How Product Shortages and an Extended Shopping Season Affect Holiday Marketing

This year’s holiday season looks as unpredictable as 2020, but a host of new questions are testing retailers’ ability to stay afloat.

As in 2020, this year’s holiday theme is unpredictable, say retail experts. As a result, marketers must be agile and respond to old and new challenges while trying to do more with less.

COVID-19 has irreversibly changed the way people discover and buy, now adding the strengths of Delta’s compounds, breaking the chain, and changing consumer sentiment towards the already complex puzzle. Retailers looking to adapt to rising demand are adapting by shifting the momentum of vacation-related marketing, cutting advertising budgets, bypassing product-specific creativity, and adopting a “neutral but confident” tone.

“Ironically, [unpredictability] is the only thing we can look at and work with last year. But don’t use the same terms as last year,” said Chris Costello, senior director of marketing research at Skai, formerly known as Kenshoo.

Scarcity and an extended season push retailers

E-commerce has blurred the boundaries of the traditional shopping period at the end of the year. In late October, several retailers joined Prime Day, starting and extending the shopping season. That initial momentum is back this year, with retailers like Amazon, Target, and others offering deals faster than ever to maximize their sales.

“As consumers shop early in the season, awareness investments can pay off by getting customers to shop earlier while supplies are still available,” said Jared Blank, marketing director for digital commerce platform VTEX.

Home Depot, for example, sold out its early release of Halloween decorations in August, an indication that consumers may also have a similar appetite for Christmas decorations.

“We can’t wait a week or two before Black Friday. It’s time, and I think it’s a trend that’s been emerging in recent years, but last year it was a real success,” says Mike. Ferris, vice president of North Face’s global brand management team.

Attract consumer sensitivity

With many factors in the supply chain beyond their control, some marketers have also had to simplify their messaging approach. Brands across all industries are responding by producing different versions of creative assets in preparation for the different scenarios the holiday season can bring. Extremely creative and flexible messaging allows marketers to switch campaigns more quickly, while data-driven tools can help avoid inefficient spending on out-of-stock promotions and a poor user experience.

“During the holiday season, brands are rethinking their advertising strategies and moving away from specific product advertising because of supply chain issues that make it difficult to predict whether inventory will be available,” said VankX Blank.

Do more with less

As the cost of digital advertising continues to rise, retail brands are exploring new ways – and re-emerging in more traditional channels – to advertise products and diversify their marketing. Tighter budgets and enduring habits fueled by the pandemic are forcing retailers to focus on full-funnel deals this season.

“With this e-commerce explosion, location becomes very important,” says Costello. “It’s simply having the resources to influence shoppers at every stage of their shopping and vacation planning, and it requires a bigger footprint than just being there when they’re on-site to shop.”

Meeting these expectations during the buyer’s journey is challenging, but marketers can maintain a solid foundation over the holidays by prioritizing the basics: solid user experience, fast load times, detailed FAQs, and clear, consistent messages.

“Communicating how an engaging shopping experience is evolving is important as part of the marketing message,” said Ferris.