Q4’s Golden Quarter is traditionally when Awin and ShareASale see a huge spike in sales activity, thanks to the convergence of global retail events including Singles’ Day, Black Friday and Cyber Weekend and shoppers seeking out deals and savings from a host of brands.
But this year’s Q4 is by no means traditional in any sense.
With the huge disruption 2020 has already faced thanks to the pandemic, solid expectations and predictions for the period have been hard to come by.
Will local lockdowns of shops and malls drive further e-commerce adoption during these events by the broader population? Or will consumers simply choose not to shop because of anxieties over job security and potential income losses?
Will brands feel compelled to participate and offer big discounts to incite demand and shift stock? Or will they want to forego this year’s sales events as a means of protecting valuable profit margins?
Will Amazon’s decision to shift Prime Day into October lead retailers to piggyback off of the event and launch deals earlier? Or will they wait until the last possible moment before Black Friday to push their promotions?
And, of course, how will these variables affect performance in the affiliate industry?
I put these questions and more to our expert panel in our webinar, ‘What can marketers expect of 2020’s Golden Quarter?’ to get their take on how the last three months of a tumultuous year may pan out.
Here are the top five takeaways from the fascinating discussion that followed.
1. Affiliates are providing an increasing volume of converting traffic to retailers during Q4
SimilarWeb Solution Consultant Tomas Seliokas presented some intriguing insights that looked at evolving search trends around Q4, the performance of UK and US retailers over the last couple of years, and which channels were driving the most value for them in terms of conversions.
While there were distinct differences between the regions surrounding the types of website that generate the most traffic during Black Friday - in the US it tends to be specialist Black Friday publisher sites, while in the UK it’s more often the big retailer sites themselves - the increasingly valuable role of referral traffic from affiliates was a constant.
Further drilling down, Tomas shared US brands have experienced the largest growth in converting traffic from display and referral in November, with these channels providing a 42% and 32% increase respectively from 2018 to 2019.
However in the UK, affiliates were the best converting channel for retailers during November - with a conversion rate 55% higher than the second-best performing channel.
That said as this year proceeds, we can be sure affiliate partners will be at the heart of the activity regardless of region.
2. Black Friday’s digital adoption in the UK will influence e-commerce growth this year
An exclusive preview of eMarketer by Insider Intelligence’s findings on projected sales during the holiday season (classed as November and December only) was shared by Senior Analyst Bill Fisher during the webinar, forecasting an overall decline in sales volume in the retail category for the UK market of 10.2%.
That said, Bill did go on to elaborate that from a digital perspective, e-commerce sales for retail during the same period will grow by 16.7%, suggesting another big swing in online adoption by shoppers in the UK in Q4.
This insight was particularly interesting when compared to forecasts for the US, which expect overall retail sales to improve slightly.
“There are a few reasons why the UK is a little bit different to the US.” Bill explained, “The recession that we are officially in here in the UK is an important factor…but it’s also worth mentioning that when we talk about Black Friday outside of the US, it’s much less of a physical shopping experience.”
For markets outside of the US that don’t have the legacy of it traditionally being a physical in-store event, Black Friday’s swift adoption to online by retailers has already been made. Consumers in markets like the UK will more readily switch their shopping habits to e-commerce options and buy more through them.
3. 2020 could be the first time Black Friday overtakes Cyber Monday for online share of sales in the US
While it’s a prediction we’ve made in past years that has never quite come to fruition, Cyber Monday’s domination of US online sales share may finally come to an end in 2020.
Cyber Monday has long reigned as the online sales event in the US because of the physical traditions that Black Friday has attached to it.
As Tricia Meyer, executive director at the Performance Marketing Association, was quick to point out, “Everybody spends Thanksgiving together, then mom and grandma get up and go out on Black Friday to wait in line at Best Buy or Walmart or wherever at 4am. It’s become an extension of the cultural family experience of Thanksgiving.”
But this year things will be profoundly different. Not as many people will be traveling to visit family to spend a three- or four-day weekend together over Thanksgiving, and instead technology will be bridging that gap for many families through Zoom calls and other such social platforms.
Most consumers will steer clear of stores to ensure safety with many choosing to stay indoors instead. As Tricia went on to explain, this all really sets up the perfect storm for people to spend more time online on Black Friday and therefore making them more likely to shop there and then too, instead of waiting for Cyber Monday.
4. Amazon’s relocation of Prime Day won’t stop shoppers spending big over Q4
eMarketer’s original projection of almost $10b in worldwide e-commerce sales for Amazon over the course of its two day sales extravaganza highlighted how well the analysts there thought the day would go for them.
With Prime Day in our rear-view mirror already, we’re better positioned to understand the implications of its shift into October.
According to its own statement, Amazon claimed third-party sellers on its marketplace sold more than $3.5b worth of goods over the course of the event, a record-breaking sum that represented 60% growth on last year’s volume for these sellers.
While it didn’t disclose total figures for the volume of goods sold in their entirety, it did suggest that those sellers saw higher sales growth than Amazon’s own retail business that makes up a minority share of the overall sales activity the platform facilitates.
Taken together, we can assume that while Prime Day might not have hit the heights of a $10b event, the demand is certainly still there from shoppers looking for deals. With Prime members saving a reported $1.4b in offers on Amazon during Prime Day this year, it would appear many will be eagerly waiting to see what other promotions come online as the Cyber Weekend approaches.
5. Be nimble, stay informed, and think about how you connect with the mass of new customers coming online for the first time
Rounding off the panel discussion, I asked our experts for their final pieces of advice for the audience to take away with them.
For Tricia, it was primarily an acknowledgement that we are all, as marketers, operating in uncharted territory right now. Comparisons with last year’s performance - or even performance from a couple of months ago - may not be a true guide to how this year will fare and so the best approach is to be nimble, adapting to the information we have to hand as quickly as possible.
Tomas supported that latter point about being informed and went further, highlighting some of the analysis and reports SimilarWeb is currently producing in light of Prime Day’s performance, as well as the current trending keywords and themes that are driving activity in the online shopping categories.
And finally, Bill suggested the deep discounting tactics of the past might not be as important this year because of the changing complexion of customers that are online now. “If you can build a sincere brand that will be perceived as a responsible retailer, and you can garner positive sentiment, then you stand to gain a lot from the multitude of consumers that are coming online for the first time.”
I'm hugely grateful to our panelists for taking part in this discussion with us. If you missed the webinar itself, you can view the recording here.