Black Friday is the biggest day of the year for retailers, and as digital marketers this is our Superbowl, our Champions League Final, the time of the year we spend the most on Google and hopefully make the most too.
It has been a volatile few years in ecommerce with a pandemic and a cost of living crisis having huge affects on how consumers purchase. At Shoptimised we are able to look into the performance of thousands of accounts over the Black Friday period to get a great insight into trends and performance.
Before we look at Black Friday 2023, let’s take a look at performance from past years, both leading up to Black Friday, on Black Friday and after.
Black Friday 2019 fell on the last working day of the month and was therefore Payday for many. Whereas Black Friday 2020 took place during a Government enforced lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year Black Friday saw record average cost per clicks on Google, which increased slightly further on Cyber Monday despite the Average Order Value lowering. CPCs were up 22% year on year on Black Friday, and up 63% from 5 years ago. The rise in cost per click has been the biggest influence on Black Friday, with clicks being up only 7% during Black Friday, and in the week leading up, only a 1% difference in clicks, but a 19% increase in cost per click.
This shows that traffic was fairly identical to 2022 but with a spike on Black Friday that continued over the weekend before dropping back to 2022 levels the day after Cyber Monday, the issue was the cost, which resulted in the lowest ROI for Black Friday since 2013.
Although cost was up 32%, revenue was also up by 28% with average order values soaring by 31%. Whilst this still resulted in a slight drop in ROI, it still made 2023 the biggest Black Friday ever for both Google and retailers.
High spending continued the day after Black Friday with a large drop in revenue, while it was still a strong day for traffic, the purchase intent wasn’t there, this trend also occurred in 2022 and 2021. But, not enough advertisers adjusted budget over the weekend to address the drop in demand.
Moving on to Sunday and there was a pick up in revenue and ROI along with Cyber Monday then a drop off in clicks, conversions and ROI on Tuesday with average order values dropping 22% to finish off the month.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the two days most synonymous with this period and both were the most expensive days to advertise on. Cyber Monday had an even higher CPC than Black Friday, although average order value and ROI were down in comparison.
The Sunday after Black Friday drove the second highest revenue over the weekend which was ahead of Cyber Monday and it also had the cheapest cost per click, resulting in a stronger ROAS.
Cyber Monday failed to live up to expectations, whilst the Saturday after Black Friday performed poorly with many retailers wasting too much budget on this day.
The Saturday after Black Friday does historically drop, but even armed with that historical data there wasn’t enough budget management applied to address that drop.
We analysed the Change History within both Standard Shopping and Performance Max and then broke each of these down by % of Cost against management.
Whilst Standard Shopping received more oversight over the Black Friday/Cyber Sales period, there was still a lack of management on the Saturday after Black Friday.
We also compared the performance of Standard Shopping vs. Performance Max and despite Standard Campaigns receiving more attention, Performance Max was the winner. When comparing the P.Max ROAS, it consistently outperformed Standard Shopping with consistently lower Cost per Clicks.
But this was largely driven by inflated Cost per Clicks within Standard Shopping due to use of Target ROAS settings.
Our data is showing that Black Friday was alive and well, although more expensive than ever for both consumers and retailers. We reached out to some of our favorite agencies to see how they found Black Friday and what strategies they implemented - One of the key topics was budget pacing.
Nicki Eggie at Reload Digital saw hugely successful campaigns with clients making 27% more revenue year on year and with organisation and budget pacing being the key to success.
We rolled out budget pacers for our clients whereby we looked at their 2023 performance over Nov + Dec and grouped the pacing by 'promo period' and then looked at % of revenue attributed to each of those periods and compared it to % of cost, and then took learning into this year. For instance if during BFCM last year we spent 20% of the budget but returned 30% of revenue, then this tells us we needed to spend more.
Kevin Sung at Bonded Agency focussed on a strong client relationship for pacing budgets with ‘Most of our clients had BFCM pacing plans , some down to forecasted daily spends so there was levels of daily budget shifting and increasing/decreasing however fundamental strategy was already planned and set, so no major strategic shifts unless impacted by inventory levels ‘
Kevin tried a few other strategies splitting out his PMAX campaigns in a few different ways.
We often hear of bleeders/potential/leaders as a common approach and in a perfect world this would work autonomously across the entirety of the feed. However, knowing the ‘hungry’ behaviour of PMax hunting conversions and targets and often product trend/ seasonality nuances are completely lost so splits above and beyond the above are necessary.
Examples: at product category level, trending product levels (based on % uplifts over short periods), underexposed products, high value low CVR%. In short, a custom split approach per client that enabled us to fulfil business needs, capture shifts in trends autonomously whilst also forcing / reigning visibility in of products based on business data we know should be seasonally performing at a level that PMax hasn’t yet had data to factor in.
Wes Parker at Demand More took a 3 step approach in the build up to the Black Friday week - We took a three pronged approach to budget management over the period. Firstly we relaxed ROAS targets to allow the campaigns to scale further while uncapping budgets to ensure that we wouldn’t miss impressions at key high conversion periods. Furthermore, we applied a +30% seasonality adjustment to the account to prepare our bid strategies for the expected increase in conversion rate. We weighted budgets heavily towards Black Friday week where we spent 37% more than the week prior.
Wes followed up with what strategies worked well for him and Demand More - There were a few strategies that we saw work well. An early start, with Black Friday sales going live on the 16th. We tried a couple of different offers as well that worked well, aside from the usual X amount off deals. Free gifts worked well, when we implemented this we saw a 34% increase in conversion rate across the products with the offer. We also saw promising results offering a discount on a years supply of product for a reusable wipes brand that resulted in an uplift in AOV of 10%.
Wes’ key takeaways for this year - A couple of key takeaways. Firstly we can see from CVR that users are waiting Black Friday, there was a clear slump in CVR when we looked at our data in the first part of November. Though we did see strong uplifts in CVR during the Black Friday period. Interestingly we saw the week before Black Friday perform almost as well as Black Friday week with only an 18% difference in ROAS.
On some accounts we saw that the potential to scale conversions and revenue through Performance Max was large but ROAS fell slightly. For example, for a fitness equipment brand we saw a 47% increase in AOV and a 151% increase in revenue but a 2% fall in ROAS due to a 157% increase in spend.
Kyle Johnson at 26 Agency also built seasonality adjustments into their strategy - We utilised Seasonaility adjustments in 2 ways, to push harder from black Friday through to Monday, and then we had negative seasonaility adjustments on certain accounts to get CPCs down from Tuesday where CvR was quite a bit lower. In previous years, we just allowed the auction time bidding to pick this up.
Kyle’s key takeaway was a shift in consumer behavior - There is still a uptake in performance/intent but we have seen it’s the new start of Christmas gift shopping period. Previously this would happen from the start of December.
Ahmed Chopdat and the team at Circus PPC utilised Google Ads scripts to make sure shopping inventory was update by fetching the Shopping Feed hourly - We did use scripts for some clients to ensure the feed was pulled more often - especially when they were making hourly changes and continued - Whilst Google may say ‘don’t make too many changes and let the automation do its thing,’ we still have to manipulate the automation and make it do what we want it to do, so it’s important to be on top of this. Especially in a month which for some clients drives more revenue than an average quarter of the year.
Ahmed’s offered his key takeaways for this Black Friday - This year we prepared very well and our clients were prepared very well, which made the day much easier. The biggest takeaway for the team this year was budget pacing and ensuring you don’t react too quickly - which PPC professionals can be guilty of some time. The data does take longer during Black Friday with Google taking longer to report back at times, so holding your nerve and keeping an eye on the backend data is also very handy.
Tom Walkden at IDHL saw similar performance to ourselves commenting - Over the four day period, despite earlier indications that the event would be much slower than previous, it’s encouraging to see that our client base achieved a 30% increase in revenue, alongside a 20% increase in ROAS. Supported by higher AOV due to lower discounts and higher intent to purchase noted through a 29% higher Conversion Rate. Cost of sale decreased 10%, and ROAS up 20%. A positive four-day period for our client base. That’s not to say, of course, that all industries saw similar.
We had fantastic results in the Home Décor category with clients seeing revenue increases of up to 140%, but to achieve numbers like this carefully considered plans were put in place and ROAS sacrificed to support growth. In Fashion accessories we saw equally strong numbers with some clients seeing revenue uplifts of 47% with relatively stable ROAS.
Tom also looked into other channels - In terms of channels, Pinterest has very much been the biggest area of growth for us, with some excellent returns made possible through integrated social and paid strategies. Both Google, and Facebook saw marginal increases in spend and both delivered strong transaction and revenue growth against the previous year, but the importance of stronger AOV’s shouldn’t be under-estimated as discounts were significantly softer this year.
Finally we asked our agencies if Black Friday was alive and well, and the answer was a resounding yes, although with cost per clicks rising at a faster rate than ever before we have to be wary of how Black Friday will continue to progress each year. Spend is at an all time high, so too is average order value but Google’s cost per clicks are rising faster than revenue at this point so if that trend continues advertisers are going to have to get a lot more savvy about how budgets are spent as they battle against rising CPCs and need to be efficient a possible over the Black Friday weekend.