This year shoppers began their online gift buying far earlier and with more enthusiasm than ever before. CJ Affiliate takes a look at 2020’s holiday purchasing trends.
Prime Day Kicks Things Off
When Amazon moved this year’s Prime Day from July to October in order to resolve COVID-19-related inventory and shipping issues, there was concern among industry-watchers that the annual event may not perform as well. That was quickly replaced by a realization that a mid-October Prime Day could be the ideal time for marketers to create their own promotions to generate early holiday purchasing that could spread out holiday fulfillment and shipping across a longer time period.
The shift of Amazon’s Prime Day event from July to October kickstarted this year’s peak Q4 shopping season. Consumers used the October timing to begin their holiday purchases ahead of typical trends and this early start has contributed to higher YOY growth outside of typical peak shopping periods. Within the CJ network, revenue was up 46% YOY on the days around Prime Day 2020, driven by an increase in order value and conversions. Sales of computers, toys, games, and jewelry products surged on Prime Day, driven by content, incentive and coupon publishers.
Within the CJ network, revenue was up 46% YOY on the days around Prime Day 2020, driven by an increase in order value and conversions.
Many affiliate marketers wisely leveraged the buzz around Amazon’s annual day of deals to generate their own sales events which were well-timed to fall on or near Prime Day (October 13-14). A great example of the power of affiliate-driven events occurred leading up to Prime Day with incentive and coupon publishers. Many of these publishers got in front of Amazon’s deals with cash-back events on October 12 that highlighted affiliate brands from a range of categories, with a strong emphasis on business, computers, electronics, clothing & apparel, and accessories brands. The events were well-timed and well-received—network sales revenue driven by incentive publishers on October 12 increased a whopping 100% YOY and sales actions increased 66% YOY.
Mass media publishers such as Wirecutter, Future Publishing, Ziff Davis, and Meredith Publishing, also “owned” Prime Day early with their reviews and product-specific recommendation and lists. The curated-content and reviews approach—much of which focused on electronics and home goods —was effective at converting shoppers. Compared to the same period last year, conversion rates for content publishers increased 92% YOY (the highest rate of increase among all publisher types for the Prime Day period). Across the Prime Day promotional period, sales revenue from content publishers in the CJ network grew 106% YOY.
Pre-Holiday Performance Shows High Growth
Predictably, purchasing behavior slowed in late October and early November leading up to and following the US presidential election, however, it picked up substantially in the affiliate channel in the weeks leading up to the "Cyber 5" retail days (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday).
In the CJ network, a strong driver of the early season growth was Singles’ Day on November 11 which achieved 52% YOY growth in sales, primarily with beauty, food & drink, and accessories products. In addition, weekend sales were unusually strong in mid-November, increasing 44% YOY in both the second and third weekends of the month.
Additionally, purchasing behavior was unusually strong before Black Friday and Cyber Monday showing all-time high YOY growth numbers—sales the week of November 15-21 increased 38% YOY—driven by strong sales performance in the sports & fitness, home & garden, and gifts & flowers categories. As expected, concerns about shipping delays (on the part of buyers) and fulfillment (on the part of retailers) coalesced to create a peak shopping period where past ideas about when to release sales promotions and deals were tossed out the window.
Purchasing behavior was unusually strong before Black Friday and Cyber Monday showing all-time high YOY growth numbers—sales the week of November 15-21 increased 38% YOY.
In the first 25 days of November, the CJ Network saw 26% YOY sales growth due to retailers creating a longer sales period by releasing Black Friday deals in early November. According to comScore, this is a consistent trend across ecommerce sites: retail website visits on Black Friday this year were up 14% YOY, while the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving both saw YOY increases of 33%. CJ saw strong peak shopping days earlier than this with 47% YOY network sales growth beginning the weekend before Black Friday.
A Black Friday Home Run
Despite the early release of Black Friday deals, shoppers were not deterred from showing up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which were again the two largest shopping days of the year in both the network and ecommerce overall. In the network, Black Friday’s growth of 15% exceeded Cyber Monday, which declined 4% YOY. Adobe Analytics and eMarketer had both previously forecasted 35-38% YOY growth for Cyber Monday, anticipating that average growth rates seen in ecommerce due to the coronavirus would translate to equivalent growth. In 2019, Cyber Monday performance was stronger than Black Friday performance, yet consumers this year were more enthusiastic about shopping on Black Friday than they were on Cyber Monday. It’s possible that more US shoppers were available to shop online on Black Friday this year, with less time spent traveling to be with family or friends for Thanksgiving and many in-store sales events cancelled. Of course, there was also no “escaping” to the workplace to indulge in Cyber Monday shopping this year.
In 2019, Cyber Monday performance was stronger than Black Friday performance, yet consumers this year were more enthusiastic about shopping on Black Friday than they were on Cyber Monday.
This shopping season, many shoppers are purchasing home goods, electronics, makeup, games, and toys as gifts. For example, sales in the network’s home & garden and computers & electronics have increased 66% and 64%, respectively. Apparel purchases have traditionally been a very popular gift item, but the focus this year appears to be on work-leisure and sports-related gear—sales in the sports & fitness category are up 114% YOY.
A Look at the Upcoming Days and Weeks
For digital marketers, the next few weeks will likely continue to see higher than normal YOY growth rates. With many regions experiencing heightened restrictions on in-store shopping or travel, ecommerce is expected to remain strong. Consumers will be looking for good deals and reliable shipping in hopes that shipped items will arrive on time. Shipping deadlines and expedited shipping criteria should be presented front and center on websites. By December 16, consumers will likely begin to shift focus to purchases that are less impacted by shipping reliability such as gift cards and subscription gifts (i.e. food clubs, wine clubs, magazines, and streaming services). We also expect that shoppers will be receptive to ideas for gifts that can be purchased online and picked up in store or self-gifting items that can be delivered post-holiday.
For a full view of the network’s peak shopping performance, check out CJ’s Q4 Peak Shopping Benchmarks for YOY growth by day, week, and key retail days of the holiday season.