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2021 was an unprecedented year for many reasons, and things seemed to come to a head as we approached the end of the year, making the 2021 holiday season unlike any other.

Both online and brick-and-mortar retailers faced new challenges that created shifts in some of the ways that companies marketed their products for holiday shopping. Through our own experience, we have outlined some key takeaways from last year’s holiday season including unpredictable situations, challenges, solutions, and the value of analytics with the goal of shedding some light on digital marketing that will help you plan for a successful Q4 in 2022!

Predict the Unpredictable

Every year around the holidays, retailers take steps to ensure shipping goes smoothly for their customers. Many post their shipping deadlines, offer in-store pick-up, free shipping, and expedited shipping for those last-minute shoppers. And let’s face it, typically most of us are still shopping up until the last possible minute.

Toward the end of 2021, shoppers started noticing slower delivery times due to worldwide supply chain and shipping issues. This resulted in fear that gifts purchased for the holidays wouldn’t arrive on time and customers started shopping much earlier than usual. Many retailers were faced with the challenge of trying to predict these new shopping habits and unexpected delays and needed to react quickly to customer demands.

To combat the early shopping demand, many companies chose to launch their Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in early November instead of the usual post-Thanksgiving dates. Some even pushed sales as early as October. Marketers had to pivot and act quickly to get the word out. While social media and digital marketing are already popular tools for retailers, they are also the top solution for holiday advertising. From paid social advertising, search engine optimization, and email marketing, marketers found themselves creating content on the fly, increasing advertising spends and shifting timing to optimize revenue.

More Challenges

As if all of this isn’t challenging enough, it seems as though advertising guidelines on many social media platforms have become increasingly stringent. With higher demand for digital marketing, social media platforms rely heavily on automated systems to approve advertising content and ensure it aligns with their policies.

Algorithms work great for identifying and reaching potential customers, but with automation comes flaws. Picture this; it’s two days before Black Friday, your biggest sale of the year. You have everything in place to promote your products and are ready to see the revenue flowing in when your digital ad account becomes disabled without warning or explanation! This situation is already frustrating but without a real person to guide you through the solution process, the issue can become even more stressful. This scenario is not hypothetical, in fact, it happened to one of our clients! This is why it’s crucial to not “put all your eggs in one basket.” Spreading your marketing efforts across multiple channels can optimize your results and will always ensure that you have a back up plan.

New Solutions

Out of new challenges often comes new solutions, and 2021 was no exception. As retailers enhanced their digital presence, they faced more competition to get their products noticed. Here are some of the effective solutions we saw in 2021 (and continue to see) to help them do just that:

1. Increase paid social spend
Typically, more retailers advertise during December than throughout the rest of the year. With more companies bidding for eyes on their ads, the cost per click increases, and retailers need to spend more to get results. Because customers started shopping earlier, many companies found themselves spending more over a longer period than in previous years. However, while spend may have increased, many retailers reaped the rewards with higher ROI year-over-year in October and November, as well as December.

2. Buy now, pay later
Many companies opted to implement third-party point of sale options to allow customers to defer payments. These payment services, like Affirm and ShopPay, let customers save their info securely for a much faster checkout process. While this may not seem like a big deal, retailers who offer this have the upper hand as customers opt for convenience with easier checkout processes and payment installments.

3. Social Shops
Speaking of convenience, with online shopping, consumers, now more than ever, have become accustomed to instant gratification. Retailers may lose customers if it takes multiple clicks to find their products. This is where commerce shops on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram became crucial to capturing sales. Shoppers no longer need to click the link in bio and leave the platform to shop. Instead, they can click on products within a post and seamlessly make a purchase.

4. Influencers
The idea of a social media influencer is not new, but it is an area that has grown exponentially in the last couple of years and has shifted away from a low-cost, guerilla-style marketing option. Consumers are constantly scrolling and looking to trendsetting influencers for ideas on gifts, what to wear, holiday decor, delicious holiday recipes, and more! Retailers are seeing the success of influencer marketing and incorporating much more robust, commission-based ambassador programs into their marketing plans.

5. Trends & Updates
In this digital age, things seem to move quickly. While it’s often difficult to keep up, staying on top of trends and software updates can prevent you from being left behind and can often be game-changers for businesses. For example, at the end of 2021, Instagram expanded link sharing in stories to business profiles and implemented a collab feature for co-authoring posts. We also saw the use of reels, stories, and stickers trend up. All of these updates helped drive engagement for many users and helped businesses reach their audiences faster.

Analytics

Keeping up with consumer demand is crucial in a competitive market, so as we kick off a new year, it’s important to take a look back at what worked and identify areas of opportunity. Using your analytics tools can help you determine who your customers are, when they are shopping, what they are buying, and what they respond to. As 2021 showed us, we can’t always predict new challenges or new trends, but we can be prepared to face them when they arise. Using key learnings and analytical data, you can start building an effective marketing plan for 2022 that can set you up for another successful holiday season. It’s never too early to start planning ahead!

Happy Holiday Marketing!