Here’s to the Most Online Holiday Season…Ever: A Look Inside Cyber 5

December 4, 2020

What’s one word we haven’t heard much in 2020? Certainty. But one thing marketers were certain about going into the biggest retail season of the year was that a lot more holiday shopping would be done online this year.

How much exactly? Ah, that’s the billion dollar question – $100.3 billion and counting, actually, per Adobe Digital Insights. That’s more than halfway to a projected $189 billion for the whole season, as of Cyber Monday.

Like many retailers, ForwardPMX clients have been challenged to thrive amidst a tidal wave of changing consumer behavior in the prior two quarters. Priorities have shifted. Consumer behaviors and preferences have evolved. The pace of that evolution has expedited the need for brands and retailers to adapt to the changing landscape immediately, and paid search, specifically, has reignited in a way that hasn’t been seen in years.

This year, ForwardPMX U.S. clients’ holiday SEM is tracking at 34% growth season to date.


We’re all excited to see this level of growth happening, but we know you haven’t come here only to read about our clients’ successful season thus far. You’re here to dig into some of the trends we’ve seen over the big Cyber 5.

Here’s what we’ve identified so far:

Cyber 5 Key Trends

  • The first BIG swing that retailers noted coming out of Cyber 5 was the shift in the buying timeline. While the #1 and #2 days for sales volume remain Cyber Monday and Black Friday, shopping and BUYING kicked off earlier in November than in years past, with the biggest growth days of the month happening prior to Thanksgiving. This early season growth started to show itself last year and even years prior, but boy did it pick up this year.

  • Shopping continues to grow in SERP real estate and retail budget allocation, and that growth continued this year, growing 25% YoY in traffic contribution to total paid search.
  • CPCs over Cyber 5 were down YoY largely thanks to lower CPCs in Shopping programs.
  • .Smart shopping campaigns in particular contributed to the lower CPCs for Shopping but are still driving equally or more efficient demand.
  • In addition to holiday shopping happening earlier, other slow-moving trends over the past few years were expedited as well:
    • Mobile growth continues to outpace desktop and tablet
    • Shopping campaigns were the biggest driver of growth
    • BOPIS (Buy Online Pick Up in Store) was a HUGE win for retailers that implemented it

What now?

All this sales growth early in the season clearly means that some sales were pulled forward from Black Friday and Cyber Monday – but those days and the ones surrounding them still grew at rates that haven’t been achievable in years, precisely because of their scale. But what about the late season? Have sales been so far pulled forward by promotions all November that they partly cannibalized the next few weeks? Or is e-commerce now growing at such a clip from pandemic-spurred, but here-to-stay behaviors, that growth will continue?

And what of shipping deadlines? Sales typically see a late season bump anywhere from a week to 10 days before Christmas. If that deadline-induced bump still occurs, will concerns over delivery delays mean the natural shipping deadline fall several days earlier than usual? It seems possible…perhaps even likely. Our challenge as marketers: how do we keep pushing right up to the last moment and make this cutoff as late as is practical?

Remember how we talked about certainty, and how rare it’s been this year? 2020 has taught us to not only expect the unexpected, but to be ready to respond QUICKLY. To make your way through the rest of holiday 2020, ForwardPMX recommends:

1. Don’t wait to capture you customer by sitting on budgets for better days in the future. If you’ve got an offer in market, the ability to ship, and /or the efficiency your business demands, fund your program now. Capture your sales NOW. Consumer behavior has changed so much in the past 8 months.  Don’t assume better days are still to come if you can have a great day today.

2. Be ready to respond QUICKLY and NIMBLY. Have a contingency plan ready to execute for potential changes around budgets, shipping and promotions.

ForwardPMX Holiday Performance updates leverage performance data across a diverse mix of retail brands in the U.S. from bid management platforms such as DoubleClick Search and Kenshoo. All data has been anonymized to protect confidentiality.

And Paul Freibott
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