If you’re feeling overwhelmed about Q4 bid increases, ad copy, or inventory preparation – you are not alone.
Q4 can be the most competitive time of the year for retail brands, but it can also be extremely lucrative, especially for businesses who properly prepare their advertising strategy.
FREE STUDY: The 2017 U.S. Holiday Shopping Forecast
This is just one of the many reasons we decided to host “AdDiego 2017” our first in-person, full day conference last month.
Sponsored by Google, the invite-only event gathered 100+ brands and professionals in downtown San Diego on August 24th to discuss cutting edge PPC, Paid Social and Amazon strategies.
If you couldn’t make it to the event, no worries. In the following blog post, we recap one of the most compelling discussions of the day: “The Q4 Expert Panel”
Let’s dive in.
Meet the Retail Experts
David Chung – Mobile User Experience at Google
David has over 15 years of experience in marketing technology, working with top global brands and SMBs to develop platforms and solutions for customer engagement and performance optimization. He is currently driving Google’ efforts to improve user experience on the mobile web. His vision for the mobile web: “fast and beautiful”.
Pat Petriello – Sr. Marketplace Strategist at CPC Strategy
Pat is a former professional seller on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, eBay, Buy.com and former member of the Amazon Seller Service Team. As a head of Marketplace Strategy for CPC, he’s responsible for keeping his team on the cutting edge of Amazon trends and insights. Pat is a thought leader in the industry and speaks at a variety of events. He’s passionate about understanding Amazon as a channel and helping clients utilize its full potential.
Trevor Koons – Digital Marketing Manager at prAna
As a Digital Marketing Manager at prAna, Trevor’s responsibilities include management of paid search, paid social, affiliate marketing, SEO marketing and retargeting. he loves finding new ways to beat the competition in all channels but specifically in paid search and shopping. Trevor’s been in the Digital Marketing space for quite some time now and previous to prAna he was working on the agency side of Digital Marketing.
Nii A. Ahene – COO at CPC Strategy
Nii is a leading example of the core values CPC Strategy represents. The Berkeley alumnus is responsible for managing the day-to-day activities as well as long term financial, tactical, and strategic planning of the organization. Prior to CPC Strategy, Nii was a product manager at eBay working directly with algorithmic merchandising, reviews and guides.
Google, Amazon, & PPC Experts Discuss Q4
Q. CPC Strategy’s 2017 Holiday Shopping survey showed that 35.5% of shoppers will begin purchasing items before Thanksgiving. What are some suggested strategies to tackle this segment?
At CPC Strategy, we leverage Velocity Reports to analyze the Q4 performance for the year prior. This helps us better understand the SKUs, product lines, and brands that succeeded last year. You should start doing this in September, so you can order those products from manufacturers and ensure they get to your fulfillment centers on time.
You also need to understand who your most valuable customers are. Take a look at transaction history and order value to find customers with a higher order value than your average customer. Those are the individuals who have already spent money on your website and are likely to purchase again.
Once you’ve identified who your valuable customers are – create a custom VIP message for this segment. You can do this through email, RLSA, or custom match on Google and use it as a way to showcase your new items. You also want to make sure your holiday messaging is ready and queued up with your agency or internal teams.
My advice, do not use Q4 to get ready for itself. You should already be fully optimized by the time Q4 starts. That includes inventory preparation, knowing which keywords are important to you, knowing which products convert at the highest rate, and optimizing content (including Enhanced Brand Content / A+ Pages).
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Prioritize your A/B testing. With that being said, keep in mind 8 out of 10 A/B tests fail, so here are the ones I recommend to set up for Q4:
Implement Accelerated Mobile Pages: I recommend experimenting with accelerated mobile pages. They are easy to create and only take a couple days to set up. An example would be using accelerated mobile pages as your promotional landing page for Black Friday items. This could streamline the experience for your customers as they are browsing multiple sites.
Install a Transactions API: This holiday shopping season customers are going to be transacting with more sites than they ever have in the past. There are so many easy use payments including Android pay and Apple pay. My advice is to use a transactions API and make it easy for your customers to check out.
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Q. What do you think is the most “overhyped” tactic for Q4 this year?
I don’t run a retail website but I can definitely answer this question from the Amazon point of view. I think one of the most over-hyped tactics this quarter and every quarter after that is anything that includes the word “hack” in it.
This term is huge in the Amazon space specifically. Anybody that is trying to hack the Buy Box, the detail page, or the Amazon algorithm – it’s likely their success will be as short as their risk.
I think sellers and advertisers get hyped on this idea because it’s sexy but it’s not effective and it’s definitely not reliable.
Q. Where are you investing your marketing budget in Q4?
Mobile advertising, especially on Facebook. We are also going to invest our budget a lot earlier in Q4 (October & November spend) to get shoppers on our list so we can retarget them during the holidays. We’re obviously investing in affiliate marketing as well and Google is going to be a big part of that.
Email is the biggest tactic that people are not doing. It’s more effective today than it was 5 or 10 years ago, mainly because everyone has a mobile phone and they are constantly checking their notifications. Email is often ignored but it’s a great customer segment – so do not forget about it.
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Q. A lot of customers expect fast & free shipping. Do you see most retailers switching to fast and or free shipping for Q4?
It really depends on the vertical and the industries that you compete with. If you’re not in a category that competes directly with Amazon (or Prime) then there’s less of a compelling reason to add in free shipping.
In terms of expedited shipping what you really want to do is make sure the consumer has an upfront understanding of when they are going to received their product.
The best practice we see is the drop dead date. (Example: If you order by December 15, you will receive the item by December 24). Having that notification available on the detail page will remove the uncertainty that can cause a slow down in conversions.
Q. What are Amazon Sellers most concerned with as they enter Q4?
One of the challenges facing Amazon sellers is how quickly complexity is accelerating and prioritizing what is the most important to focus on first. What I mean by that is, there’s content, advertising, inventory, and more.
It’s this world of uncertainty and complexity that isn’t slowing down and every moment that sellers don’t take action – that is another moment they are falling behind. That is particularly the case in advertising.
When you break down advertising you have Sponsored Products (manual campaigns, automatic campaigns); Amazon Marketing Services (Headline Search Ads, Product Display Ads). Or you can go up the funnel to Amazon Media Group.
This becomes really overwhelming and it can be difficult for business owners to focus on all of those things at once.
Q. Earlier this year Amazon started advertising on Google PLAs. Any thoughts on how this will impact retailers in Q4?
There’s a very delicate dance happening between Amazon and Google, but there’s still a ton of traffic on Google. So now Amazon has decided to reengaged and is investing in those PLAs.
This is essentially Amazon customer acquisition. But as far as we can tell it tends to be inefficient because Amazon is driving their Google PLA traffic back to the category page (instead of a specific detail page). Regardless, I would to expect to see Amazon show up on more Google PLA SERPs.
The reason this discussion is near and dear to me is because prior to founding CPC Strategy, I was an employee at the eBay Marketing Department and this topic was an internal debate that happened regularly (even 10 years ago):
“Should eBay advertise on AdWords or not?”
If you think about the philosophy internally at Amazon – the question is “Should we [Amazon] validate the Google marketplace or not?”
If Amazon really believes in the customer experience they offer (value, price, selection), they shouldn’t be afraid. The thought is once these shoppers experience Amazon’s Marketplace they will stick with Amazon.
I encourage every retailer to think about their products and the value they can bring to the table. Warby Parker is a great example. You can buy glasses and frames on Amazon – but you are not going to have the same experience you would get buying the product directly through Warby Parker’s site.
So the real question is: How do you create an experience that Amazon cannot duplicate?
Even though Amazon is probably going to beat you when it comes to free shipping and fast delivery, if you can delight the customer in a unique shopping experience you can still succeed despite Amazon entering Google PLAs.
Q. Will Q4 online shopping ever outpace brick and mortar sales?
This is an interesting question because it’s something that I ask the team often. At least for the demographic that works at CPC Strategy, the vast majority said they do 80% to 90% of their shopping online.
As consumers become more connected to the mobile experience, the opportunity to see online surpass offline in terms of holiday shopping is probably going to happen. Of course, we will always have the people who shop on the 24th of December, but the ratio of online shoppers will accelerate over the next couple years.
I think it really comes down to the experience. What is the experience of shopping in a retail store in Q4? It’s terrible – the lines, parking, fighting, trying to find a deal. It’s panic inducing thinking about it.
The way I see it is the online experience continues to get better through optimization and smart strategies on mobile, while the in-store experience continues to be fairly poor.
Today, we can make up for a lot of the touch and feel experiences that we expect at a brick and mortar. I think in the next year or so we’ll be able to address those touch and feel issues with unique shopping technology.
Additionally, we’ve seen an increase in the number of shoppers searching for products on Instagram. They want to see what products look like in real life from real customers (not necessarily in a studio photoshoot).
Q. After Q4, what are the biggest priorities for retail brands in 2018?
For many of our vendors and sellers on Amazon, it is not the end of the year for the Q4 selling season.
For some sellers, January is their third biggest month behind November and December. You have to consider the influx of gift cards and cash from friends and family.
We often see that advertisers take their foot off the gas – whether that be in inventory or advertising aggression in Q1 because it feels like this is the time they can cool off. But actually, we see pretty heightened levels of search and activity for January.
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The second thing I want to call out is Q4 is fun when the top line numbers come in. It’s less fun when your handling returns, refunds and customer service. That is a pain but it also creates a real opportunity for a retailer/ brand to create a good relationship with their customers.
Referencing customer service and returns – a lot of people are going to be on your mobile site looking for the phone number, email or the contact us button in the event they need to contact you. The way you provide that experience can actually make a huge difference in setting up your business for the rest of the year.
For example, West Elm – they have a link that allows you to directly messaging them using Facebook messenger or What’s App – and you can talk to someone live. Mobile should allow that seamless transaction. Thinking about using messenger could be a good way to improve that experience for your shoppers.
Want to learn more about Q4 advertising preparation and strategies? Email [email protected]