Digiday+ Research: Marketers’ 2023 holiday marketing and commerce strategies — unpacked

This research is based on unique data collected from our proprietary audience of publisher, agency, brand and tech insiders. It’s available to Digiday+ members. More from the series →

01
Introduction

The year-end holiday shopping season is a crucial moment for most brands and retailers as consumers flock to stores and websites to purchase gifts — driving a surge in sales. For some brands, it’s a make-or-break financial season, as holiday profits can account for the majority of some brands’ annual revenue. As such, there is immense pressure to make this last piece of the final quarter count. 

This year, many brands started their holiday marketing push even earlier than usual. Retailers began promoting holiday ads on social media as early as September, with many more following suit in October, according to recent survey findings from McKinsey & Co. And Black Friday has expanded to Black November for retailers like Walmart, which unveiled its Black Friday campaign on Nov. 1 and officially kicked off its Black Friday deals a week later. 

But, brands aren’t guaranteed a successful holiday selling season simply by beginning their marketing campaigns earlier in the year or offering the expected discounts. Although shoppers are feeling somewhat better about the economy than they were this time last year, according to McKinsey’s findings, and although inflation rates leveled off at 3.7% in September, the U.S. economy is still in a state of uncertainty and consumers are grappling with how to spend their year-end budgets. 

Against this backdrop — and with the stakes so high for marketers — Digiday+ Research examines which commerce channels are dominating brands’ holiday sales plans in 2023. We also highlight the key marketing strategies within those channels and offer performance predictions for the 2023 season.

02
Methodology

To ascertain what sales channels marketers are using the most during the 2023 holiday season and to uncover which marketing strategies they are using within those channels, Digiday+ Research surveyed 118 marketers about their past and current holiday sales channel use, and their past and current holiday marketing tactics. We also asked marketers how their current holiday season discounts and holiday revenue expectations compare to last year’s discount offers and revenue results.

03
Direct access through some social platforms plays a heightened role in holiday marketing strategies

During the holiday season, TikTok and Instagram see a greater surge in importance to marketers than other social media platforms, with TikTok in particular taking on added value beyond the key role social platforms play in brands’ and retailers’ marketing plans year-round, according to Digiday survey respondents. This increase in seasonal importance for TikTok and Instagram also exceeds that seen by non-social channels like online display ads.

Throughout the rest of the year (and aside from Instagram), Facebook and Google are the major players, with 83% of survey respondents saying they’ve used Facebook as a marketing channel so far in 2023 and 72% saying they have used Google. But during the holidays, many other marketing channels, including TikTok and Instagram, outrank Facebook and Google in weighted average of their increase in importance. Importantly, this does not necessarily mean that TikTok and Instagram are more important than those other reliable platforms, but that during the holidays, their importance increases more dramatically. 

Among the social platforms, TikTok in particular is making plays to further cement itself as a key holiday platform for driving brand awareness and even converting sales. The majority that use TikTok for marketing (61%) said that the platform grows in importance to their marketing plans during the holidays. On average, across all of the marketing channels included in this analysis, this was the largest group of respondents to agree that a channel was more important to their holiday marketing plans relative to those that said it decreased in importance or experienced no change at all. 

To capitalize on marketers’ interest and its users’ shopping appetite and to set itself up for a successful 2023 holiday sales season, TikTok sent out sales material to advertisers including a Holiday Media Plan to be used between October and December 2023. The plan presented a step-by-step guide detailing what campaigns to execute and when throughout the holiday period to deploy them, including suggested budgets. 

“This type of document looks like something we would have received from Meta four years ago, about how we prepare for holiday and spend money,” said Tucker Matheson, managing partner at digital agency Markacy. “There’s definitely a push towards seeing TikTok as more of a conversion-based platform that Meta or Google have matured into today. But I think we’re still at the very early innings of that journey.”

With the introduction of TikTok Shop in September, even more marketers are turning their attention to TikTok for the 2023 holiday season, especially those hoping to capture Gen Z shoppers. Some industry experts think TikTok may have a better shot at driving purchases on its platform than competitors like Meta, which has struggled to get consumers to convert within its apps, despite strong social commerce options. “I think of all the social platforms, TikTok has the highest chance of being successful at that,” said Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst, social media, at Insider Intelligence.

Despite competition from TikTok, Instagram continues to dominate brands’ marketing playbooks for the second holiday season in a row. In fact, it’s even winning out over fellow Meta-owned platform Facebook, Digiday’s survey found. Last year, Digiday+ Research found that while half of brand respondents to our 2022 survey said that Facebook’s importance would remain the same as they moved into 2022 holiday marketing, 54% said Instagram would actually grow in importance during that same period. This year’s survey saw identical results, with 54% of those that use Instagram for marketing saying it would grow more important to their marketing plans during the 2023 holiday season — while only 34% said the same for Facebook this year. 

As social apps like Instagram and TikTok continue to see the greatest rise in importance to marketers during the holidays, influencers are naturally also playing a major role in brands’ holiday marketing. In 2023, 70% of survey respondents said their companies had collaborated with influencers so far this year — putting influencers just below Instagram, Facebook and Google in our ranking of the most used marketing channels this year. Over half (56%) of those that used influencers this year also said influencers will grow more important to brands’ marketing plans during the holidays.

Because of the nature of their posts, influencers often have a closer relationship with brands’ target audiences and are perceived as a more authentic voice than curated posts from brands themselves, making them attractive partners for brands looking to feature seasonal products during the holiday period, especially through content like product reviews or sharing upcoming promotions. During the holiday season, influencers can help move platform users beyond the initial brand exposure achieved by a general social campaign and closer to purchase.

Overall, social media platforms — and the influencers who populate them — are particularly important marketing channels for brands during the holidays because of their ability to directly reach and engage consumers. With shoppers often turning to social media platforms for gift inspiration and product information, brands have the prime environment to feature imagery of seasonal products or information about upcoming events and discounts. Furthermore, TikTok and Instagram’s algorithms give marketers the ability to target large and relevant audiences at a scale unmatched by many other options — which helps explain why their importance to marketers increases around the all-important holiday season.

04
Brands prioritize Amazon’s versatility as traditional channels like OOH, TV see their importance dip

Our survey also found that Amazon plays an important role as a marketing channel during the holidays. Among Digiday’s survey respondents, Amazon ranked second after TikTok by weighted average of increase in importance, with 57% of respondents that use Amazon for marketing agreeing it grows more important to their marketing plans during the holiday period. 

Overall, Amazon is the fourth-most visited website in the U.S. and it is the most visited e-commerce and shopping marketplace, according to web analytics company SimilarWeb. Unlike many other sales channels, Amazon also acts as a search engine for product discovery, meaning that marketers can target customers in the middle of their shopping journeys, particularly during the holiday season. This makes Amazon an incredibly valuable — and versatile — holiday marketing tool, allowing brands to target customers both at the upper level of the buying funnel while they are discovering items and also lower in the funnel as they actually make their purchases. 

And many brands advertise on Amazon whether or not they sell on the platform. Cheryl Gresham, CMO at Verizon Value, who was CMO at Verizon’s Visible at the time of our interview, said that despite having partnerships with other retailers, her company finds value in advertising on Amazon. “For us, Amazon is more of an awareness play than a click to buy,” Gresham said. “We’ll use Amazon advertising to build awareness with certain audiences, the way you might use ESPN or Meta … even though the product might only be sold online or in-store at Walmart.”

Amazon’s shipping capabilities are largely what sets it apart from other retailers. The ability to provide one-day shipping on many products is a key feature for both brands and customers, especially during the rushed final days of the holiday shopping period. Many brands have early shipping cut-off dates on their owned e-commerce sites, but Amazon offers shoppers the ability to place orders later in the season and still receive their purchases in time. This allows brands to extend the holiday shopping period up to the buzzer — a key strategy to capture last-minute shoppers.

Taking a backseat to social media and Amazon during the 2023 holiday sales season are more traditional marketing methods like out-of-home and TV advertising. These channels are the ones respondents said fall most in importance during the holidays — 36% said TV grows less important to their marketing plans during the holidays and 32% said the same of OOH advertising. Despite this, OOH and TV do have their place during the holiday marketing period. For example, these channels provide brands with the ability to tailor messages to local audiences. 

However, with economic concerns still lingering, many marketers are investing in them cautiously, choosing instead to spend on wider-reaching and more flexible channels like Amazon and social platforms. As seen in this year’s media agency report, clients are investing more in digital channels that allow for more flexible buying and reconfiguring options for their campaigns. TV and OOH campaigns are generally bought months in advance during the upfront buying cycle, making them less flexible for these longer lead times. “Some clients are still very gun shy to commit to big linear upfront budgets,” said Jade Watts, chief media officer at Mediahub. “So, we are pushing them more toward the digital channels with a lot more flexibility, or even the CTVs.” 

“With consumers continuing to engage in more activities outside the home, one would imagine that spend in OOH would continue to rise to meet its restored audience,” said Joseph McConellogue, associate partner of performance digital at brand strategy and design agency VSA Partners. “But, with fears of a recession come tightening budgets, and oftentimes branding-focused media tactics like OOH are the first to go if budgets are pulled. Time will tell what is on tap for OOH this holiday period.”

However, some experts warn it’s tougher predicting digital spend when digital channels offer so much flexibility. “As we are shifting to digital media, it’s a bit harder to forecast where the 2024 budgets sit because those can be placed near term, or we can place those dollars and pull back as needed,” said Samantha Rose, evp and strategic investment lead at Horizon Media. 

For many TV ads will make up the majority of their holiday advertising budgets. According to Rain the Growth Agency, their clients are spending 60% to 70% of their budgets on linear TV this year. Even despite current writer and actor strikes, linear TV continues to be an integral part of holiday marketing plans. “TV and streaming will continue to be a big focus area for Q4 ad spending, especially with live sports and other big event programming airing within the November-December time frame,” said Stephen Magli, CEO and founder of programmatic consultancy firm AI Digital.

Marketers who are using OOH and TV advertising this holiday season are focusing their efforts on value-based messaging that correlates with the latest trends and pop culture moments, especially to win over Gen Z consumers. “OOH is an agile channel for marketers to pivot their messaging dynamically as these scenarios arise,” said Norm Chait, senior director of OOH Practice Lead at omnichannel marketing platform Quotient. “Advertisers and agencies see the value of having this flexibility and have learned how to leverage it.”

05
While digital sales channels dominate early, in-store sees surge in importance as the holidays close in

When it comes to sales, the channels marketers said increase in importance to them at this time of year match — and rank similarly in order to — the sales channels they use throughout the rest of the year, with owned e-commerce platforms at the top of the chart. Eighty-five percent of survey respondents said they have used their own e-commerce sites thus far in 2023 and of those users 76% agreed the channel grows more important to their holiday marketing plans — the largest user group to agree a channel becomes more important to them during the holidays.  

Social commerce was the second most-used sales channel among respondents so far this year and the second-ranking sales channel seeing a growth in importance by users during the holiday season on average, with 61% of respondents saying they use social commerce and 61% of those users agreeing it grows more important to their marketing plans during the holidays.

It’s generally most advantageous for brands to have customers convert on their own e-commerce sites, as opposed to converting on marketplaces or other retailers. So it’s likely many brands invest resources toward driving customers to their sites. On top of that, owned e-commerce sites become an important hub of product information for customers during the noisy, cluttered holiday season. Brands generally update their product selection and pricing on owned sites on a real-time basis, and shoppers turn to them as a consistent source of up-to-date information in the midst of numerous holiday product drops and promotions. Owned sites also have the most updated logistics information, such as shipping cutoff dates. And unlike on other retailers’ sites or third-party marketplaces, there are no restrictions on brand messaging or control of context, and brands don’t have to compete with others for space or attention.

Additionally, with the wide range of shopping holidays that occur during the last quarter of the year — from Black Friday and Cyber Monday to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa — companies need to remain flexible and agile with their brand promotions and messaging. Thus, owned e-commerce sites serve as a crucial anchor during the flurry of the holiday shopping season (when information about products and promotions can change quickly), acting as a landing page for consumers after they have browsed other sales channels.

Brick-and-mortar stores, on the other hand, give companies more control over tactics like physical product displays and tactile experiences, but they also carry higher overhead costs and slower marketing pivots than owned e-commerce sites. Just over a third of respondents to Digiday’s survey (34%) said they have used brand-owned physical stores thus far this year, making the channel the second lowest-ranking among those analyzed for this report. Importantly though, survey respondents agreed that owned physical stores increase in importance during the holiday season more on average than several other sales channels, including Amazon. 

“Stores are back with a vengeance,” Siobhan Gehin, retail expert and senior partner at management consultancy Roland Berger, said of the 2022 holiday season. “But online underperformed [during the holidays], with both pure play retailers and the e-commerce arms of many retailers delivering disappointing results.”

Many brands will also direct consumers into stores when shipping cut-off times get shorter and shipping rates increase later in the holiday selling season. Physical stores allow consumers to bypass costly online shipping and delivery fees by offering in-store pickup and local fulfillment options. 

There have been several shipping price hikes already in 2023. In January, the United States Postal Service raised its average general shipping rate by 5.5%, including a 6.4% increase in USPS Retail Ground prices. Meanwhile, both UPS and FedEx also increased their average rates by 6.9% this year. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that retailers have raised the threshold of the minimum purchase price for free deliveries in an effort to combat this issue. The average minimum-order threshold increased from $52 in 2019 to $64, according to retail insights provider Narvar

Mike Brewer, chief operating officer at Crate & Barrel Holding, said the company’s physical stores help cut shipping costs. “Our network of stores touches a high percentage of the customers that want to reach us,” Brewer said. “We already use our stores today for in-store pickup and shipping from a store to get products to customers in that geographical area.”

Additionally, customers who are aware of common delivery delays tend to stay away from ordering online during the holiday period. “In mid-December, people kind of stop buying online because they’re worried about [items] not arriving on time,” said Sophie Kahn, CEO of fine jewelry retailer Aurate.

Aside from owned e-commerce sites and physical stores, social commerce sees the second-largest average increase in importance during the holiday season, Digiday’s survey found. Sixty-one percent of those that use social commerce for sales said it  increases in importance as a sales channel during the holidays. Comparatively, less than half (48%) said the same for Amazon. Marketers invest in social commerce platforms like TikTok Shop, YouTube Shopping and Instagram Shopping to bridge the gap between the number of users discovering products on social media apps and those actually converting that engagement into purchases.

While primarily geared toward driving conversions, social commerce can also fulfill more traditional marketing functions, similar to the way in which Amazon straddles both roles as a sales and a marketing channel. This dual role may be what’s leading 61% of those using social commerce to agree it surges in importance to their marketing plans during the holiday season. If a brand is not on social commerce, its competitor likely is, with an absent brand ceding important brand awareness ground at a key moment. In addition, fewer brands are choosing to forego a social commerce presence as shoppers flock to these apps during the holiday blitz, with 48% of Gen Z saying they will do their holiday shopping on social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram according to a recent survey by Shopify-Gallup

The lowest rise in importance during the holidays was non-Amazon retailers (47%) and digital marketplaces (41%). In fact non-Amazon digital marketplaces had the largest user group (12%) say it is actually less important to them during the holiday season than year-round. 

Even retail giants like Walmart struggle to compete with Amazon during the holidays. Although agency heads told Modern Retail that a majority of their clients were committing more advertising money toward Walmart’s marketplace this year. The numbers are still much smaller compared to rival Amazon.

06
The make-or-break tactics shaping holiday playbooks — from gift guides to influencer partnerships

Among all of the marketing tactics brands have at their disposal, gift guides (selected by 65% of marketers), brand experiences (selected by 46%) and influencer haul videos (selected by 42%) are marketers’ top three plays for the 2023 holiday season, Digiday’s survey found. 

Historically, gift guides and brand experiences — which can include in-store product sampling or other in-person or digital events — have performed well for marketers during the holiday season, making them the natural top strategies for the current year. Forty-nine percent of marketers said gift guides performed best for their companies during past holiday seasons, while 39% of respondents said the same of brand experiences. 

Interestingly, influencer videos are the tactic respondents chose as the one they expect to use the third most this holiday season, but influencer haul videos were beat out by pop-up shops as the tactic that has historically performed the third-best for brands. Other popular tactics for 2023 include pop-up shops, which came in fourth place (34% of respondents selected this tactic) and influencer unboxing videos, which came in fifth place (28% of respondents chose this).

Gift guides, the top marketing tactic in both past holiday performance and in marketers’ 2023 plans, have become ubiquitous during the holiday season. Brands, retailers and publishers alike offer landing pages, lists and other types of content filled with calls to action and curated items geared toward gifting during the final months of the year.

Traditionally, brands relied on in-store product discovery during the holiday season by showcasing products in their own storefronts or investing in paid partnerships to secure premium floor space in big-box stores. However, many of the top-searched and most-visited gift guides today are produced by third-party media outlets like The New York Time’s Wirecutter or New York Magazine’s Strategist that don’t accept paid placements.

Instead, when publishers feature gift guides on their sites, the strategy focuses heavily on affiliate marketing, and the process to determine which products to feature is elaborate. While brands can and do pitch products, editorial teams also scour the web for popular items before comparing and testing them for final selection. Brands that are chosen for publishers’ gift guides are often featured next to their competitors, not dissimilar to how they appear in retailers’ gift guides. However, products featured in publishers’ gift guides often receive editorial framing, which increases the actual or perceived objectivity of the product recommendations. 

Publishers’ gift guides also give brands access to additional web traffic from customers who click through to a brand-owned landing page after seeing the brand in a publisher’s gift guide. Affiliate-link clicks from publishers’ gift guides can help brands find new audiences for their products and drive conversions.

Brands and retailers also offer holiday gift guides on their own sites. However, the emphasis here is on maintaining consumer engagement by showing them curated gift items in addition to the items shoppers already intended to browse. Brands and retailers hope shoppers will make additional purchases based on their gift guides, thereby increasing the overall volume of holiday sales. It’s also important for brands and retailers to sync the timing of online gift guides with their shipping strategies and cut-off dates, and to similarly incorporate the distribution of in-store gift guides to capture eleventh-hour shoppers. 

Regardless of gift guide formats, or the types of sites on which they appear, gift guides generally all leverage the same goal of helping consumers find holiday gift inspiration. In an analysis of Google search volume in 2022, the term “Gift Guide” saw an increase in interest starting in late October and peaking just before the end of December. The December peak suggests that gift guides become more useful for shoppers later in the holiday timeline, as they feel the pressure to nail down gift ideas and make final purchases.

After gift guides, brand experiences and pop-up shops round out the top three marketing tactics that have historically performed well for companies. More than one-third of respondents (39%) said brand experiences have performed strongly for their companies in the past, while slightly more than one-quarter of respondents (27%) said the same of pop-up shops. 

Pop-up shops, in particular, have grown in popularity in recent years. Forty-three percent of fashion brand professionals said their brands distributed products through pop-up shops in 2022, according to Digiday sibling publication Glossy’s annual report on fashion brand distribution. (To note, the 27% of respondents who said pop-up shops have historically performed best for their company during the holiday season extend across industries and are not necessarily fashion-focused.) 

While not a new concept, the pop-up shop, or shop-in-a-shop, strategy is a win-win for both retailers and brands. Retailers open their in-store spaces for brands to rent and create pop-ups, allowing the retailers to draw in new customers. Brands, meanwhile, use the strategy as a way to gain a foothold in physical retail and to raise brand awareness beyond their existing consumer base. The pop-up or shop-in-a-shop concept also gives brands more control over their messaging. 

Retailers are keeping both pop-ups and brand experiences very much at the forefront of their playbooks for the 2023 holiday season. In early November, fast-fashion retailer Shein launched a “Home for the Holidays” pop-up shop inside the Forever 21 store in New York City’s Times Square. The pop-up shop is a collaboration between Shein and Forever 21 in which consumers can visit six curated rooms and shop for products. 

Meanwhile, Saks is betting big on a digital pop-up and in-person brand experiences to retain its core customers and to attract new luxury shoppers. Saks is collaborating with Dior to create a “World of Dior” digital pop-up on Saks.com, marking the first time all of Dior’s product categories will be sold via e-commerce anywhere other than Dior’s own website. The retailer has also rolled out what it’s labeling as one-of-a-kind holiday brand experiences. The experiences, which range from $1,500 to $30,000, include hosting a party at the Saks flagship’s private NYC rooftop ($30,000), having a private Saks holiday shopping trip ($1,500), receiving a holiday decorating session for the home by Saks ($10,000) and gaining VIP access to the Saks Holiday Show in November ($5,000).

Marketers’ No. 3 tactic for the 2023 holiday season, influencer videos, falls under the broader social umbrella. However, as noted earlier in this report, there is a big distinction between social content generated by brand-owned accounts and content created — and often distributed — by influencers. That difference comes down to the sense of authenticity that often accompanies influencer-posted content. 

Consumers often feel that content from brand-owned accounts is posted with the sole purpose of selling them a product, but many find that influencer-generated content feels more authentic and helpful — as if they are receiving a creator’s unbiased opinion or advice. In unboxing and haul videos, for example, influencers talk candidly about products as they showcase them. These videos have become a trusted source of information for customers throughout the year, but are particularly appreciated during the holidays when shoppers are seeking seasonal gift ideas and inspiration.

In turn, brands partner with influencers as a key marketing tactic to present their products in an authentic manner and to stand out from competitors during the height of the holiday shopping season. However, with many brands posting holiday content as early as September and with customers beginning their shopping earlier as well, timing becomes an integral factor in influencer-brand partnerships. 

Most influencers follow a more traditional calendar schedule for posting content than brands do,  and they don’t post holiday content until much later in the year. This forces brands to take a different approach to make use of influencers in a more subtle fashion during earlier portions of the holiday marketing time period. For example, influencers highlight products in posts that don’t have a seasonal spin and generally focus on the items themselves. This helps to start the process of growing awareness and generating traffic for a brand while helping them avoid the issue of being prematurely holiday-focused.

As the holiday marketing period progresses, influencers will begin to infuse that messaging into their posts. This holiday-centric content tends to align with the shopping season’s peak when most consumers are looking for holiday gifts and competition is the hottest — and standing out the hardest. 

07
Marketers are cautiously optimistic about the 2023 holiday season as they focus on protecting profits

Despite the economic uncertainty that surrounded much of 2023, most marketers have a rosier expectation about the current holiday season. The majority of survey respondents (61%) told Digiday that they expect 2023 holiday revenue to increase this year, and 17% said they expect it to remain about the same as last year. Consulting firm Deloitte echoed marketers’ hopeful expectations with its predictions that holiday retail sales will increase between 3.5% and 4.6% this season

Because the holiday season can make up a large portion of brands’ and retailers’ annual revenue, a successful selling season is of the utmost importance in any year, but more so in a year like 2023, when consumers were hit by high inflation rates and recession threats early on.

While marketers may be cautiously optimistic about the 2023 holiday season, the consumer outlook is slightly different. More than half of consumers (56%) said inflation has impacted their holiday shopping plans this year, according to a Q3 consumer trends report from Jungle Scout, an Amazon seller software platform for data and inventory management. Those consumers’ top strategies to reduce 2023 holiday costs include spending less per person on gifts, buying things on sale and cutting back on decorations, according to the report.

Some industry experts are less confident in a successful holiday sales season as well, based on consumer and economic trends. “We just don’t know where the consumer is, and you can see that even the Federal Reserve doesn’t quite know where the economy is,” said Kirthi Kalyanam, professor and executive director of the Retail Management Institute at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. 

Jessica Ramírez, a senior research analyst at Jane Hali & Associates, said that selling, general and administrative expenses are also high at the moment, making the current market tough. “When there are so many spends and it’s quite tight and margins have not been as high as they had been, you just need to be cautious of where your spend is in your company overall — especially in a time like today, where we’re seeing some of that slow down,” Ramírez said. 

In the face of so much uncertainty, marketers nevertheless remain focused on driving revenue increases this holiday season. Their healthy fixation on profit margins can be seen in Digiday+ Research survey results when we asked brands and retailers how their 2023 holiday discounts will compare to their 2022 discounts. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said that their discounts will be about the same this year as they were in 2022 — a surprising number given that the majority of consumers said that inflation has affected their holiday shopping plans for 2023 and that they except to spend less per person on gifts.

Although marketers don’t expect their 2023 holiday promotions to include deeper discounts this year compared with last year, many brands and retailers are looking to extend holiday discount time periods in the hope of capturing more shoppers. Walmart, for example, began offering Black Friday deals on Nov. 8, more than two weeks before Black Friday, and bag maker State Bags launched its Black Friday sale on Nov. 16, more than a week before the actual shopping holiday. 

State Bags CMO Meghan Holzhauer said the change from Black Friday being one day to becoming a whole month came at the suggestion of one of the brand’s ad agencies. “Our paid social agency referred to November as ‘Black November,’ citing that many brands have just launched or are launching their Black Friday promotions at the beginning of the month,” Holzhauer said. 

While promotions are a common tactic brands use to draw in customers, Sky Canaves, senior analyst at Insider Intelligence, noted the downside promotions can have on a brand’s value. “If consumers know that a brand is constantly having sales and constantly having markdowns, they are going to become conditioned to wait for products to go on sale, or not not be willing to pay full price,” Canaves said.

For marketers concerned about watering down brand value, another tactic is to offer promotions to exclusive groups within the extended holiday discount period. Alo Yoga and Cole Haan are both taking that approach this year. Alo Yoga is offering an early 30% off sitewide Black Friday deal, only available to its VIP program members. And Cole Haan is starting its holiday sale on Nov. 17 for loyalty members and extending it to non-members Nov. 18-26.

Other brands are hoping to improve profit margins this holiday season by reducing inventory. A number of brands have publicly announced inventory cuts, including Abercrombie & Fitch, which said in its August earnings report that it had cut inventory by around 30% year over year. G-III Apparel Group, which owns brands like DKNY and Karl Lagerfeld, said it dropped inventories by 23% compared to last year. Guess, meanwhile, said that it plans to reduce inventory by 10%. By holding less inventory, retailers are able to get better margins and reduce the need to roll out steep markdowns. 

Despite having to decrease their inventory and take other cost-cutting measures, the majority of marketers retain positive expectations for 2023 holiday sales performance. That’s partially because this time of year historically sees higher consumer spending, with holiday gift buying an expected cultural behavior for many shoppers. Coupled with two of the largest shopping holidays, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, brands and retailers are almost guaranteed to see an increase in sales — leaving marketers to focus on timing their sales appropriately and providing the best promotions to attract customers without undercutting their bottom lines. 

08
Key takeaways
  • Social media platforms and influencers are playing major roles in brands’ holiday marketing efforts, with TikTok expected to be a driving force. The platform is doubling down on TikTok Shop and this year it offered a strategic holiday media plan for marketers.
  • Consumers turn to social platforms to discover new brands and gift ideas, while marketers are partnering with influencers in an effort to connect with shoppers authentically and move them closer to checkout.
  • Increased shipping prices may force some consumers away from digital channels and into brick-and-mortar stores. Brands often drive last-minute shoppers in-store when holiday shipping deadlines have passed, and retailers may see an added advantage if customers opt to buy or pick up in-store to avoid shipping minimums.
  • Retailers may find themselves using pop-up shops to bridge the gap between online and in-store shopping. The key for marketers hoping to capitalize on this strategy will be to connect the online capabilities of features like “find in a store” and “pick up in-store” with the physical pop-ups to successfully use this tactic as both a marketing tool and a sales channel.
  • Overall, dual-purpose channels are increasing in popularity. E-commerce sites and social platforms, in particular, are growing in importance to marketers thanks to their abilities to serve as hubs of product information as well as to drive conversions.
  • Brands and retailers are betting on longer promotional periods to increase sales in 2023, with many announcing earlier Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals that will run for more than just individual shopping days. This strategy aims to capture early holiday shoppers, while also allowing for an extended holiday shopping period.
  • Despite lingering uncertain economic conditions, brands and retailers are pulling out all of the stops to capitalize on what is traditionally the most lucrative shopping period of the year and to win sales dollars — whether through newer social channels or more traditional physical ones.
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