Online sales: has the peak peaked?

Even if you’re feeling fatigued after Black Friday, here’s how you can make sure your ad strategy remains healthy.

With a healthy dose of cynicism surrounding Cyber Week, Nick Fletcher, SVP, Northern Europe at Rakuten Advertising, reviews the data from the sales season so far…

The dust has started to settle on Cyber Week, traditionally seen as the pinnacle of the year’s peak shopping periods. While we’ve seen strong year-on-year performance from our network, the results – not over the past couple of weeks but the past few months – have caused me to ask whether we’ve reached peak peak? And if so, what does it mean for advertiser strategies?

(TLDNR version: yes, and that’s not a bad thing.)

Cyber Week still a focal point

We’ve been crunching the Cyber Week data from across the Rakuten Advertising network in the UK, France and Germany. In terms of year-on-year performance, it certainly paints a positive picture – in France and Germany we saw a healthy sales value growth of 47 percent and 19 percent respectively across the full week. 

At first glance the UK may seem to have lagged behind not only France and Germany, but also other established markets, at 11 percent sales growth in 2021 against 2020. APAC, for example, showed 26 percent YoY growth in sales across Cyber Week. However, there are a number of likely reasons for this. 

In the UK in 2020, the Cyber Week sales period hit during a national lockdown, undoubtedly increasing online sales. In contrast, this year’s shoppers were snapping up bargains both online and offline, so the data suggests a similarly buoyant picture for the UK. We’d naturally expect larger improvements YoY in France and Germany as these have typically been higher-growth markets for online shopping than the UK in recent years.

In isolation, therefore, it looks as though Cyber Week remains a focal point for shoppers, and I’m certainly not about to dismiss this year’s success. But I do think a bit of big picture context is useful.

Lifting and levelling the peaks

Looking at data not just for Cyber Week, but for a number of weeks before it, we also saw striking results. In the UK, France and Germany, year-on-year sales growth during the last week of October and the first week of November was strong (in some cases outstripping that seen in Cyber Week itself). Not only this but in some markets we’re also seeing big growth on the Tuesday after Cyber Monday (‘Giving Tuesday’), for example 42 percent in Germany and even 68 percent in the UK. This perhaps indicates that consumers weren’t seeing the aggressive levels of discounts they’d seen previously and were holding out to the last minute, or even that retailers were saving their best offers for the last minute.

At the very least it can be argued that peak shopping season is starting earlier. But there’s evidence that the difference between the peaks and troughs over the year look to be less marked, with growth seen throughout. The peaks are getting higher, but the troughs also aren’t as deep.

This suggests to me that consumers are being more considered in their shopping throughout the year, rather than focusing only on traditional sales periods. It also supports the growth in the use of affiliate marketing, where consumers have the ability to find offers and deals when they want them year-round.

Celebrating the savvy shopper

Advertisers should celebrate the greater savviness among consumers. A shopper who is searching is a shopper who can be found. Not just with the conversion tactic – though voucher and coupon publishing sites still delivered great performance during Cyber Week – but with content, through influencers and the increasingly connected mix of affiliate marketing strategies.

Advertisers need to think about peak shopping periods as connected points in time in ongoing customer relationships, rather than a single opportunity to convert and move on. Don’t lose sight of a customer whose interest might have been piqued by an offer on Cyber Monday, but who might need until a January sale to be ready to buy. Today’s modern affiliate marketing strategies are ideal for supporting such a connected approach. Methods can be mixed to help find, engage, inform, convert and build loyalty with consumers throughout the year.

It may be too early to call time on peak shopping periods. But if advertisers can become less reliant on them to drive revenue and use affiliate marketing to engage customers throughout the year, that’s got to be a good thing.