On Cyber Monday, Amazon celebrated its annual tradition of breaking all previous sales records. But true to form, the ecommerce giant was not content to stop there. Shortly after the dust had settled from Cyber 5, Amazon announced it would be extending free holiday shipping through December 18th for all customers (not just Amazon Prime members).
The real value of the Cyber 5 weekend – the 5-day period from Thanksgiving Thursday to Cyber Monday – is not its proven ability to break records year after year, it's its role as a launching pad for the holiday shopping season. Amazon's primary goal isn't to break records on Cyber Monday, it's to keep that high traffic going after Cyber Monday and maintain it through the rest of the holiday season.
At the time, Amazon's leading suppliers are participating in 'Cyber creep' – experiment with extended promotions in the days before Black Friday and after Cyber Monday. Brand manufacturers are looking for new strategic and creative ways to stand out among the unprecedented amount of promotions during Cyber 5, and this holiday season has proven some of these strategies successful.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the opening notes of the holiday season symphony. The brands that nail those notes set themselves up for success in December, the most highly-trafficked retail season of the year. With this in mind, let's see who's winning on Amazon.com this holiday season – and how they're pulling it off.
Before we get any further, we have to mention toys. According to the retailer's own figures, Amazon sold over 18 million toys during the Cyber 5 weekend. Over the full two-week period (the Monday before Thanksgiving through the Sunday following Cyber Monday) the Toys product group earned over $400 million in sales according to our estimates. For each individual toy category, sales grew by at least 30% during Black Friday week compared to the pre-promo weekly average and grew again by 50% during Cyber Monday week – as much as doubling or tripling their sales.
All in all, the Toys product group brought in more than twice as much in sales as the next largest product group during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday period. And all brand manufacturers should care – even if they have nothing to do with toys.
The Everything Store
Toys don't exist in a vacuum. The closure of Toys R Us has driven even more toy shoppers online and for most of them Amazon is the first choice. Cyber 5 is the first time we're seeing the direct impact of this: the influx of former Toys R Us customers drove the Games category to earn 30% more this year compared to the same period in 2017, beating Amazon's stock growth projections over the holiday shopping season.
Why is this important to manufacturers of furniture, power tools, vacuum cleaners or any other item that has little relation to a toy? Because of traffic.
Amazon's success owes a lot to its reputation as 'the everything store.' It's a huge selling feature all year round but especially during the holidays, when shoppers have lots of gifts to buy and little time to shop. So Toys R Us fans that have now made the switch to Amazon.com are not going to limit themselves to just toys – they're going to fill their shopping carts with gifts for the whole family, their friends and their colleagues (and for themselves too).
A high tide raises all ships. All of Amazon's suppliers and third-party sellers stand to benefit when more people spend more time on the platform, no matter what brought them there in the first place.
Traffic, Traffic, Traffic
In the digital marketplace, a strong start should always be a brand's first priority. Performance is a feedback loop: an above-average performance causes a product to attract more traffic and sales, while a below-average performance can cause a product to quickly disappear under a pile of competitors.
This is especially true during the critical holiday shopping season, widely accepted as beginning with the Cyber 5 promotional period. So a product that stands out on Black Friday is virtually guaranteed to be under the nation's trees on Christmas morning, while a product that has a lackluster Cyber 5 weekend is going to struggle for relevance in December.
For instance, Melissa & Doug has gone from a relatively small brand to one of the country's biggest toymakers with their Amazon-first strategy. This year, they leveraged Cyber 5 to boost their visibility ahead of the holidays using a clever 'Buy X Get Y' promotion. Customers who purchased a Kids' Table and Chair set were offered a 50% discount on select toy items. Melissa & Doug understands the appeal of get Christmas shopping done early and by upselling customers with an attractive discount they were able to cross-promote a variety of products during the very first wave of holiday traffic.
Timing is Everything
Some brands have turned to a new way of standing out: strategic timing. In 2018, seasonal promotions for home furnishing began well before Black Friday, rolling out in October and early November. This pre-Black Friday promo is a smart move on the part of furniture manufacturers. Consumers traditionally associate Cyber 5 with electronics and toys, so to prevent their products from getting buried below the avalanche of tech and toy promotions, furniture brands gave themselves a boost in sales and search rank ahead of time.
The bedroom category in particular benefitted from the added lift, earning more than double in weekly sales compared to 2017. In 2019, a lot of Americans will be sleeping on brand new memory foam mattresses from Tuft & Needle, Lucid, Zinus and others and it will be remembered as one of the most popular gift ideas of the 2018 holiday season.
Interestingly, 'promotion creep' goes in both directions – and can be just as effective in either. Typically one of the most sought after Cyber 5 items is digital cameras and leading brands like Canon and Fujifilm saw their weekly sales more than double during the promo period. Similarly Sandisk, one of the world's largest manufacturers of the flash drives and memory cards necessary for digital cameras to function, also experienced a strong Cyber 5 thanks to heavy promotions which drove a 10x sales increase.
Sandisk ended its promotions after Cyber Monday while Canon and Fujifilm continued to offer discounts. Despite its strong weekend, this caused Sandisk's sales drop after Cyber Monday while the latter brands maintained their high traffic into December. The result was that, as of Black Friday, Canon and Fujifilm controlled 19% and 13% of the Digital Cameras category (which includes SD cards) while by December they had increased their market shares to 28% and 24% respectively.
The go-to digital camera of the 2018 gift-giving season is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9, a pocket-sized camera with a 2x3 built-in printer. Variants of this crowd-pleaser are dominating Santa's list, ranking as the #1 digital camera on Amazon.com with 2 additional variants appearing in the top 5 and another 4 appearing in the top 20 – thanks in part to Fujifilm extending their promotional period past Cyber Monday.
The Gifts that Keep On Giving
It's no surprise that some of the hits of yesteryear have proven to be popular gift choices again this year, from the classic (Barbie DreamHouse, which started the holiday season by earning over $2 million during Cyber 5 alone) to the new favorites (iRobot Roomba, which controls a third of total Floorcare sales). This just goes to show how the visibility and mindshare gained during the holidays, retail's most highly-trafficked time of year, can last throughout the year and well into the following holiday season.
Not only are the holidays not just for kids, they're not just for gifts. The self-gifting trend was bigger than ever last year and is not going away anytime soon, but even beyond self-gifting, the holidays are also an opportunity for any brand to attract the attention of shoppers. For example, consumable products as a whole remain fairly stable throughout the year, since they can only sell as quickly as they can be consumed, but several pet food brands have caught on to the marketing potential of these high-traffic periods. Even in a low-growth category, brands can strategically time their promotions to convert shoppers from their competitors and improve their organic search ranking on Amazon.
The holidays are the culmination of all the hard work that brands have done throughout the year – but it's also time when brands move their pieces into place for the following year, from sales and search rank to consumer awareness to media and publicity. As long as Amazon continues to be the holiday shopping destination of choice for so many millions of Americans, it will remain the best place to watch tomorrow's next big trends take shape.