Over the last 18 months, digital marketers have gotten used to pivoting strategies to mitigate supply chain interruptions and missing or delayed inventory.
“We’ve been kind of having fire drills every day for the last 18 months,” says Deirdre Kelly, director of acquisitions at jewelry and accessories online retailer Pura Vida.
The key, she says, is making sure the customer doesn’t realize it.
This holiday season, digital marketers contended with an uncertain supply chain, delayed deliveries and the iOS privacy protection measure. The message retailers sent to shoppers was clear: buy early or risk going without. As early as October, retailers like Coach began sending notifications, notifying customers of possible inventory shortages and shipping delays.
Online retailers Pura Vida, Christmas Central, MVMT, Acme Tools and ADAY share some marketing strategies intended to drive shoppers to shop on their websites earlier this year. Those strategies include adjusting the timing of promotion rollouts to offset unexpected inventory shortages or shipment delays, reassessing how to invest advertising dollars across social media channels and taking care not to inundate customers with updates.
Once shoppers were in full swing of Thanksgiving-shopping mode, marketers pivoted to focus on in-stock items. Out-of-stock messages increased 250% in October 2021 compared to a pre-pandemic period (January 2021), according to Adobe Digital Economy Index. When compared to October 2019, out-of-stock messages are up a staggering 325% in October 2021. Consumers saw over 2 billion out-of-stock messages online in October.
Brands should tailor content and marketing campaigns around products with available inventory for the holidays to maximize what is in stock, says Tucker Matheson, managing partner and co-founder at digital strategy firm Markacy. He added that they should also actively monitor return rates, customer service responses and set clear expectations for consumers about inventory and shipment timelines.
“Many shoppers are still willing to wait for their preferred products, as long as brands are upfront about the timeline,” Matheson says.
The beauty of digital marketing, says Chris Costello, senior director of marketing research at Skai, a marketing insights company, is it is “fairly well-suited to adaptation in real time,” he says. If a retailer doesn’t have the inventory available, marketers can switch off ads for those items and focus on in-stock merchandise. That’s unlike TV ad buys or other traditional advertising methods that require more lead time, he says.
Pura Vida manages behind-the-scenes uncertainty
Last year, coronavirus-related shipping delays resulted in Pura Vida receiving its fall merchandise or Black Friday items after the holidays, Kelly says. To prevent that from happening again, this year, the accessories retailer has planned “way, way in advance,” she says, without revealing the retailer’s typical ordering schedule.
The supply chain issues have also caused the jewelry retailer to move its shipping cut-off dates—or the last day a shopper can purchase and receive the product in time for Christmas—earlier this year.
“We used to be able to do Dec. 15 or even Dec. 18 prior to 2020,” Kelly says. Pura Vida relies on its shipping carriers for shipping estimates before it shares that information with customers. “Right now, we’re looking for standard shipping cut-off dates more like Dec. 9—so that’s a big difference.”
The online retailer offers personalization for many of its gifts, and the cut-off date to receive personalized items by Christmas this year is Dec. 2. That gives Pura Vida even less time to sell its customized products and be able to ship in time for Christmas, “so that’s kind of a big mess for us,” she says.
“We’ve struggled with preorders (from suppliers) because the promised shipping dates and estimated time of arrival timelines have moved around so much these past 12-18 months, so we’re very particular about what we’ll set for preorder,” Kelly says. “We’ll pay more for expensive air freight shipping in order to be confident we’ll have inventory when we need it.”
And no matter how much planning is involved, some products inevitably “get stuck somewhere in customs,” Kelly says. When that happens, Kelly says Pura Vida pivots its message to customers by sharing updated expected shipping dates on its website.
To offset earlier shipping cut-off dates, Kelly says Pura Vida plans to emphasize gift cards “to react to that dead time after shipping cut-off dates and also promote express shipping,” she says.
To reach potential customers, Pura Vida is diversifying beyond Facebook and Instagram, due in part to Apple’s iOS changes. “Last year, Facebook and Instagram were between 85% and 90% of our total media mix,” Kelly says.
This year, Pura Vida plans to reallocate 10-15% of that marketing budget to more video-focused platforms, TikTok and YouTube. “We still use Facebook because while Instagram does drive traffic to our site, Facebook brings in about 20% higher AOVs compared to Instagram. iOS14 also certainly hit us quite hard, but Facebook is still our biggest discovery channel.”
The online retailer also uses social media to poll customers and ask which items to restock sooner than others. “Meanwhile, we are furiously working on it behind the scenes,” she says, “but we’re fueling the appetite for those items on social and once it’s back in stock, we can alert our customers.”
SMS texting is another way Pura Vida can reach customers who have provided their cellphone numbers. “We’ll be doing a lot of SMS messages this holiday season where we mix up the headline to offer gift-giving guidance or share a link to items that are $15, for instance,” Kelly says. “Or ‘This category starts at $10,’” rather than send links to general landing pages or the homepage.
Christmas arrives early at Christmas Central
Average order value is up at holiday décor retailer Christmas Central, says Laura Gordon, director of communications. “Everything is up this year,” she adds.
In October 2021, Christmas Central’s online orders increased by 83% compared with October 2020. As of the week ending Nov. 5, AOV was up 60% compared to the same week in 2020.
“People have been hearing about supply and demand issues from so many sources,” Gordon says. “We definitely saw more orders in October 2021 than we usually do.”
Gordon credits the jump in part to corporate clients that purchase more expensive commercial items, such as large Christmas trees for the office or lobby. Clients did not buy these items last year because of lockdown orders which resulted in office shutdowns and people working from home.
Like other merchants, this year, Christmas Central bought inventory early. “And we bought in deep quantities,” Gordon says.
Emphasizing transparency to shoppers is also key to providing a better customer experience, she says. “There is nothing worse than if somebody has an idea that they’re going to get something on time and they don’t,” Gordon says.
The message Christmas Central has been putting out to shoppers through email and social media is that it has inventory available.
Christmas Central primarily invests its marketing spend in Google and Bing ads. Shoppers also find the retailer organically while searching for holiday décor ideas on Pinterest, for example, by pinning ideas onto their boards. The retailer also posts videos on TikTok and Instagram without investing in paid ads.
Tools and equipment online retailer Acme Tools also uses Facebook and Google Ads to promote its in-stock items for the holiday season, and then relies on its website to communicate shipping deadlines, says Dean Spicer, chief technology officer.
MVMT’s crucial fourth quarter
For brands like watch retailer MVMT, the holidays are integral as Q4 typically brings in about 50% of the brand’s total yearly revenue.
In response to supply chain disruptions, MVMT once again expanded the period in which it offers “Black Friday” discounts to several weeks as it did last year. MVMT offered a site-wide pre-Black Friday 25% discount code for all shoppers Nov. 1-21.
The longer promotional period is also an attempt to grab more sales, as MVMT anticipates stronger competition from other accessory brands. “I think you’re going to see steeper discounts across the board [from other brands] and a wider timeframe to really allow a global audience to get their gifts on time and have their expectations met,” Stumbaugh says.
Currently, MVMT integrates its products on Instagram by tagging them, allowing consumers to tap and be re-directed to buy from MVMT’s website without leaving the Instagram app. MVMT has a “fair amount of conversions” on social platforms, Stumbaugh says, without revealing more.
Social media continues to be a driver for MVMT, and the brand is now focused on creating its marketing materials for social media and mobile devices. This is a switch from just six years ago, as back in 2015, 75% of MVMT’s orders were placed by customers using desktop computers, Stumbaugh says.
MVMT is owned by Movado Group Inc., No. 316 on Digital Commerce 360’s Top 1000. Operating within its parent company’s supply chain, MVMT can tap into Movado’s established network of legacy relationships with suppliers, which has alleviated shipping-related headaches.
ADAY carefully times its product launches
The pandemic forced ADAY to rethink its promotion strategy in 2020 after it was left with an excess of suits when people stopped going into the office. The brand focused on buy one get one (BOGO) promotions, which helped it sell the suits. This year, ADAY shifted to up to 30% off select styles and a tier-priced promotion, in which the more a customer buys, the bigger the discount is. As of November 2021, customers could save 15% on orders of $250 or more, save 20% on orders of $500 or more, and save 30% on orders of $800 or more.
As a smaller retailer, Davis says the brand can quickly adjust its marketing messages to keep customers informed about product launches and holiday-related promotions.
“We’re nimble in terms of managing expectations and are careful to never message about a new product launch until we’re absolutely sure that we can ship the product to customers within four weeks,” she says.
ADAY waits until items are in the warehouse before announcing a product launch. A pre-launch window is four weeks. “At that point, we know the items have already passed quality control and we know based on historical timelines that it’s going to reach our warehouse within a really short period.”
While the brand expects shoppers to holiday shop in November, it’s holding back on publishing shipping deadlines for the holidays until December.
“We are planning to start publishing that information in December,” Davis says. “Any sooner and it’s information overload because between Singles Day (Nov. 11) and then Black Friday and Cyber Monday—it can just be a lot.”
Planning beyond the Cyber 5
When brands plan promotions and marketing budgets for the holiday season, Chris Jones, Markacy managing partner and co-founder says it’s important not to make the mistake of exhausting promotions and budgets by Christmas.
“There are still several weeks they should plan for,” Jones says. “Once shipping cutoffs for Christmas begin through the end of January—the period known as Q5—is an opportunity for brands to capture customers who are still excited about shopping and have money to spend.”
He adds that this is a period when it typically costs much less to advertise than the weeks leading up to Christmas. “This is partially due to elevated conversion rates in combination with lower advertising costs,” says Jones.