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For E-Commerce, Will March Madness Bring on the Super Bowl Effect?

Mike Perekupka

Here we go! March Madness. Regardless of John Oliver’s opinion, Americans tend to go a little, well, mad for the annual NCAA tournament. So mad in fact, that according to some estimates, March Madness costs American companies about $134 million in the first two days of the tournament alone. Ouch.

This data point got us thinking about how MM impacts online shopping. It’s not a stretch to think that e-commerce will take a dip during the tournament, especially today, when coverage kicks off at noon EDT and runs well into the evening. It was widely reported in fact, despite record ad spending this year, that e-commerce traffic and sales tanked on Super Bowl Sunday 2015.  But was that true for all e-commerce retailers? Is it possible that some brands, sports-related for example, may actually do better during our unofficial sport holidays?

To get an idea, we decided to to do an analysis of how our customers fared in the their product listing ad (PLA) channels on Super Bowl Sunday. We evaluated same store data on SBS when compared with the previous four Sundays to see what, if any, impact the Super Bowl had on online shopping in PLA channels. Our analysts looked at KPIs (impressions, clicks, conversion rates, etc) and discovered something interesting:

  • Revenue was down – but only for some retailers:  We pulled data from a sampling of clients and saw that, in aggregate, revenue on Super Bowl Sunday was down by 29% on when compared with the previous Sundays. Disappointing, but expected.
  • But then we decided to dig a little deeper. We aggregated the performance of sports-themed retailers, and that data told a totally different story. It was up – way up. For those stores, revenue in the Google Shopping channel was up 145% when compared with the four previous Sundays. 145%.

So what was up with that 145% increase in revenue for sports-themed e-commerce brands when total brands were down 29% on SBS?  Could there be a Super Bowl mindset that inspires consumers to shop for their favorite sports apparel as they’re watching the game? Could the same hold true for March Madness? And if so – should marketers be bidding up their sports-related SKUs during the tourney to capture the shopping fever brought on by the madness?

Not so fast.  Here are two quick tips for making the most of March Madness

  • Monitor performance at a product level and make ongoing adjustments – often. It doesn’t make sense to simply bid up all your NCAA merchandise if the data reveals that Villanova hats are suddenly converting at a high rate while Temple sweatpants are tanking, for example. BUT, if Nova were to lose in the Sweet 16 (not that that’s going to happen), it might be time to slide those hats into the Temple Sweatpants bid group.
  • Leverage Geotargeting: for something like March Madness, geotargeting bid adjustments is probably a worthwhile strategy. Those Villanova hats aren’t likely to perform well in that “other” Wildcat territory (that’d be Kentucky, folks).  Again – it’s all about individual product performance, so make sure that even if you are geotargeting, you are still bidding products according to performance, not team name, brand, product type, etc.

Bottom Line: Know your customers. Don’t write off PLA channels during March Madness or any other traditionally “down-day” for online retail if you can benefit from the buzz it generates. That’s what your competitors are doing. Rather – use data to group and bid products intelligently, capturing the right shoppers at the right time – even if that’s during the final minutes of the Final Four games.

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