November is only two months away, as is the upswing in Black Friday and holiday advertising. We looked back at what happened last year in the retail sector’s holiday advertising so you can apply these insights to this year’s strategies.

The retail sector was the fourth largest spender on desktop in the U.S. during the 2015 holiday season, shelling out nearly $147 million dollars from November 1 to December 31, 2015 alone. What we found during our research, however, was that some direct retail competitors might not have been spending their money as effectively as they could have.

Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom department stores were the 29th, 30th and 32nd highest U.S. desktop spenders in the retail space respectively during the holiday season. There was a difference of just $74,400 in spend between Nordstrom, the lowest spender, and Saks, the highest spender. But of the three, there was a significant difference in CPMs, with the lowest (Nordstrom) paying $5.44 CPM and the highest (Saks) paying $12.13.

CPM Breakdown

Impressions Spend CPM Nordstrom 127,004,800 $691,200 $5.44 Bloomingdale’s 96,024,300 $751,800 $7.82 Saks 63,090,500 $751,800 $12.13

Why the large difference in CPM? Our proprietary data was able to uncover some answers, thanks to insights about each firm’s budget allocation, spend timing and creative strategy.

Timing Strategies

While Nordstrom had a spike in spending activities just before and during Black Friday on November 27, the department store had their largest spike in spend beginning around Christmas and into the New Year, spending more than $20,000 on December 31.

Bloomingdale’s did not even start spending big bucks until after Black Friday, topping out on December 10 at about $21,000 and remaining fairly level until around Christmas, when their spend plummeted. Saks mirrored this decrease in spending after the 25th.

Saks only began ramping up spend just before Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The company did not hit their first of two spending peaks until December 3rd. Their second significant spike, and highest spend during the holidays, was on December 24 at nearly $25,000.

It appears Nordstrom took advantage of the time periods known for after-holiday deals, whereas Saks and Bloomingdale’s were more focused on Christmas shoppers.

Creative Strategy

Nordstrom’s large spending spike directly after Christmas was largely centered on the company’s half-yearly sale, identified by proprietary data on top creatives. Below is one of the company’s top creatives collected by Pathmatics between November 1 and December 31. This ad only ran from December 26 to January 4, yet was one of the advertiser’s most frequently used paid advertisements during the holidays.

Most Bloomingdale’s and Saks top creatives targeted Christmas shoppers looking for deals right before the big holiday, which echoes their spikes in spending. Below is an example of a Bloomingdale’s top creative.

Top Saks creatives mainly pushed the “Designer Sale,” and flaunted different sale prices, with deals increasing the closer the ad ran to Christmas Day. The ad below ran between November 30 and December 14.

Yet, the same advertisement ran from December 21 to December 26, offering 70 percent off merchandise.

While Saks and Bloomingdale’s focused on the holidays, it appears Nordstrom was busy targeting those after-holiday deal shoppers.

Channel Allocation Strategy

Nordstrom received the most impressions from DSPs, trading desks and ad networks; however, 53 percent of the company’s spend went to direct advertising. Take a look at the breakdown of impression share below:

And here is the spend share breakdown:

Despite the massive differences in spend versus impressions, Nordstrom had the lowest CPM by far. In fact, they spent less than Bloomingdale’s and Saks during the holidays, but received more impressions than both competitors.

Both Bloomingdale’s and Saks also had vast differences in spend versus impression allocation. However, neither used a trading desk through the holidays.

Bloomingdale’s, with the second lowest CPM, employed a different channel for their advertising strategy — ad exchanges. About 6 percent of the company’s impression share came from exchanges.

However, only 2 percent of its spend went to these exchanges:

Saks, which had the highest CPM of the three, only used three channels during the holidays — direct, DSP and ad networks. See the breakdown of impression share below, which illustrates direct being responsible for a full 54 percent of impressions:

And here is the spend share breakdown with 87 percent of spend going to direct:

The combination of timing, creative strategy and channel allocation just might be the key to saving more dollars and receiving more impressions. By targeting sales hungry audiences and allocating channel distribution in a unique way, Nordstrom garnered the most impressions, while spending $74,400 less than Saks last holiday season.

Having access to historical competitive intelligence like this could help retailers drastically improve their digital advertising strategies while lowering their overall CPMs.

If you want full access to more data like this, including competitors’ direct purchase vendors, specific ad networks and more, request a free demo of Pathmatics. Find out what you’ve been missing.

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