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Mobile email, search make holiday gains even as marketers lag shoppers

Email and search drove significant percentages of online sales during the kickoff to the holiday shopping season, with mobile users leading the charge while marketers try to catch up. 

Two key digital holiday marketing strategies ? email and search ? leaned more heavily toward mobile during this year?s Thanksgiving shopping bonanza, with the former driving significant purchase consideration while the latter made a mark on the big day as well as on Black Friday. Shoppers drove much of the gains, pointing to how there is still room for retailers to improve mobile optimization of emails and post-click experiences.

?Mobile is increasingly important in driving sales,? said Ivy Shtereva, director of marketing at Yesmail. ?Whether in-store shoppers pulled up promotional emails and coupons while waiting in line on Black Friday or online shoppers waited until Cyber Monday to make purchases on their phones, most likely from their couch, it seems that just about everyone was mobile this year.?

Mobile email
As online sales become more important for holiday shoppers ? which was clearly demonstrated during the 2015 Thanksgiving weekend ? so, too, are key digital marketing strategies such as email and search. With mobile a key driver for email and search, the pressure is mounting on retailers to align their programs more closely with how their customers are shopping. 

Data from Custora shows that email marketing droves 25.1 percent of sales on Black Friday and 22.1 percent of sales on Cyber Monday. Free search drove 21.1 percent of sales on Black Friday and 20.7 percent on Cyber Monday. Paid search was behind 16.3 percent of sales on Black Friday and 16.6 percent on Cyber Monday. 

Retailers are seeing up to 70 percent of their emails opened on mobile. Additionally, Yesmail reports that mobile email click-to-open rates grew 13.4 percent during the third quarter of 2015 while decreasing 17.2 percent on desktop. 

Despite these impressive numbers, retailers are still falling short on mobile email. 

?Although it feels like old news at this point, a quarter of marketers still don't use responsive design for their promotional emails,? Ms. Shtereva said. 

?Not making it easy for customers to view and click on emails from their mobile devices only hurts retailers' chances of generating additional sales,? she said. 

Timing is everything
Yesmail?s research shows retailers who leverage email to reach mobile users in the days leading up to Black Friday saw higher engagements than those who waited until the day of, when shoppers were already out shopping. 

?Marketers who personalized content, made payments effortless, promoted bigger-ticket items and offered location-based deals got it right,? Ms. Shtereva.

Once mobile users were out and about shopping on Black Friday, search was a key way to reach these consumers. 

Kenshoo reports that half of all retail search clicks on Thanksgiving and Black Friday were on a smartphone. 

Through Black Friday, mobile search spend increased 64 percent compared with last year compared to a 3.7 increase for the overall search spend. Additionally, mobile product ads are seeing more spend growth, with the spend up 85 percent year-over-year while overall spend was up 35 percent. Mobile product ads now make up 10 percent of total search spend for the period. 

?The big news is still the growth of mobile activity ? campaign tools in search are sophisticated enough that you don't explicitly have to do much to be present on mobile, so the growth in clicks, spend and sales has more to do with user behavior than explicit steps marketers are taking,? said Chris Costello, director of marketing research at Kenshoo
?Additionally, data reveals that marketers are investing more in product listing ads on mobile, and that consumers are responding positively, with clicks growing as well,? he said.??

Hitting the goal
As mobile search continues to grow, marketers need to look for ways to encourage shoppers to make their final purchases on mobile device, such as via clearer and stronger calls to action and fully optimized post-click experiences. 

Marketers may also need to take a close look at mobile ROI compared to volume because of the lower conversion rates on mobile. 

?Alternatively, marketers may need to more closely manage their mobile bid modifiers to account for the lower conversion rates in the channel,? Mr. Costello said. 

?Additionally, if mobile is being used more as a research tool, consider other actions to drive consumers to such as: store locations, phone numbers, mobile coupon redemption,? he said.  

?Marketers should keep a close eye on the potential tradeoff in sales volume that may occur in order to gain more efficiencies, and as a result, should monitor mobile ROI vs. volume to make sure they're hitting their individual goals.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York