such as pet supplies, grocery, personal care, and home products, also saw strong growth.
Looking over at Sponsored Brands ads, video ads are now an important part of advertiser strategy and played a key role from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday. For the entirety of the Cyber Five, video ads accounted for 17% of all conversions attributed to Sponsored Brands.
Just like with Google ads, many Amazon advertisers are now seeing year-over-year gains in average CPC across ad formats. CPC growth was strongest on Black Friday and Cyber Monday for both Sponsored Products and Sponsored Brands, and Sponsored Brands saw much larger CPC gains than Sponsored Products throughout the Cyber Five.
Facebook Ad Pricing Soared for Retailers as Competition Heated Up
Many advertisers saw dips in Facebook and Instagram CPM to kick off November, coinciding with the US election. However, since then CPM for retail advertisers has risen rapidly, peaking on Cyber Monday at more than 200% higher than the start of November for Instagram. Facebook CPM peaked Black Friday at 132% higher than the start of November.
There were no meaningful shifts in the share of ad impressions coming from the different Facebook properties during the Cyber Five, indicating users turned to Instagram just as often as they normally would relative to Facebook.
When it comes to the devices that users took to in accessing Facebook, the share of ad impressions attributed to desktop is so much lower in 2020 than in 2019 that it’s difficult to cleanly assess how much of an impact less travel during the holiday had on device use. Mobile is certainly king when it comes to social media platforms, truer now than ever before.
Facebook users on Apple devices tend to produce higher value for advertisers, as Apple devices tend to be on the higher end of the mobile device price spectrum and thus indicate potentially higher-income users. Throughout the Cyber Five, retailers found that iPhones produced a ROAS at least 20% higher than Android phones on each day across all Facebook properties.
These are just a few of the important trends that are already shaping the 2020 holiday shopping season for digital marketers. Stay tuned to the Tinuiti blog for updates and fresh insights in the weeks to come.