The Q4 Effect: There’s Still Time to Nail The Ecommerce ‘Golden Quarter’ in Style!
OK, so we’re already nearing the end of Q4 and you’re, well, reading a blog post on how you can best navigate Q4!
That’s fine. Let’s all just calm down.
Take a deep breath.
Don't panic. We’ve got you covered.
Maybe you spent the past few months helplessly watching the holiday season loom larger and larger in your company calendar? Or have you just emerged from the chaos of Black Friday and Cyber Monday with your head spinning and the (metaphorical) tills still ringing in your ears?
Many retailers still go into this highly competitive time of year with a mixture of fear and confusion.
You’re not alone.
Most retailers will be asking themselves the same sorts of questions:
‘How do I cut through the noise?’ ‘How can I outperform competitors?’ ‘How can I absorb increased ad costs and have the budget to capitalise on increased customer demand?’
And of course:
‘Am I too late to do something about it?
Fortunately, the answer is no.
There’s still time to make some meaningful adjustments to your eComm strategy that will have you popping the New Year’s Eve Champagne corks with merry abandon, and (hopefully) a healthier bank balance.
Here are our quick-fire tips for a successful golden quarter:
1. Optimise Your Site
‘Christmas spending patterns will be more reflective of 2019’, according to Retail Week, but whether this trend will translate into more bricks and mortar transactions - and fewer online purchases - remains to be seen.
The pandemic has brought about permanent changes to online buying habits, so there’s no room for error when it comes to your website’s functionality and usability.
To outperform your competitors, you’ll need to be operating at full capacity.
- Make all necessary changes to your website and online store now. Troubleshoot and test any bug fixes, site improvements and software updates before you start experiencing further increased traffic.
- The customer journey from first visit to final payment needs to be frictionless. Optimise your website load speed, checkout process and security measures. If you run chatbots or similar AI tools, make sure they’re set up to provide relevant guidance and timely information for the holiday season.
- Take a multichannel approach to your offering. Adobe found that nearly 40% of Christmas 2020 revenue came from purchases made via smartphone, so ensure your site works well across all devices. And make sure you’re selling on Facebook Shop and Instagram Checkout to capitalise on the increasing trend towards buying via social media.
- Run abandoned cart email campaigns with sequences offering special deals, tailored to re-engage and convert potential customers. You can recover considerable ‘lost’ revenue by making conversion rate changes like this, right now.
2. Know your products.. and your customers!
This may seem obvious, but recognising your best-selling products and understanding your customers’ shopping habits is vital, and an easily achievable win - even at this late stage.
As you’d expect, we’re huge data advocates here at Leaf, so use your company’s existing data to identify the standout items in your product catalogue.
- Make sure you understand your company’s previous Q4 sales patterns and trends; adjust your targets for 2021 accordingly, and order sufficient inventory to get through the holiday season without shortages.
- Place hero products - and, of course, any new seasonal products you might be carrying this year - at the heart of your promotional efforts.
- Creating landing pages for suites of products is still a highly effective way of introducing your products to potential buyers and driving conversions.
- Organising products by brand will also improve your site’s SEO rankings. So ensure that specific paid searches - like ‘Apple smartphone’, for instance - guide visitors to an Apple product landing page, rather than a generic 'Smartphones' category.
3. Be sector smart
Every online retailer will experience this period differently, depending on which sector they operate in.
Expectations for a Q4 2021 to rival the spending bonanza of 2020 (when lockdowns and shop closures drove online spending to dizzying new highs) have been tempered slightly by a general opening-up of society with fewer Covid restrictions - at least in the UK, Europe and the United States.
The likelihood is that more in-store transactions will take place this year, but ongoing pandemic uncertainty will play its part.
Research by Retail Economics, for Retail Week’s The Christmas Forecast report, indicates that non-food sectors will experience a ‘modest’ year-on-year growth of 0.5%, with a 1.7% sales boost ‘driven by toys and games and a more buoyant homeware and furniture sector.’
Projected consumer confidence also rose ahead of this golden quarter, but food retailers aren’t expected to match their sales performance of 2020 (when hospitality and leisure closures boosted food sales), and a drop in overall retail sales of 2.3% is anticipated.
You can use specific research like this to prepare accurate sales targets and KPIs, and to identify the potential danger areas and roadblocks you’re likely to hit this golden quarter.
Good preparation and successfully managing internal expectations is key. As is identifying any potential roadblocks and pitfalls unique to your sector.
One of those roadblocks could be, well, that running sales or other discounts in your sector simply doesn’t make sense financially. In which case, you’re going to need to find other forms of leverage against the season’s inflated ad costs.
Which brings us to..
4. Get ad smart
The cost of running ads is always much higher during the golden quarter. Competition in CPC (Cost Per Click) and CPM (Cost Per Thousand Impressions) bidding increases - as does customer demand.
Here’s what that looks like.
These charts show aggregated data from across Leaf’s client roster - measuring Clicks, Impressions, Cost-Per-Click and Cost of Conversion - both before and after Black Friday 2020, leading up to Christmas and in the drop-off period after last-order dates.
This is clearly a period of extremes! But of course the returns are potentially huge.
Running discounts and sales may increase online footfall, but actually getting customers onto your site will probably come at an even higher relative cost than previous years.
With more retailers than ever focusing on eCommerce, most companies’ CPCs and CPMs will likely rise without experiencing the volume of sales they’re accustomed to.
It’s not too late to start creating intelligent strategies for both paid social and paid search.
But it almost is!
Especially as we recommend buying your traffic with plenty of time to spare to get the best possible deal, and avoid paying more for less.
Ideally you will have been running campaigns throughout Q3, giving you the historical data needed to understand how to optimise and maximise efficiency, become more reactive to changes in customer behaviour and demand surges, and build your campaigns’ relevance scores.
If this hasn’t happened yet, start as soon as possible.
But what you can do right now is use Google Analytics to identify the best search, display and social platforms to buy media for your brand, and check for the best deals that will reach the most amount of prospective customers when bidding in Google Ads.
You can also:
- Focus initial ad spend on cold traffic throughout Q4, before pivoting to retargeting ads in the week running up to key dates like Boxing Day or the New Year sales.
- On the big ticket days themselves, run an even 50:50 split between cold traffic and retargeting.
- Focus on those customers who have visited your site in the past 6 months; bought a product from you in the past 6 months; engaged with you on social media in the past year or viewed your ad content in the past year. This can help drive higher conversion rates with decent ROAS.
5. Get creative with your creative
It’s never too late to think big and bold. Your ads will have to do much more heavy lifting in an over-saturated, expensive marketplace; so you need to think smart and be creative.
- Whether it’s funny, heartwarming or takes the viewer on a flat-out emotional rollercoaster, your ad content this golden quarter needs to be instantly, thumb-stoppingly engaging. It’s you versus the endless scroll, and below par creative just won’t cut it. You need eye-catching visuals, and you need them now.
- 73% more site visitors who watch a product video will make a purchase. Video content is a vital weapon in your eComm marketing strategy - so put it to good use to improve conversion rates and drive sales. An optimum video content length is between 30 - 45 seconds: any longer and you risk losing the viewer’s attention.
- Many potential customers will never even hear the audio on your visual content, with 85% of Facebook users, for instance, watching video ads without the sound on. So make sure your script is snappy and engaging to produce eye-catching subtitles.
- Variety is the spice of (ad) life. Avoid ad fatigue by running multiple ad variants. Use different designs, copy, CTAs or product images. Try out your creative work on different audiences, and follow the data to optimise your offering. Remove or tweak ads that underperform in the course of your A/B testing.
This ‘test and iterate’ approach is at the heart of what we do at Leaf, and we’re happy to say we’ve got pretty good at it. So..
6. Let us help you!
At this highly competitive time of year, Leaf is perfectly placed to guide you and your company safely through the Q4 and Q1 minefield: helping you minimise the greater financial burdens of the holiday season while capitalising on increased customer demand.
Facing the challenges of the golden quarter can undoubtedly be daunting for even the most seasoned retailers. But even at this late stage, there are so many proactive steps you can take to achieve meaningful progress and strong results.
We’d love to hear from you, so get in touch if you’ve found our last-minute guide to Q4 useful!
Want to scale your eCommerce revenue profitably? Learn more about Leaf's end-to-end performance marketing services here.