Yes, it’s August. But peak season prep starts now

Kiri Masters is the Head of Retail Strategy at Acadia

The peak shopping season has morphed and molded into a new shape: one that's longer, lumpier, and in some sense also "skinnier", with more promotional events that brands are expected to provide discounts for.

2023 will see a fall Prime event in October, in addition to the Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping holiday. And with several years of October shopping events under their belt, shoppers are starting their holiday shopping earlier than ever.

And that means with the end of summer in sight, it’s already time to start thinking of Q4 promotions and marketing strategies to make the most of the peak season.

In this blog I'll share why brands need to start their marketing plans right now.

A short history of peak season

2020 saw the peak shopping season shift from November/December to October/November. This is because Amazon’s Prime Day was pushed from its typical summer dates out to October 13th. Other retailers then followed suit, pushing their promotional offerings earlier. This shift resulted in a massive increase in sales during October compared with prior years.

Last year, Amazon held two Prime events for the first time - a summer event, and another in October called the Prime Early Access Sale. Once again the shape of the "peak season" changed that year - making it longer, and requiring brands to pony up with more deals.

2023 follows that trend, which is perhaps irreversible at this point. Amazon has confirmed a shopping event to be held again in October, now named “Prime Big Deal Days.”

The timing of this event is widely expected to be October 11 & 12, which puts it 6 weeks ahead of Black Friday, which is itself 4 weeks before the final pre-Christmas shopping day.

Besides Amazon's event, the actual shopping event of Black Friday / Cyber Monday has also changed. The past several years have seen retailers and brands alike start sharing deals and promotions as early as the Monday before Thanksgiving. Previously, discounts generally only went live on Black Friday.

Our master timeline for 2023 peak season prep on Amazon

We have collaborated with our subject matter experts at Acadia, and our partners at ChannelEngine, to prepare a master timeline of milestones and to-do's for Q4 2023.

This timeline will be updated as details are confirmed about Amazon's Prime Big Deal Days in particular. So take a screenshot but also be sure to check back for updates.

Below the timeline, I'll share why work must start now for 2 important aspects of your peak season strategy.

Why your peak season marketing must start NOW

Its understandable that many marketers aren't thinking yet about peak season - this early shopping period is a relatively new phenomenon - and also one that largely exists online. Brands that have a history in brick and mortar retail channels may have their budgets and promotional plans built more around Black Friday

As of today, Prime Big Deal Days is expected to start in about 6 weeks' time.

And there are two critical things that brands need to execute NOW in order to maximize that event.

The first is running top-of-funnel advertising campaigns. We love Amazon DSP for this purpose, because we can get really specific with audience targeting. For example we can target shoppers who are in-market for our products, customers of competing brands, and more. We can then re-target these same audiences closer to the event. We can measure effectiveness of this strategy in this period with smarter DSP metrics like Add-To-Cart, and how many shoppers viewed our products' reviews.

It is possible to execute a similar approach with other top-of-funnel awareness strategies using Amazon PPC, although it's not as customizable.

But allowing enough time for this strategy to play out is critical. This is not a tactic to whip out 2 weeks before a major event. As a programmatic advertising type, DSP campaigns take time to build up and run. We actually want to be ramping down these top-of funnel campaigns 1-2 weeks before the event, which is when we start ramping up our bottom-of-funnel campaigns.

In our timeline below, you can see that DSP campaigns should already be running for the Prime Big Deal Days event. If you missed the boat for this particular event, please do consider putting this strategy in place for the Black Friday event.

Preparing brand and product content also needs to start now. As we share in the timeline, product pages take time to develop. You must factor in time for not just creating the content, but securing the necessary internal approvals and also dealing with potential upload issues. But that's not where it ends. In our experience, it takes 1-2 weeks for new content to actually be indexed in Amazon's algorithm. Let's say your brand sells facial oils and serums, and you recently discovered a new skincare trend like "skin flooding." In order to rank organically for that search term, that keyword needs to be somewhere in your product description or back-end keywords. If you add that keyword today, Amazon's search algorithm is not necessarily going to pick up on that tomorrow. The content needs to be sitting there for a couple of weeks first. Add a few weeks to actually do that keyword research, create the new content, get it approved and uploaded -- and you can see why you must get started on content optimization, stat.

FAQs from retail brands to prepare for peak season 2023

To close out, here are the top questions we get from clients as we start discussing peak season. 

When should we start running ads?

Retail Media Manager Damiano Ciarrochi shares his advice for Bottom of Funnel (BOFU) and Top Of Funnel (TOFU) advertising strategies - these are 2 separate strategies that should work in service of each other. 

  • TOFU will start roughly 8 weeks out and end 1 week out. We still want to capture people 'window shopping just before'. Then a very sharp cut on TOFU campaigns during the event
  • BOFU - always on. Event-focused campaigns will be paused depending on the budget of the client. If they have a decent budget I will keep them on to monitor performance and let those high converting KWs run (probably benefitted from the algorithm due to high sales velocity)

What type of promotions should we run?

Coupons can be set up by Sellers and Vendors at any time, although it is ideal to have these planned in advance so that deals can be integrated into an advertising strategy and promoted through external channels like newsletters and social media.

Prime Exclusive Deals have great visibility. But these come at a cost, and also have submission deadlines (per the timeline above). So if you miss the boat, we recommend creating coupons instead. 

What should our strategy be for the period between BFCM and Christmas?

For brands with adequate budget, we suggest using DSP audiences to target likely customers prior to Christmas.For example, customers who viewed your products but didn't buy, customers who added your products to their wish-list, and more. You can also target audiences built during earlier sale events. 

In Summary

As brands prepare for the holidays, it’s important to keep in mind Q4 shopping events such as Amazon's Prime Big Deal Days in October and Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Many shoppers take advantage of these promotional times to get the most out of their budget during peak season. Brands should be prepared early for these much-anticipated events if they want to maximize sales.

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Kiri Masters