Amazon’s marketing strategy helps it dominate the Cyber 5, and its move into PLAs is bad news for everyone else.

Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, dominated online sales during the Cyber 5, the five-day stretch that runs from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday, according to Hitwise, which is part of digital marketing firm Connexity Inc.

Amazon accounted for 56.2% of the 54.2 million online transactions at the top 50 retailers’ websites over the five-day period, Hitwise reports.

Paid search

One key to that success stemmed from the retail giant’s aggressive use of paid search ads. Amazon captured 11.9% of U.S. Google desktop text ad clicks and 3.2% of desktop Product Listing Ad (PLA) clicks from Black Friday to Cyber Monday (Nov. 24-27) among 2,500 top retail product keywords, such as “laptops,” “shoes” and “uggs,”  analyzed by search marketing data provider Adgooroo.

PLAs are a visually-oriented ad format that presents product images, prices and business names to users searching on Google.

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This marked the first Thanksgiving weekend that Amazon used Google’s PLAs, as it only began experimenting with the ad format last year in the days after Christmas. This year it ranked fourth among desktop PLA clicks, behind Walmart.com (7.2% of PLA clicks), Kohls.com (4.6%) and Target.com (4.0%).

Amazon also led in mobile text ad clicks, with a 9.1% click share, and it was fifth in mobile PLA clicks at 2.9%.

“Amazon is now a major player in PLAs and that’s affecting results for everyone else,” says Jim Leichenko, Adgooroo‘s director of marketing. “Amazon has the resources and ability to transfer its dominance in text ads to PLAs.”

If Amazon wants to dominate PLAs, it will have to knock Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (No. 3 in the Top 500) off its perch as the leading retailer in the space, he says.

Walmart.com made a major PLA push over the weekend on desktop and mobile. On mobile, it led the way with an 11.5% click share. However, the retailer put less emphasis on text ads; it only had a 1.0% click share on desktop text ad clicks and a 1.2% click share on mobile text ad clicks. The approach is consistent with Walmart’s overall paid search marketing strategy, Leichenko says, which suggests the retailer has ceded text ads to Amazon in an effort to focus its efforts on PLAs, which typically have a better click-through rate.

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Other retailers that were aggressive over the holiday weekend were J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (No. 33) and Kohl’s Corp. (No. 18). J.C. Penney ranked second in desktop text ad click share at 6.5% and fifth in desktop PLA click share at 3.1%. Kohl’s ranked second in PLA click share at 4.6% and sixth in text ad click at 1.7%.

Macy’s Inc. (No. 6)  and Best Buy Co. Inc. (No. 10) also were major players on desktop. Macy’s ranked third in desktop text ad clicks with a 3.1% click share and eighth in desktop PLA clicks with a 2.6% click share. Best Buy ranked fourth in desktop text ad clicks with a 2.9% click share and ranked sixth in desktop PLAs with a 3.1% click share.

Meanwhile, Target Corp. (No. 20) took a similar approach to Walmart.com in concentrating its desktop paid search efforts on PLAs. The retailer ranked third in desktop PLA click share, at 4.0%, but had less than 1% of desktop text ad clicks.

The push to PLAs, rather than text ads, was evident in many retailers’ mobile search strategies. Kohl’s, Target and Best Buy all generated higher PLA clicks than desktop clicks. Kohl’s had a 6.9% mobile PLA click share compared to 1.5% text ad click share, Target had a 6.3% PLA click share compared to 2.5% text ad click share and Best Buy had a 6.0% PLA click share compared to 3.8% text ad click share.

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One exception to that approach was J.C. Penney, which had 3.0% mobile PLA click share, compared with a 4.8% text ad click share.

Email marketing

Another key to Amazon’s success over the holiday weekend stemmed from its sophisticated email marketing program, says John Landsman, director of strategy and analytics at eDataSource, which tracks retailers’ email campaigns and results.

“Amazon has the resources to pay for robust data assets and to hire individuals who manage that data and its email programs at a very sophisticated level,” he says. That means the retailer is sending more targeted emails to the consumers most likely to open them.

The retailer’s approach helped Amazon boost the open rate on its Black Friday-themed emails by 21 percentage points, to 69% from 48% a year earlier, in the 10 days leading up to Thanksgiving.

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On Black Friday, Amazon sent 52 Black Friday-themed email campaigns, a sharp decrease from the 119 it sent a year earlier. However, the approach helped double the open rate on its Black Friday-themed emails 30 percentage points, to 60% from 30% a year earlier. Similarly, Amazon sent 59 Cyber Monday-themed emails on Cyber Monday, nearly half the 117 it sent a year earlier. But the open rate for those emails reached 42%, up from 26% a year earlier.

Amazon was not alone among large retailers in reducing the number of Black Friday- and Cyber Monday-themed emails it sent from Black Friday to Tuesday, Nov. 28. For example, the number of Black Friday-themed email campaigns that 14 large multichannel retailers sent on Black Friday fell 36.0% to 114 from 178 a year earlier. And on Cyber Monday those 14 retailers sent 122 Cyber Monday-themed campaigns, down from 132 a year earlier.

However, that trend hasn’t carried over to smaller merchants. Looking at a sample of roughly 400 retailers, eDataSource found that the number of Black Friday-themed email campaigns jumped 33.9% on Thanksgiving to 407 from 304 and 17.3% on Black Friday to 834 from 711. That growth didn’t hurt open rates, which rose three percentage points on Thanksgiving, to 22% from 19%, and fell one percentage point to 19% from 20% on the day after Thanksgiving.

On Cyber Monday, the number of  Cyber Monday-themed email campaigns rose 2.7% to 615 from 599. However, the Cyber Monday-themed emails’ open rate fell to 12% from 17% a year earlier.

The large growth in Black Friday-themed email campaigns suggests that many retailers can’t resist the lure of email, Landsman says. There’s good reason for that. “Email leads to sales,” he says.

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