Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Finding the opportunities in (another) uncertain Cyber Week

By Nick Fletcher, SVP Northern Europe at Rakuten Advertising

Black Friday was joined by Cyber Monday and they then evolved into Cyber Week, which now seems to last months…

Whatever the terminology, it has long been a critical sales period for brands and retailers. In all retail sectors, however, the pandemic caused widespread disruption. We all hoped that 2021 would see a return to some sense of normality (in all areas of life and business). Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like being the case.

Not only has the impact of the pandemic lasted longer than most of us would have foreseen, we’ve seen supply chain disruption caused by extreme weather, labour shortages and even ships getting stuck in canals… The consumer electronics industry has been one which has suffered, not least from the global shortage of semiconductors, which continues to cause issues in the manufacture of products across all sectors. 

Time for a rethink…but not for long

For all the reasons mentioned above, the rapidly-approaching Cyber Week needs a rethink. It remains a sales period with significant potential, but brands and retailers will need to be creative about they navigate around some of this year’s disruption.

The trend has been for the Cyber ‘Week’ sales period to extend to several weeks or even months, and an extended sales period could be particularly useful for retailers still recovering from the offline retail shutdowns of the pandemic. Conversely, a compressed promotional period could exacerbate these issues. 

Firstly – and excuse our bluntness – but it’s time to get off the fence. It seems that some advertisers are holding off on finalising their promotional and affiliate strategies for Cyber Week, in many cases waiting to react to competitor activities. This creates a potentially risky stalemate, with advertisers watching each other, and publishers unable to finalise promotional packages. Placement opportunities will go to those brands that are quick to confirm promotions and exposure packages. Whoever moves first could well find themselves in an advantageous position.

Use an extended sales period to complement a full-funnel approach

One of the strengths of modern affiliate marketing is its ability to reach consumers throughout the entire purchasing journey – from discovery to conversion to advocacy. While Cyber Week itself might provide the focus for conversion, an extended promotional period ahead of this allows advertisers to integrate affiliate models to identify, reach and influence consumers earlier in the customer journey, and to complement existing upper-funnel activity. As Rakuten Advertising International Collective member Matheus Campos from Savings United recently remarked: “Try using a longer-term approach that incorporates top of the funnel strategies through content or social media insights early on and ends with a discount or coupon during key events helps to deliver performance.”

Creating an opportunity from scarcity

Some of the delay in committing to Cyber Week promotions could well be related to worries about a shortage of product supply. How can you promote offers around products you can’t be sure of supplying (with a clear conscience at least)? 

We’re seeing some innovative strategies here. Advertisers are looking at the opportunity to create compelling offers around those products they do have in stock. While these might be slightly older generations of product, to bargain-hungry consumers they can still be attractive. Indeed, virtue can be created around the scarcity of new products: buy a discounted, if older, generation product today and earn loyalty points, coupons or place yourself high up the waiting list for the latest version when supply can be guaranteed.

Staying agile is also essential. Affiliate marketing has never been a ‘set and forget’ activity, but now more than ever adjusting strategies and creative is the key to success. Creating new promotions to drive categories that are low in demand, or to push product lines where there is a surplus in stock, can be an effective strategy to meet customer demand and drive sales. This is where close partnerships and collaboration between advertisers and publishers reaps dividends and allows almost real-time response to changing customer behaviour.

Learning from other sectors

Making the best of what you’ve got can be taken even further. Some brands bring refurbished products to consumers as an alternative to delayed new stock. While this might seem a strange approach in consumer electronics, where the shiny new thing is king, it actually mirrors other sectors. For example, in the automotive industry right now the second-hand car market is incredibly buoyant in the face of the shortage of supply of new cars – good quality used cars from reputable dealers are being snapped up for almost as much, sometimes more, as an unavailable new model. An upgrade is an upgrade, even if not the newest.

Consumer demand is there – and in some cases pent-up: offers and affiliate strategies can effectively sate the demand without risk of damaging premium brand positioning, establishing and maintaining relationships which can deliver future value.

Ducking and diving, bobbing and weaving

Necessity is the mother of invention. The pandemic provided some great lessons in the importance of brands, retailers and publishers innovating around key sales periods, even in the face of disruption and adversity, and to remain agile and responsive.

Perhaps Cyber Week 2021 will be a turning point for retailers and brands, driving them to become more creative in meeting consumer demand and refreshing this key sales period. It might even unlock new strategies and revenue streams that have previously been overlooked.