30-second summary:

  • The loss of traditional Black Friday traffic may be a blow to many marketers, but there is plenty of hope and opportunity. Foot traffic is expected to convert to online traffic, and given the rise of digital shopping holidays like Travel Tuesday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, there is opportunity for every industry to benefit from experimentation.
  • According to the Black Friday’s Big Test industry report, peak season testing is flat for retailers, and they seem to be relying on the same strategies that worked in previous years — not fully addressing today’s disrupted shopping environment.
  • It might seem like travel would struggle the most in the COVID-19 era, but data shows some innovative experiments and quick pivots are helping industry marketers sell this season.
  • This year has brought about a new financial reality for many people. Data shows financial marketers at banks are testing ways to ease customer anxiety, fears centered around money and the mental burden of purchasing.
  • The 2020 peak shopping season may be unconventional, but it’s not impossible for marketers to navigate. And Brooks Bell’s data shows customers can be extremely responsive to small changes — the only failed strategy this season will be changing nothing at all.

It Black Friday and an unpredictable and unprecedented holiday shopping season is officially underway, leaving many marketers to only guess about the best way to reach customers in radically altered retail, travel and financial environments.

Crowds and lines browsing store windows on Black Friday are sure to be smaller due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, all peak season marketing efforts — which we define as the period between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 — will need to be retooled and retargeted to work in browser windows.

According to new research on the 2020 holiday shopping season, marketers across various industries are sticking to well-worn strategies this season instead of trying out new methods, and it isn’t working.

There has been an 11% decrease in successful tests since the start of the pandemic, indicating the typical pain points customers face when shopping online have changed, requiring testing teams and marketers to improve their online experiences.

We’ve determined this by aggregating the results of our client’s experiments over time, and parsing which experiments achieved a positive result. What’s more, shoppers have a completely different set of emotions and motivators as they spend this season, and health and safety are at the forefront.

Thankfully, a pivot is still possible for marketing efforts, even almost a month into the peak season. An analysis of data from hundreds of organizations across thousands of marketing tests and experiments reveals that while customer priorities are changing, there are still plenty of opportunities to engage them successfully in the weeks ahead.

Winning strategies for holiday 2020 marketing

The loss of traditional Black Friday traffic may be a blow to many marketers, but there is plenty of hope and opportunity. Foot traffic is expected to convert to online traffic, and given the rise of digital shopping holidays like Travel Tuesday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, there is opportunity for every industry to benefit from experimentation.

Data from illuminate — an experimentation and insights tool created by Brooks Bell for clients and testing teams of all sizes to  use to track and measure the success of marketing tests — backs up this optimism.

By applying the following data-backed insights, marketers in retail as well as travel and finance can experiment with ways to re-engage customers this season and use those lessons to come out even stronger next peak season.

Insight #1: Retailers test simple adjustments to ease shopper anxiety

According to the Black Friday’s Big Test industry report, peak season testing is flat for retailers, and they seem to be relying on the same strategies that worked in previous years — not fully addressing today’s disrupted shopping environment.

On the whole, data shows shoppers are responding to ecommerce and shopping process changes that ease anxiety:

  • One in five experiments run by retailers during Black Friday and the holiday season in general have been designed to relieve shopper stress, and these experiments have the highest win rate. Retailers can, for example, include calendars on their sites that tell customers the last day they can purchase gifts that will arrive in time for the holidays. Or, they can display information on contactless return and exchange procedures to create less hesitation for shoppers who don’t want to inconvenience a loved one if a gift needs to be returned.
  • Retailers must also remember that the types of products customers are buying this holiday season are sure to be different. Houseware retailers, for example, are likely to see a drop in sales of large place settings or other products used to host large gatherings. In the short term, retailers need to place extra scrutiny on what items are on sale, and where they are featured on their homepages. Longer term, these retailers need to keep detailed and data-backed notes about the results of the experiments this year, so that they can reflect back on the background and results of those sales next year.

Insight #2:  Travel marketers lean in to testing seamless trips and stays

It might seem like travel would struggle the most in the COVID-19 era, but data shows some innovative experiments and quick pivots are helping industry marketers sell this season.

Historically, travel has tested easing the mental effort it takes for customers to purchase, and we expect to see that trend continue in the following forms:

  • Hotels have drastically changed their messaging since the pandemic started. Many commercials and advertisements feature contactless entry, a bigger focus on roadside motels and imagery that shows sanitation procedures. All of these strategies show the customer how safe and hassle-free travel can still be — and who isn’t at least dreaming about a quarantine getaway?
  • Travel marketers must also test better digital delivery of the perks and benefits the hospitality industry offers. Hotel room amenities, in-flight services and other travel experiences are often difficult to wrap up in a bow. This year, it will be even more difficult to give top-notch customer experiences when in-person interactions cannot happen. Marketers looking for creative ways to engage consider ways to tie a physical gift to purchases like hotel reservations, or find ways to deliver digital content about an upcoming trip which can keep the customer engaged leading up to their travel.

Insight #3: Financial marketers test more convenient ways to purchase and give

This year has brought about a new financial reality for many people. Data shows financial marketers at banks are testing ways to ease customer anxiety, fears centered around money and the mental burden of purchasing. Consider the following:

  • Financial marketers should ensure financial products are easier to buy and give as gifts. In uncertain times, more traditional gifts like savings bonds or cash are attractive to shoppers, and marketers should test better ways to get these product offerings in front of customers as they log into their banking portals. When customers log in, they should see products that can make their shopping experience easier this season, like low-interest credit card offers or cash-back incentives. Additionally, financial advisors and tax professionals can capitalize on the opportunity to reach millions of Americans who are looking to navigate an altered economy.
  • To ease the mental effort and anxiety of customers, marketers should consider whether third-party financial information can help make customers’ shopping seasons easier. Featuring credit ratings, fraud protection tools or savings calculators on homepages or customer emails is a great place to start — any financial peace of mind that can be offered this season is a winning strategy.

The 2020 peak shopping season may be unconventional, but it’s not impossible for marketers to navigate. And our data shows customers can be extremely responsive to small changes — the only failed strategy this season will be changing nothing at all.

In fact, 2020 may prove to be the best time to test long-held assumptions or hypotheses about customer audiences — and carry those lessons into 2021.

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Suzi Tripp