Amazon recently announced that Prime Day has been pushed back to October this year. Given the shifting landscape with COVID-19, the impact of Prime Day falling so close to the holiday season will be felt across the industry. What lessons have we learned in previous Prime Days and what can the industry expect this year during these unprecedented times?
Amazon’s Prime Day continues to grow
Prime Day has continued to grow since it started in 2015. Given that users are prepared to shop and save, other retailers have started creating strategies to compete with Prime Day. In 2019, Prime Day was the 5th largest online shopping day with over $4 billion in sales in the U.S.
COVID-19 led to fulfillment delays and advertising reductions as Amazon prioritized essential items
Amazon slowly started to pull back in Shopping and Text auctions at the start of 2020, immediately following the 2019 holiday season. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US and the rest of the world in late February and early March, Amazon completely dropped out of all auctions. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, this decision was driven by Amazon focusing on shipping essential items. During this period, Amazon stopped allowing shipments of products that were considered non-essential to be sent to their warehouses.
Shipping and manufacturing were also limited during this period, adding another reason for Amazon to pull out of auctions. If Amazon continued to have a strong presence on Google and Bing, Amazon would have struggled to meet its two-day “Prime” delivery guarantee. With this being one of Amazon main differentiators from other competitors, Amazon didn’t want to risk damaging their reputation.
In early June, as the US and other countries around the world began to reopen, Amazon started re-entering auctions. This was perfect timing for Amazon to ramp up its presence on the SERP. For marketers, these recent trends are important to spot because the presence of Amazon, along with other large retailers, can have significant impacts on the performance of a paid search program.
Prime Day will look different this year; will likely blend into the traditional holiday season
Prime Day has previously always occurred in mid-July, allowing for what some have dubbed a “Summer Black Friday”. This year, however, CNBC reports Amazon has delayed Prime Day to October to better serve essential workers and prioritize employee safety during the summer. This further delay comes after previous reports stated Amazon had pushed its annual event back to September. With Prime Day now expected to land much closer to the traditional holiday season with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, what will this mean for retailers?
One way to gauge how retailers will respond is to reflect on the 2019 holiday season. Due to the timing of Thanksgiving and Christmas, the 2019 shopping season was six days shorter than the previous year. With many retailers counting on a strong Q4 to hit annual revenue targets, retailers looked to make up for the fewer days by starting promotional and holiday messaging earlier than ever before. For example, Walmart began holiday sales on October 25th, a full 36 days before Black Friday and its earliest start date yet. Though this year’s traditional holiday season will have two additional days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s reasonable to expect retailers will continue the trend of starting the holiday season early as they look to make up lost revenue attributed to the pandemic.
COVID-19s impact on the economy will also play a role in the shape that Amazon Prime Day takes this year. Due to this year’s mass furloughs and layoffs, unemployment rates have skyrocketed to levels far exceeding the Great Recession in 2007-2009. We expect less disposable income for consumers will result in Prime Day focusing more on smaller-ticket items than previous years.
Another expected change to Prime Day is a shift in a messaging. Consumers struggling with the economic, physical, and emotional impacts of COVID-19 may be less receptive, or even put off by traditional promotional messaging. We expect to see a subtle shift in tone that reflects our “new normal” during a pandemic, with increased focus on messaging togetherness, improving life at home, and staying connected.
Successful retailers will make a plan, but expect to pivot
Taking advantage of Amazon Prime Day requires thoughtful planning, but those who are able to adapt plans as needed will put themselves in the best position for success.
How marketers can prep for Amazon Prime Day:
- Take advantage of consumer shopping demand with promotional messaging. Retailers can take advantage of increased consumer demand and inflated conversion rates during this time, whether they are running on Amazon or not. Consumers become deal-hungry during large shopping events like Prime Day, so retailers should plan accordingly.
- Highlight unique advantages against Amazon. Retailers with a physical presence have a leg up on Amazon when advertising to consumers who are looking for a product even faster than Amazon’s promised two-day delivery window. As you’re planning your messaging strategy, make sure to highlight what value adds your business can offer, particularly services that helps you stand out against Amazon Prime. Can shoppers utilize curbside pick-up or buy online and pick up in store? How about product assembly or take away services? Finding ways your business stands out are important messaging elements year-round, but especially when competing with Amazon. Useful ways to message these elements to consumers include messaging buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) services, running local inventory ads (LIAs), enabling location extensions, and ensuring up-to-date information in Google My Business.
Here’s an example of how one retailer might leverage their local advantage against Amazon:
- Set up reporting and alerts now to monitor auction insights. Considering the impact Amazon has on the competitive landscape in paid search, marketing teams need to set up a plan on how they will monitor their competitive metrics before, during, and after Prime Day. A few ideas on how to plan for this are setting up alerts on major changes in auction insights and CPCs, creating a schedule to plan when team members will check performance, and looking into performance data from Prime Day last year to see what areas the team will need to focus most on this year. One way to combat increased competition is to look at the keyword level to identify areas in the account that are not hit as hard from Amazon’s competition and push there.
Expect your plans to change:
- Be flexible! If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to not be married to any plans. Flexibility and adaptability will continue to set marketers apart during this year’s Prime Day event. While it’s impossible to plan for all possible scenarios, establish a game plan on how you’ll respond if things change.
- Leave room in your holiday budgets to account for Prime Day spending. In previous years, Amazon has been seen to ramp up its Google Shopping investment in the weeks leading up to Prime Day to generate sign-ups and interest. Because of this investment, we’ve seen Amazon elevate in Auction Insights reports, leading to increases in CPCs and decreases in traffic as budgets are hit more quickly which is something to keep in mind as Prime Day approaches; it’s something that can be combatted with more budget flexibility.
- Have alternative copy ready. Depending on how large Prime Day is this year, retailers may face promotional changes or distribution issues. It’s important to come together as a team and determine a contingency plan. For example, if the original promotional messaging highlights ”Fast Shipping” but distribution centers can’t take the additional demand, be prepared to pivot to a ”Free Shipping” or promotional oriented callout.
Retailers and shoppers alike are in an unprecedented time, so it’s hard to definitively know how Prime Day will function this year. It’s important to be mindful of consumer behavior shifts and strategy changes with adaptability in mind.
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