By Kiri Masters (Bobsled founder and head of retail strategy at Acadia) with contributions from Caroline Adams, Sr Strategic Manager at Bobsled, and Damiano Ciarrocchi, a PPC Manager at Bobsled
It's now been a week since the Black Friday - Cyber Monday shopping blitz, and brands are still busy tallying up the results. For brands selling on Amazon, it's important to take a look back at how your products and ad campaigns performed during this time and analyze what worked well. But - as with every major sales event - there were unexpected and unique aspects to the Cyber weekend (or “Turkey Five” as we also call it). Some were welcome, others were definitely not. So it’s important to contextualize the event and not just compare straight year-over-year figures.
This post will recap 7 key findings from our client’s own Black Friday - Cyber Monday performance on Amazon. Read on to learn what was unique about this year, how our clients performed, and lessons learned that we’ll be taking into 2023 sales events.
Brands were discounting more than in 2021.
Last year brought unique inventory challenges to brands, where a lack of inventory was the overall problem. Many brands were not inclined to offer discounts on what little inventory they had available. By 2022 however, most of those inventory issues have been resolved (in fact, many brands faced the opposite issue) and have baked in necessary price increases in. As such, the majority of our clients were offering coupons, Prime Exclusive Discounts, and other deals in the range of 15 to 30% off.
Amazon’s Sponsored Product reporting outage caused serious issues.
A lot has already been written about the reporting delay. I have outlined the main issues to Ad Age, Modern Retail, and my colleague Ross Walker also shared his take with Business Insider last week. The unfortunate reality is that this outage had a significant negative effect on many clients. Damiano Ciarrocchi, Retail Media Manager, explains why:
“If you have existing ad campaigns with a history of providing a reliable return, it doesn’t mean they are going to perform at the same efficiency on BF/CM. So during the big events, you can see some campaigns perform much better or worse than they usually do, so you try to modify campaigns while the 5-day event unfolds.
Without any performance data, it was very difficult to judge the prior days’ performance and adjust the performance of campaigns.
It was particularly hard for clients with very strict budgets. For many of these, we had planned very specifically to ramp up ad spend over the 5 days. We didn’t know if we should keep pushing.”
What our team could rely on were strategies that had been thoughtfully and intentionally planned ahead of time. Staying on the course and not reacting flippantly meant that adverse effects from the outage were minimized. This was also where we benefited from near 24/7 coverage on our retail media team over the whole weekend, to anticipate and react to issues like these.
Prime Early Access Sale (PEAS) affected BFCM.
Amazon’s Prime Early Access Sale was just a month ago, which we knew would have some kind of effect on BF/CM. This set a new precedent for having two major shopping holidays so close to each other.
Our overall thesis, shared by Retail Media Manager Damiano Ciarocchi on a podcast episode on September 20 (Amazon Fall Prime Day Event - How to Prepare), was that PEAS would offer a unique opportunity with advertising. Brands could use PEAS to test campaigns and build audiences out that could be re-used during BF/CM. And that’s exactly what happened.
Damiano says that the retail media team worked together to predict how campaigns would react. Looking at what worked in PEAS, and applying those strategies for BFCM. This did prove to be valuable - what keywords could be pushed more, what campaigns could be pushed more. Using PEAS campaigns to test what actually worked well and could be replicated.
ACoS was higher.
A shocking revelation, I know. But as in any discussion about ACoS, there are two sides to the coin. Across our cohort of over 130 clients at Bobsled, we found ACoS increased by 53%. Average ACoS was 21% (11/1 to 11/23) versus ACOS of 32% during the 5-day event. But BFCM still performed very well in terms of overall sales. Sales for the 5 -day period were up 83% versus the same period 2 weeks ago, and up 68% versus the 30-day average sales.
Why? Brands are trying to occupy better positions, CPCs are increasing with competition, and Bobsled’s clients are trying to grow YOY and need to top higher numbers.
Although ACOs was higher, most clients had a stronger and set budget than 2021. Damiano’s notes that this year because of PEAS, clients were much more careful about not exceeding budgets in November. This prompted many to specify a lower ad spend throughout early November and ramp up only over the BF-CM weekend.
Higher ACOS could have also been driven by lack of optimization we could make in real time because we couldn’t see the movements of ad spend. Damiano noted that his clients overall had a higher ACoS on Friday and Saturday, with Sunday and Monday being a lot lower. This was around the time when the reporting outages started to resolve.
Bulk files were key to dynamic and controlled ad spend.
Our PPC team relied heavily on bulk files this year. This helped with managing tight budgets as it allows for a lot of control and quickly adjusting budgets. Damiano for instance had bulk files created in advance out for every day over the weekend. These take prep and planning ahead of time, but allow you to move quickly during the event.
Black Friday was the strongest performing day of the event.
Many brands and other agencies besides Bobsled reported stronger sales on Black Friday than on Cyber Monday. This trend has strengthened in recent years. So what does this mean for brands? You’ll want to offer your best deals earlier in multi-day shopping events, and front-load your ad spend too.
Shoppers held out for deals.
Across our book of clients, most brands opted to run some form of promotion. Coupons were most popular as they offer the most control. We found during PEAS that some deal types which are set up directly with Amazon like Prime Exclusive Discounts, are prone to error and didn’t run at all. So over BF/CM, the preference was to run self-serve coupons. The average discount was 15 to 30% off.
Caroline Adams, Senior Project Manager, says that this year in particular, conversions dipped and sales limped when deals were not available. “Customers need to see a deal,” she says.
And this year, with less brands having inventory availability issues, many more opted to run deals across their entire catalog.
One tactic that worked very well in previous sales events was to drive outside traffic by influencers, PR placements, and email campaigns promoting deals. Caroline noted that these same clients were less inclined to do this over the BF/CM event, and there was a notable difference in sales as a result.
And that’s a wrap
And that’s a wrap for 2022’s Turkey Five sales event. As usual, it was a real marathon for our team on the front lines, dealing with the inevitable errors and curveballs that persist during these sales events. Do subscribe to our email newsletter to stay up-to-date on our retail marketplace learnings and best practices.
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This recap below was published on December 2, 2021. We keep our past years’ recaps online for future reference.
According to Amazon, 2021’s Black Friday / Cyber Monday event is ‘record breaking’, but exactly which records were broken, we don’t know.
What we did see among our client cohort at Bobsled was a fairly muted holiday event, without a whole lot of innovation. But there were some interesting trends that emerged, and lessons learned that will hold brands in good stead over the rest of the holiday shopping season.
In this blog post I will cover:
- Some ‘big picture’ metrics to provide some context for Turkey 5 (“T5”) performance on the Amazon marketplace.
- Aggregated T5 Amazon sales for a broad selection of Bobsled clients (Beauty & Personal Care, Clothing & Apparel, Shoes & Jewelry, Electronics, Grocery & Gourmet, Home & Kitchen, Pet Supplies, Sports & Outdoors, Baby Products, Garden & Outdoor)
- Advertising results across our cohort and what implications these trends have.
- My personal take-aways from the event and how brands can apply these in their future Amazon growth plans.
Watch the video recap here:
Macro T5 Performance Data
I like to start with some stats from Salesforce, to give some context of the overall size and trends. Note that these statistics apply specifically to US eCommerce sales (but excluding Amazon).
Salesforce prefers to track a 7-day period with the term “cyber week” - starting the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and running through to Cyber Monday. I thoroughly agree with this approach, which fits both with my experience as a consumer receiving Black Friday sales emails and texts well in the early part of the week; and with our client data at Bobsled which we share below.
- “Cyber week” sales were up 4% YOY. That sure seems like slow growth! But remember that we were coming off a very high comparable base of 2019-2020 when most stores were closed and e-commerce was the only shopping channel available to most people. Salesforce’s VP of Insights Rob Garf believes that the lower number could also be attributed to shopping demand being pulled forward by consumers who are scared of products either going out of stock and/or expected inflation of prices. “Don’t wait” has been the call-to-arms of many retailers, and shoppers did appear to listen.
- Black Friday saw bigger eCommerce sales than Cyber Monday for the first time. Cyber Monday say 3% YOY growth, Black Friday saw 5% YOY growth.
- Retail catalogs shrunk by 6%. Salesforce saw retailers pull back on their assortment breadth. This could be due to OOS, or retailers choosing to focus on a narrower assortment - stuff they know will sell.
- A lot of the growth was actually driven by increased prices. Salesforce says that 2021’s Cyber Week, saw 11% higher average selling prices (ASP) compared to Cyber week in 2020. Order volume was lower, average order value (AOV) was higher. Retailers discounted a lot less this year - and this is where the higher sales numbers came from, not necessarily that people were buying more stuff.
Bobsled Client T5 Amazon Sales Performance Data
At Bobsled we focus on the Turkey 5 period (Thursday to Monday). We track sales results across a broad sample of 100+ Bobsled clients to identify trends. This year we saw:
- Total sales boost of +60.23% on Turkey 5 2021 vs Turkey 5 2020
- Total sales boost of +81.58% on Turkey 5 vs same 5-day sales period two weeks prior
Sales growth was a lot lower this year than in 2020. In 2020 we saw a YOY growth rate of 109%, compared to 60% this year. To be clear, eCommerce overall and our clients still grew their sales, but the growth rate was lower.
Let’s take a look at how brands in specific categories performed.
Beauty & Personal Care clients
- Up 54.49% vs same 5-day sales period two weeks prior
- Up 30.14% vs Turkey 5 2019
- Up 53.92% vs daily average sales for the past month
Clothing, Shoes, and Jewelry clients
- Up 364.11% vs same 5-day sales period two weeks prior
- Up 89.52% vs Turkey 5 2019
- Up 363.52% vs daily average sales for the past month
- Up 188.75% vs same 5-day sales period two weeks prior
- Up 81.60% vs Turkey 5 2019
- Up 179.03% vs daily average sales for the past month
Grocery & Gourmet clients
- Up 9.64% vs same 5-day sales period two weeks prior
- Up 78.22% vs Turkey 5 2019
- Up 6.50% vs daily average sales for the past month
Home & Kitchen clients
- Up 5.44% vs same 5-day sales period two weeks prior
- Up 32.31% vs Turkey 5 2019
- Up 14.45% vs daily average sales for the past month
Pet Supplies clients
- Down -1.76% vs same 5-day sales period two weeks prior
- Up 22.00% vs Turkey 5 2019
- Up 38.58% vs daily average sales for the past month
Sports & Outdoors clients
- Up 58.56% vs same 5-day sales period two weeks prior
- Up 42.21% vs Turkey 5 2019
- Up 121.33% vs daily average sales for the past month
Health & Household clients
- Up 24.33% vs same 5-day sales period two weeks prior
- Up 72.85% vs Turkey 5 2019
- Up 32.79% vs daily average sales for the past month
Based on the data above:
- Biggest growth rate vs same 5-day sales period two weeks prior was in Clothing, Shoes and Jewelry category followed by Electronics
- Biggest growth rate vs Turkey 5 2020 was also in Clothing, Shoes and Jewelry category followed by Electronics but with a smaller difference than when we’re looking at previous 2 weeks (89 vs 81%) and also closely followed by Grocery and Health & Household
Other trends we’ve seen this T5:
- There was generally less interest from brands in aggressive promotional activity compared to previous years mostly because margins have become thinner with an increase in various operational and production costs.
- Many brands have been experiencing supply chain issues causing them to only have a portion of their catalog available.
Bobsled Client T5 Amazon PPC Performance Data
Here are the trends that we found across the cohort of clients for who we manage Amazon PPC advertising.
- Black Friday was a better performing day than Cyber Monday for most of our clients.
- Inventory constraints affected advertising performance. We faced more problems with winning the buy box this year because of competing deal prices off of Amazon. (Amazon will sometimes suppress the Buy Box when a lower price is found elsewhere on the web)
- ACOS was up. The average daily ACOS increased by 20% (2020 it increased by 9%). The average ACOS across our whole book of clients was ~27% compared with an average of 22% for the month. What this means is that it was less efficient for brands to compete on the day. To get ahead of this in the future, brands need to increase conversion rates on their product listings or increase their average order value.
- CPC (cost per click) was at $1.67 on Black Friday but only $1.28 on Cyber Monday - compared to an average of $1.17. Black Friday was the more competitive day but cheaper CPCs lead to Cyber Monday being almost as good for performance, even though our clients spent less on advertising.
- The conversion rate jumped up to 16% on Black Friday from 13% on average but was down to 11% on Cyber Monday. This means that Black Friday was such a good day for conversions that it made up for the higher CPC.
- Sponsored Products reign supreme! ACOS was best on Sponsored Products at 28% and highest on Sponsored Display ad types at 35%. Sponsored Products are the best ad type for the day because it is the most bottom of the funnel placement that hits people as they are ready to buy in search results and on product pages while browsing.
- “Top of search” ad placement is where you want to be. The conversion rate was 20% compared to 8% and 9% for product pages and other placements (we spent 52% of our ad spend on top of search placements). Put almost all your eggs into that basket, because shoppers that are motivated to buy are taking the first they see in many cases.
- Cyber Monday was better for acquiring new-to-brand (NTB) customers. The percentage of NTB customers was actually higher on Cyber Monday (52%) compared to Black Friday (49%). Brand loyalists might descend on Black Friday to snap up the deals but Cyber Monday was better for new acquisitions and awareness based on the lower CPC.
And one major tip for brands looking to capitalize on all the traffic to Amazon over the Turkey 5 period: consider Amazon DSP as a way to target visitors to your product pages, competitor products, and in-aisle shoppers who didn’t end up purchasing. DSP is our favorite way to keep Amazon shoppers engaged with your brand and remind them when it's time to repurchase, when you have products back in stock, or when you’re running a new deal. We are seeing more brands leverage Amazon DSP for this use case. Contact us if you want to learn more about Amazon DSP.
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Here are the trends on my radar from these early results, which I covered in a post for Forbes this week.
- Brands started promoting deals earlier. Among our clients at Bobsled Marketing, many initiated deals starting early in the Thanksgiving week. Some of those opted for a step-up promotional plan, where discounts started small but increased over the holiday event.
- Discounts were smaller. The experience with our clients at Bobsled was that discounts were shallower. Sometimes this was due to inventory concerns. Some brands chose not to run deals at all
- The most successful brands made an effort to promote their deals. Whether through PPC advertising on Amazon, or via external sources like email marketing, influencer marketing, SMS marketing, or a PR strategy to get their deals onto gift guides in major publications.
- Inventory constraints held back a lot of growth. While this is not something that many brands can change in the short term, companies do need to think about how the economy-wide product shortage situation will ultimately play out in 2022. I expanded more on this topic in a podcast episode, Will Shippageddon End in a Giant Sale?
- Black Friday is still our day to bet big overall. Although it’s more competitive with advertising costs rising, shoppers were more active on this day.
- The Turkey 5 is no longer just a 5-day event. Shoppers have been trained to look for deals earlier and earlier in the season. This is an important lesson to take into planning for 2022.
Tagged: Amazon Account Management