Cyber Week 2018 in Review: Consumer Behaviors, Digital Marketing Trends, & More

After all the excitement, anticipation and preparation, Cyber Week 2018 arrived. Consumers took advantage of the best deals they could find, while brands saw the results of their holiday marketing efforts. But Cyber Week is now over, and holiday shoppers are continuing their shopping and capitalizing on deals in the last weeks and days leading […]

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cyber week 2018 digital marketing results and performance

cyber week 2018After all the excitement, anticipation and preparation, Cyber Week 2018 arrived. Consumers took advantage of the best deals they could find, while brands saw the results of their holiday marketing efforts.

But Cyber Week is now over, and holiday shoppers are continuing their shopping and capitalizing on deals in the last weeks and days leading up to Christmas. For marketers, however, the work is only just beginning. With a torrent of trends, behaviors and data to evaluate from Cyber Week, brands and marketers must use these insights to understand what consumers are – and aren’t – doing with their digital shopping. This is crucial not only for next holiday season but for 2019 marketing and beyond as a whole.

At Rakuten Marketing we took a look at three different digital marketing channels – search, display and affiliate – and evaluated the data from each channel to better understand what happened during Cyber Week, what that means for marketers, and how consumers are shopping and responding to the biggest shopping event of the year. We will be updating this blog post throughout the next few days with storylines and data from each channel, so be sure to check back regularly!

Cyber Week 2018 Marketing Categories

Search Display Affiliate

Cyber Week 2018 Search Marketing Results

1. The Growing Mobile Demand

Rakuten Marketing Search leveraged data collected across paid search and product listing ads inclusive of all devices to better understand user behaviors during Cyber Week. As noted in previous years, there’s been a significant increase in mobile activity.

Paid Search data illustrated mobile search was responsible for 88% of incremental clicks and 56% of incremental sales from the day prior to Thanksgiving through Cyber Tuesday. Conversion rates for this time frame grew 13% making the devices a stronger contributor to overall sales than in years past.

The data gathered indicates an important consumer behavior: consumers aren’t just leaning on phones to make purchases, they’re leveraging them throughout the entire customer journey. As mobile devices continue to become the new normal for shopping – holiday or otherwise – brands looking to create a strong search strategy will need to embrace and optimize the mobile audience, being responsive to a mobile search experience to help drive results.

2. Most Popular Search Days

Deals going live on many sites Wednesday evening resulted in strong conversion rates and sales lifts, similar to what was observed in the affiliate channel. This is an indication that brands may want to consider allocating more budget to Wednesday night as consumers were more than ready to shop and purchase on that night.

While sales growth was realized each day of Cyber week, the strongest year-over-year gains occurred on Black Friday and Thanksgiving with a 43% and 41% increase, respectively. This suggests advertisers should invest for growing consumer demand leading up to Cyber Monday, particularly Black Friday which is fast becoming synonymous in the eyes of consumers.

3. The Power of Search

Product Listing Ads have quickly gained the largest reach across search campaigns, representing 83% of overall impressions, a 21% lift YoY. A strong player in this growth can be attributed to Smart Shopping which displays product listing ads across Google Display Network, YouTube, and Gmail along with the Search Network. Not only has this expanded the volume of consumers served ads, but Rakuten Marketing is seeing conversion rates that rival traditional Shopping campaigns with less reach, presenting attractive opportunities for advertisers to enhance brand exposure as well as drive incremental sales growth.

cyber week 2018 display marketing performance results strategies

Cyber Week 2018 Display Marketing Results

Data presented is based across retailers running display campaigns and measured during Cyber Week 2018.

1. Consumer Confidence Resulted in Strong Growth

High levels of consumer confidence was a key talking point entering the 2018 holiday shopping season, with CNBC citing an 18-year high in consumer confidence in a September 2018 article. This confidence would factor into behaviors like increased spending. OpenX published a report that noted 26% of total US shoppers planned to spend more than in 2017, with 41% of Millennials and 39% of parents increasing their spending compared to the previous year.

Across Cyber Week, Rakuten Marketing saw year-over-year growth that echoes these high levels of consumer confidence. Same-store clients who ran display campaigns saw great revenue and purchase growth, with a 24% year-over-year increase in purchases and an 18% increase in revenue. As consumer confidence continues to rise, brands can continue to expect customers to be continually engaged with both shopping opportunities and deals to take advantage of throughout the remainder of the holiday shopping season.

2. Mobile Devices Make Their Mark

The continued mobile shopping growth in the 2018 Cyber Week shopping period indicates its importance as a strategy for brands to reach consumers who are using these devices with higher frequency. Between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, Rakuten Marketing data showed a 52% YoY increase in mobile-attributed revenue, as well as a 61% increase in purchases made on mobile devices. Rakuten Marketing data found the following insights:

  • On Thanksgiving and Black Friday combined, mobile revenue increased by 50% and purchases up by 57% compared to the previous year.
  • Mobile was especially critical on Thanksgiving, with a 51% and 59% increase in revenue and purchases, respectively. This is likely because mobile shopping empowered holiday shoppers to take advantage of seasonal offers and sale items without disrupting the time spent with their families.
  • Cyber Monday shoppers made 31% of their purchases on a smartphone. Whether they were returning from an extended Thanksgiving weekend or shopping while at work, mobile shopping gave consumers the chance to take advantage of deals in a convenient and accessible fashion.

3. Social Marketing Proves Influential in Display

Social channels were anticipated to play a vital role in the holiday shopping experience. Data from eMarketer noted that 18% of holiday shoppers planned to use social media channels for research before making a purchase, and 49% of Gen Z shoppers planned to use social media for holiday gift ideas and inspiration. Additionally, social media was used by 33% of shoppers to research Black Friday deals, relying on this channel just slightly less than search engines (37%).

Rakuten Marketing data on Cyber Week positively reflected these predictions. On Thanksgiving, social-driven revenue increased by 39% compared to the previous year. The numbers were even higher on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with YoY revenue increases of 48% and 63%, respectively.

Social media has become a powerful tool for both customers and brands. Customers can discover new brands, evaluate the products and get insights that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to find. These platforms allow customers to discuss the products with one another in a social setting, as well as ask questions and get answers. Finally, social platforms can help brands tap new potential customers, or help customers find new brands.

cyber week 2018 affiliate marketing results and data

Cyber Week 2018 Affiliate Marketing Results

1. Devices That Drive Results

Device usage during Cyber Week was crucial not only to understanding consumer behavior in the affiliate channel, but also to better understand consumer preference when placing an order. Rakuten Marketing Affiliate data evaluated device usage during Cyber Week (Wednesday, November 21 to Tuesday, November 27) and identified the following trends:

  • Desktop: Desktop devices were used by consumers an average of 64% of the time during the week to place orders, peaking on Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday.
  • Mobile: Mobile devices averaged 31% of all orders during Cyber Week, with the highest amount of usage for orders taking place on Thanksgiving.
  • Tablets: Tablets were used to place orders 5% of the time on average, with the most amount of usage coming on Thanksgiving and the Sunday of Cyber Week.

Observation of this data on a day-by-day breakdown shares more key insights – and explanations – into consumer preferences.

  • Desktops were used most often during Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday, with customers placing 67% and 70% of total orders, respectively, on desktop computers during those two days. This indicates that shoppers were likely back home from any holiday travel and potentially shopping while at work, where they would be at their desks and able to browse and purchase throughout the day.
  • Mobile devices were more commonly used for orders on Thanksgiving throughout the weekend of Cyber Week. This is likely due to shoppers looking to make quick purchases for deals they find while they sit with their families on Thanksgiving, or to “shop on the go” during the weekend. Mobile devices could also have been potentially used for webroom shopping – shoppers heading in-store to see the product with their own eyes, and then price compare for the best deal and make the purchase right from their phone.
  • Tablets were used primarily around the same time as mobile devices – during Thanksgiving and Cyber Weekend – but had less orders than mobile devices.

Brands looking to leverage this information should consider that holiday shoppers will likely be continuing to shop through these devices, but may lean more into one depending on if they’re shopping from the comfort of their home (or office), or if they’re travelling, and build a strategy accordingly.

2. The Holidays Come Even Earlier

The holidays seem to come earlier every year, but this Cyber Week saw a push into the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving day – and the results were phenomenal.

Several brands began offering Black Friday deals and savings exclusively online starting Wednesday evening (EST), promoting that these deals will be the same as on Friday but available digitally before the stores. Shoppers jumped at the opportunity to shop with these brands, and this effort more than doubled in year-over-year click growth, according to Rakuten Marketing Affiliate data.

There’s little surprise in shoppers looking to take advantage of Black Friday deals without hesitation, but this does indicate an important behavior for brands to be aware of in future Cyber Week shopping periods. Shoppers want to know they’re getting the best deals they can, and they want to take advantage of them quickly before inventory runs out or they miss the deal. Other shoppers want to get their shopping done early, and the earlier promotions provides the incentive needed to make the purchase. As with previous trends that saw the rollout of Black Friday deals before Black Friday, this one may be a viable strategy for years to come.

3. Total Orders in Key Affiliate Marketing Verticals

Cyber Week shoppers are looking for a torrent of different products both as gifts for loved ones and as purchases for themselves. The variety of different products in different verticals can be opportunistic for brands if they know how to position their deals to the right customers, as well as understand when customers are most likely to shop for particular products in particular verticals.

The following Rakuten Marketing data examined affiliate-driven performance in key holiday verticals during Cyber Week. We examined total orders from key verticals in a year-over-year analysis, breaking down performance by both day and hour to identify when certain order surges happened, as well as measure year-over-year growth. The data evaluated is same store, year-over-year total orders by day.

These trends included:

  • Apparel & accessories saw largely the same order trends this Cyber Week compared to 2017. However, orders increased during key shopping times on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in a year-over-year comparison. Total orders grew on Black Friday by 5%, and on Cyber Monday total orders grew by 16%. This indicates that while purchases largely remained the same, the dates where shopping was biggest also saw a substantial increase in year-over-year growth.
  • Department stores saw a change from 2017, when there was a sharp increase in orders starting Thanksgiving Day at 12:00 am (EST) which lasted for a handful of hours. This was likely due to Black Friday sales going live at midnight on the Thursday before Black Friday, motivating shoppers to shop earlier. This year, however, purchases started earlier, on Wednesday evening, and caused shoppers to start shopping earlier and for a longer period of time compared to 2017. The total orders for Wednesday increased by 40% year-over-year, thanks in part to sales going live earlier. This indicates that holiday shoppers are ready to purchase products at the first sign of deals, and are willing to shop longer with a brand if the deals are available at a more reasonable time (such as when more shoppers are likely to still be awake, as opposed to midnight).
  • Consumer electronics had a very a strong showing this past Cyber Week, with many shoppers jumping on popular products such as sound bars, tablets, video games and cameras during the week to take advantage of steep discounts and deals. Overall, total orders in consumer electronics was up compared to 2017, but there was a noticeable jump of 132% increases in total orders on Wednesday and a 30% increase on Thanksgiving. Much like with department stores, this is likely due to products going on sale earlier Wednesday evening.
  • Video games had a strong and impressive Cyber Week compared to 2017, thanks in part to earlier deals, steeper discounts, and excitement over the latest video game consoles and software. Big winners will be noted in our “popular products” category below, but as you can see from the graph representation that Wednesday evening and Sunday evening were the two biggest upticks in video game orders compared to 2017, growing 56% and 63% YoY in total orders, respectively. Cyber Monday saw an overall increase in total orders compared to the previous year as well, growing 91% in total orders compared to last year.

4. Popular Products Among Holiday Shoppers

A key question every brand wants to know is what products are holiday shoppers looking to purchase? Using Rakuten Marketing affiliate data, some of the most popular products during Cyber Week were identified. Below are some of these products, along with insights on the potential reason for their popularity:

  • iPads: Apple recently released a new model of the iPad Pro product line, which meant shoppers could take advantage of the latest tablet technology, or shop for previous generations at a discounted price. Shoppers took advantage of these discounted models during Cyber Week, and the iPad was one of the most popular discounted products during Cyber Week. The 32 GB model was the most popular among all iPad models, which likely indicates that people were taking advantage of older models at the lowest available cost.
  • Video Games: Some of the most sought-after products this year are video games. Yearly installments of Call of Duty and Madden Football were big sellers, but games like Red Dead Redemption II and Spider Man were extremely popular due to their recent releases, high anticipation among consumers, and critical acclaim. Nintendo also continued to make waves with the Nintendo Switch console. With more availability than last year the console generated a lot of sales, and console-exclusive software like Super Smash Bros Ultimate were hot sellers. Super Smash Bros is especially interesting as the game itself hadn’t released by Cyber Week, meaning all the sales generated for the Nintendo-character beat-‘em-up were from pre-orders. Both the PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch were extremely popular consoles to purchase.
  • Voice-Assistants: Google Home products were a top-selling item this past Cyber Week. This was likely because, while most shoppers could purchase a Google Home device on its own, the device was being paired with cookware as a promotional attachment.
  • Electronics: Sound bars made a surprise appearance as one of the most popular consumer electronics purchased during Cyber Week, with a variety of models and deals from different retailers available. This could be due to either the steep discounts offered on these home audio purchases, or purchased in tandem with a heavily-discounted 4K television. Drones were highly popular, thanks in part the increased number of non-electronic merchants selling these popular items. Cameras and hoverboards both also peaked in the top products, with the former being especially big with teenagers.
  • Toys for Kids: It wouldn’t be the holiday season without purchases for the kids, and this year the most popular children’s toys were Minecraft-related toys, Hatchimals, or anything Barbie, Disney or Pokemon. Fingerlings were also a big seller for kids. For younger children and toddlers, Paw Patrol-themed items, Playskol products, and Melissa and Doug toys were hot sellers.
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