Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Robert Webster: Why adtech cost retailers billions on Black Friday

Rob Webster is Founder of  Canton Marketing Solutions. He’s worked in the adtech industry since 2001 and is NDA’s monthly columnist.

Last year for Black Friday consumers spent $6.2 billion online according to Adobe Analytics. Early indications are that this year was even bigger. Consequently, retailers were spending huge sums on Black Friday on digital advertising. Over 40% of these users are on Safari and Firefox according to Sub2 Technologies (a technology, data and delivery company looking after thousands of retailers).

With the much talked about ITP and similar protocols much of adtech is not able to target or report on these browsers properly leaving retailers blind. Even worse some adtech companies are actively recommending retailers not to run advertising on these browsers because of the tracking issues, meaning that retailers are missing out on billions in potential sales.

These adtech companies instead recommend running on In-App activity for mobile. Yet this is not a reasonable replacement for users on mobile Safari or Firefox and not at all for desktop Safari! With regards to in-app, many retailers don’t run apps or have yet to install adequate tracking on their app activity (the poor state of in-app tracking and marketing is for another column).

Even when this is effective it does not change the fact that consumers are spending a large amount of time on the mobile web and desktop browsers out of the reach of cookies. These are the same consumers who have paid a lot of money for high end smartphones and desktops that these browsers typically live on and so just the sort of people so many retailers want to talk to.

Therefore, to simply ignore these audience environments is to see retailers miss out on opportunities worth billions. The quickest way for retailers to visualise the drop is to look in web analytics at how many sales they drive year on year in these browsers and do a year-on-year comparison — in almost every case they see a big drop in year-on-year results when compared with the results in Chrome.

This wastage though is needless as there are plenty of good ways to run activity on these environments and not all adtech players are guilty. By working with experts who are able to think laterally this actually creates an opportunity because these environments are undervalued and so can be acquired more cheaply than elsewhere.

Opted-in users from CRM lists can be used to target users on publishers in a compliant fashion — this technique having the benefit in that it can also show the attribution of new subscribers. Utilising data such as context, location, time and device can be used — post-click measurement used as a base and calibrated for the lost post impression data.

Metrics such as in view dwell time can be a key optimisation effort to this activity to keep media effective. Extra effort can and should be pushed into reaching these users with video to maximise on latent demand. Equally advertisers can and should be spending more money in-app to drive new purchases.

Indeed, the number of solutions to this conundrum is only limited to the ability of the strategist and buyer to think outside the box. At Canton we have seen that retailers that take on these techniques can dramatically boost their sales figures.

With such a huge upside for running better advertising this way why are not more doing it? There are a few reasons, many adtech companies that don’t have a solution are often eager to hide this better way as it might result in them losing business. Equally the fact that so many buyers are stretched means they do not have the time to investigate new techniques. Legacy attribution means that even for those that do they are often not rewarded as the increase in sales is not recognised.

For retailers though that want to capitalise on this demand there is a better way. Some improvements need new technology setups, others though can be done simply through changes in buying strategy with talented programmatic buyers.

Retailers may have lost out on Black Friday but there is time to react and pickup these lost customers for Christmas. Happy hunting!