A week after Amazon Prime Day and a review of the data reveals the two-day shopping extravaganza didn’t just break records for the online commerce giant. It broke new ground for smart retailers who leaned into this annual event to create a deal event of their own or simply doubled-down on campaigns to drive customer connections and sales conversions online and in-app.
As Amazon Prime Day has matured, it has created a new shopping season on mobile that has allowed the e-comm giant to grow both app downloads and the time consumers spend using the app to search and shop. At Apptopia—a company that provides app publishers and developers access to app intelligence worldwide to track costs and conversions globally—Adam Blacker, VP Insights and Global Alliances, did the math (dividing the sessions each year by the corresponding number of hours the Prime Day event is live).
He concludes “sessions are growing year over year at a significant rate.”
“No longer just about Amazon”
A great mobile experience clinched the deal for a wide range of retailers, not just Amazon. A post-Prime-day analysis by Kiri Masters published in Forbes quotes Rob Garf, Salesforce VP of Industry Strategy and Insights, who sheds important light on the increasing impact of mobile, which has established itself as the go-to for consumers looking for shopping inspiration and assistance. Overall, Garf observes, nearly half (49%) of orders and 65% of visits happened on mobile devices across the two-day shopping event. These numbers represent “an impressive 20% year-over-year growth rate” for mobile and mark a “new milestone” for Amazon and all the brands and retailers that piggyback on the annual event to promote their own sales.
Competition for shoppers was hotter than many expected, including RetailMeNot, a leading savings destination providing consumers savings from retailers, brands, restaurants and pharmacies. Ahead of this year’s Prime Day, RetailMeNot had forecast that 250 retailers would get in on the action with their own counter-sales and offers, and in the end, well over 300 retailers participated. That’s up 55 % from the 194 retailers counted in 2018 and 152% from the 119 the year before that. “Amazon Prime Day is no longer just about Amazon,” Michelle Skupin, a RetailMeNot spokesperson, told Quartz in an interview.
Meanwhile, data from Adobe Digital Insights drawing on an analysis of more than 1 trillion visits to U.S. retail websites shows larger retailers (those with revenues over $1 billion) saw their average daily revenues during the two-day shopping spree jump by 54% on Monday and 72% on Tuesday. Unlike last year, when smaller retailers (with annual sales under $5 million) saw revenues shrink on Prime Day, Adobe reports this group saw sales get a combined lift of 28% over the two days.
Making big gains with mobile on Prime Day—and every day
In retrospect, some retailers were able to score big on Prime Day, while others got left out in the cold. In a market where hyperconnected shoppers reach to mobile to pre-plan and research products before they make the purchase plunge, it’s not surprising that the quality of the mobile shopping experience has emerged as a major factor that can make or break a sale. In fact, new research from Periscope By McKinsey, based on a survey of 2,500 consumers across France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. found that the vast majority planned to use digital and mobile to do their homework in the run-up to this year’s Prime Day. Only 21% said they expect to shop spontaneously on the day.
This explains why the retailers that were successful over this period all made significant investments in their mobile apps and websites to improve customer experience on mobile. It’s a smart (even decisive) strategy to cash in on what has become a new holiday in the retail industry. Indeed, a whopping 84% of retailers say Prime Day is the most important event for driving the entire back-to-school shopping season. And BTS is a blockbuster season, worth an eye-watering $80.7 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
But Amazon Prime Day is also a global phenomenon, targeting consumers in 18 countries and whetting appetites in many more for attractive offers and a personalized shopping experience the whole year round. Against this backdrop, the sheer number of new shopping app installs is showing healthy growth, according to Apptopia’s Blacker, with markets such as Brazil, Indonesia, China and India leading the pack. However, it’s a different story in the U.S., where Blacker observes a “negative growth rate of -0.5% from 2017 to 2018.”
This global trend is also supported with data from the 2019 Mobile Shopping Apps report from mobile app marketing and retargeting platform Liftoff. It draws on internal data, as well as an analysis of retention data from mobile measurement company Adjust, to find that shopping app users worldwide are primed to make a purchase. Not surprisingly, acquisition costs are down nearly one-third compared to the previous year and conversion rates are in some cases 50% higher. Shoppers in the U.S., however, aren’t pushovers—a point proven by an install-to-purchase rate of 6.5% (38% less than the global average rate of 10.5%).
Connect the dots, and scaling in this mature market clearly tests a marketer’s mettle. To help retailers and marketers activate and motivate mobile shoppers every day, not just Prime Day, I draw three key lessons from my interviews with three accomplished mobile marketers whose expertise has earned them the title Mobile Heroes.
#1 Choose ad creatives that complement the customer journey.
During her six years at RetailMeNot, Amanda Carvell has mastered much of what it takes to drive acquisition and rocket retention. The starting point is data on how consumers behave within the app, she says. It’s the first step to understanding and evaluating the metrics that lead to lifetime value (LTV), a north-star KPI Carvell and her team examine and re-evaluate as part of an audit every six months to make sure messaging and mobile ad creatives match where the user is in the lifecycle.
At the top of the funnel, and in the initial phases post-install, it makes sense to tailor campaigns about what users are looking for in that moment, Carvell explains. For RetailMeNot, this means catering to the target demographic of household enthusiasts by delivering relevant deals around shopping and retail. But data showed that users of the app were actively engaging with restaurant deals, particularly from quick-serve restaurants and food courts in shopping malls. “We realized there was a whole subset of food and dining deals that consumers were actively engaging with that could be brought to the forefront in creative messaging to drive action,” Carvell recalls.
Acting on that insight prompted her team to message users around a new range of dining-related deals and even to guide new users (audiences identified by data as cohorts) directly to nearby restaurant deals within the app. “By focusing on delivering mobile ad creative based on what consumers were interacting with most in the app we drove a 30% lift in conversion rates,” she explains. The bottom line: Developing campaigns based on company-defined value prop is easy, “but it’s also important to understand how consumers organically interact with your app–no matter how different or surprising from your original assumptions–to make the right choices about creative that matches with your audience’s wants and needs.”
#2 Move beyond demographics to identify your most valuable customers.
Effective app marketing engages with users throughout the lifecycle based on two inputs: hard data around the “who” of your customer base and deep insights into the “why” of how consumers use your app. This is the view of Erica Carter, Marketing Manager at Ibotta, a company that lets users earn cash back on in-store or in-app purchases. It’s important to have a firm grasp of audience demographic data, but marketers also need to dig deeper into user psychographics. “Knowing the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ is a must to move the needle on your acquisition strategy,” Carter explains.
At one level, she says, this means gathering consumer research—and lots of it. At Ibotta, a team is dedicated to collecting feedback from users and non-users before launching new products or features in the app. The outcome is a wealth of insights around what people value in the app experience. “This allows us to make sure we present these same values in our ad creatives and messaging,” Carter explains. Of course, consumer surveys capture what people think, but their actions may tell a different story. For this reason, Carter also urges marketers to factor user behavior data and patterns into the equations. “At Ibotta, our core user base is made up of the main shoppers in the household. But within that broad user base, users behave very differently according to their interests, shopping habits and values.”
Moving beyond demographics to focus on psychographics equips marketers to tailor their messaging, ad creative, and value proposition to match the needs of key user segments as they move through the app lifecycle. “Audiences evolve, and product offers aren’t static, so marketing is always changing to fit the audience,” she explains. “When pushing advertising dollars, we ensure that we are matching the right value proposition with the correct creative to the right audience, always clearly communicating how Ibotta can add value based on the user’s purchasing habits and preferences. Carter says following this approach has allowed Ibotta to “scale its high-volume channels by over 370%,” while decreasing the cost to acquire a user who purchases by “46% within only four months.” The bottom line: To scale, you have to understand who your audience is and what motivates them—and spend ad dollars on compelling campaigns and dynamic creatives that engage this segment of high-value users over and over again.
#3 Fill the top of the funnel—and don’t fret about performance.
Scaling in a mature market like the U.S. can be an uphill battle. But if you think your channels are approaching saturation, it’s time for you to change your mindset, not your marketing. “I don’t think any marketer can truly exhaust a market of 300 million people in the U.S.,” Mike Phu, Director of Growth at GOAT, the largest marketplace for authentic sneakers, tells me in an interview. He recommends marketers look beyond Google and Facebook to explore demand-side platforms (DSPs) that allow for the management of advertising across many real-time bidding networks, as opposed to just one, like Google Ads.
Marketers need to mix it up, moving beyond digital, mobile, and apps to explore the opportunities offered by TV, radio, podcasts, and influencer marketing. He says, “These are the channels that fill the top of the funnel.” From there, it’s the work of performance marketers to turn browsers into buyers. “You limit yourself when you focus campaigns on consumers who are interested in your product rather than engage all the people who could be interested in what you offer,” Phu explains.
As a rule, Phu recommends marketers invest a “minority portion of their budget in top-funnel marketing” and then measure results on a “blended scale” (melding organic and paid metrics) to bypass the hassle of trying to attribute user activities to non-trackable channels and direct-response channels that can never be 100% accurate. “When you measure on a blended scale, your results improve over time because you’re filling the top of the funnel with a small portion of your budget and converting this audience with the majority of your budget with performance marketing.” The bottom line: watch performance metrics but don’t let them blind you to the benefit of filling the top of the funnel with an audience you can convince and convert with effective and emotive marketing.
Amazon Prime Day has opened the door for enterprising e-comm players of all sizes to benefit from this newest mobile shopping season. Building a roadmap of actions that deploy smart marketers’ best practices as outlined here will set the stage for success for the big day in 2020. While Amazon tapped a new reservoir of consumer interest with Amazon Prime Day, the onus is now on all other retailers to prime their own pumps to draw from the same deep well of shopper demand.
This article first appeared in Forbes.