Understanding how consumers behave in the lead up to Christmas – particularly around key shopping days such as Black Friday – gives brands a head start on festive planning and allows them to allocate marketing spend for maximum efficiency and ROI. 

To provide this valuable insight, HookLogic analysed traffic and conversions on its retailer network between October 2015 and January 2016, including over 80 million transactions worth almost £4 billion in sales. This research uncovered some new e-commerce digital dynamics such as an upsurge in midnight shopping, the emergence of the gifting hour (which occurs on Black Friday morning), and increases in conversion rates exceeding increases in traffic.

So what do these seasonal trends mean for brands and how can they use them to optimise their festive marketing strategies? 

Invest where consumers buy

In the period between Black Friday and Christmas, consumers are ready and willing to buy. This is illustrated by a surge in conversion rates reaching 8.6 times the October baseline, compared with traffic, which reached just 5.6 times the baseline. But when determining their marketing strategies for the festive period, brands must understand where their customers are making purchases to ensure their marketing tactics don’t undermine these sales. 

The majority of sales come from retail sites rather than brand sites: two-thirds of online shoppers start their journey with a product search on a retail site, visiting an average of three along their path to conversion. Therefore, it is the retailers that benefit from ads placed on search engines rather than the brands directly. To maximise ROI, brand marketing teams should focus on retailer e-commerce environments, rather than bidding on search engine or social media ads which could drive up advertising costs for themselves and retailers. 

Native product ads based on search terms input by the shopper are the most effective format to engage consumers while they are actively searching, and these shorten the path to purchase by taking the searcher directly to the product page. These ads provide relevant information to enhance the customer journey rather than disrupting it, which is especially critical as online browsing and shopping moves increasingly towards mobile, where traditional banner ads are less effective.     

Devise a 24/7 strategy

Because online shopping is not constrained by traditional store opening times, consumers can browse and buy at any time of day. Peaks in traffic between 12am and 1am on both Black Friday and Boxing Day highlighted a trend for midnight shopping where consumers stay up late to get a first look at the day’s deals and special offers. The busiest online shopping hour of the year – the so-called ‘gifting hour’ – occurred on the morning of Black Friday itself between 8am and 9am. 

To cater for the growing trend of out-of-hours shopping, brands must ensure they devise an ‘always on’ strategy with responsive campaigns that adapt to specific offers and time of day, using tactics such as email marketing to provide a relevant experience for shoppers whatever the hour.    

Cater for purchase cycles  

Although high-profile shopping days such as Black Friday are increasingly important, marketers must also look at how consumers shop across the whole of the Christmas period and identify distinct consumer purchase cycles. A Black Friday increase in shopping efficiency – where the amount of time consumers spent on websites before buying was reduced – indicated many shoppers did their research ahead of the day itself so brands must start their campaigns in advance to engage these early researchers. 

At the other end of the scale, conversion rates remained strong in the days before Christmas Eve as shoppers took advantage of next-day delivery and click-and-collect services, so marketers must also take into account these last-minute shoppers. By identifying different consumer types and understanding their needs, brands can create campaigns and messaging that resonate with all categories.  “Always-on” strategies address all cycles.

Consistent cross-channel messaging 

Multiple devices are now used for online browsing and shopping with consumers owning an average of 3.64 connected devices and almost 9 in 10 desktop shoppers also using a smartphone as part of their purchase journey. Consumers are also likely to traverse a range of environments including retail sites, brand sites, and social networks before converting. 

But it’s not just digital channels that make up the path to purchase. Mobile has further blurred the lines between online and offline with consumers researching on a mobile device before buying in-store or checking out products in a shop before ordering on their smartphone. 

When designing their Christmas marketing campaigns, brands must take into account mobile and multi-channel shoppers, and create a seamless consumer journey with strong consistent messaging across all channels and devices. They must also employ a robust measurement solution that allows them to attribute conversions in one channel to interactions across other channels. 

The Christmas shopping period is already looming large for marketers, who must take action now to achieve success all the way through from Black Friday to New Year. By understanding the dynamic of digital seasonal trends and how to master them, brands can ensure they allocate marketing budgets effectively and efficiently to gain maximum ROI this festive season.