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Retail Paid Search Sales Growth at 23% From Thanksgiving Through Cyber Monday

There is no shortage of early holiday shopping stats out there for 2014, with IBM, Adobe, and the National Retail Federation all releasing widely-quoted, but contrasting perspectives on how well things are going so far. The NRF's numbers for Black Friday were particularly gloomy and well-reported, but many writers were quick to question just how meaningful or predictive they were. IBM's numbers show more positive trends with online consumer spending growth of 13% over the five day period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, while Adobe shows a 20% growth rate over the same period. At RKG, we've run our own numbers using a methodology and data set similar to that of our quarterly RKG Digital Marketing Reports. Our findings are on the more positive end of the spectrum with online retail sales produced by paid search advertising up 23% from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday:


So, you can put me in the 'don't despair' and maybe even the 'there's reason to be optimistic' camp, but there's a long way to go, and the trend in recent years has been for more and more holiday sales to be front-loaded. In 2013, for example, 78% of holiday sales were produced after Cyber Monday, but that rate has dropped every year going back as far as 2009 when the rate was 85%. Retailers need to see strong sales growth rates now because they are likely to drop off later in the season, but so far so good. Additional key findings from our research:

Thanksgiving Sales Up 37% Y/Y, But Still a Small Fraction of Black Friday and Cyber Monday Volume

Much has been made about Thanksgiving becoming an increasingly important shopping day, and while we did see Thanksgiving sales from paid search grow 37% Y/Y, Black Friday sales volume was still over twice as high and Cyber Monday sales volume was over three times as high.


Mobile Traffic Share Hits 46% on Thanksgiving Day

Phone and tablet traffic combined to generate 46% of paid search clicks on Thanksgiving, up from 42% a year earlier. Phones provided all of those gains as tablet traffic share was flat.


Phone Traffic Value is Improving as iPhone 6 Models Help Drive Up Conversion Rates

The average sales-per-click produced by phone traffic over the last five days was 42% that of the average sales-per-click of desktop traffic. That may not sound great, but it is big improvement from a year earlier when we found phone sales-per-click ran at 31% of desktop levels. In total, phones and tablets produced 26% of all paid search sales from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday. Traffic from iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users appears to be helping drive up conversion rates for iPhones overall and, since iPhones generate the bulk of phone traffic in the U.S., the entire phone segment. From Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, combined iPhone 6 traffic converted at a 25% higher rate than traffic from earlier iPhone models. This is in line with our initial findings after the iPhone 6 models were first released, which bodes well for this conversion rate improvement to be sustained as these devices find their way into the hands of a broader audience.

Product Listing Ad Click Share in Line with Q3, Down From Early Q4

One of the bigger questions going into Q4 was whether we would see a spike in the share of Google traffic generated by PLAs as we did last year. Before Thanksgiving, PLA share of non-brand clicks had run a percentage point or two higher than we saw it in Q3. Since Thanksgiving though, PLA traffic share was back down to Q3 levels. We observed a similar result last year before PLA share picked back up again, suggesting that there is either increased competition for PLAs during this week or consumer search behavior shifts to favor queries that are more likely to trigger text ads. By the end of the quarter though, PLAs should produce around 53% of non-brand Google paid search clicks.  

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