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2021 holiday season: 6 moments that will mean more

Consumers have shifted many habits in how they’re purchasing goods and services online over the last year. During this time, global e-commerce sales grew a whopping 32.4% from 2019 to 2020 and are forecast to increase another 6.8% in 2021.

Luckily for businesses, so has the Microsoft Search Network. We added 82 million searchers globally in the last year, while retaining a valuable audience that spends 22% more than the average internet searcher.

As the merriest time of year approaches, we predict holidays 2021 will mean more togetherness, more commerce, and more revelry than last year. Here’s how advertisers can help consumers make it mean more this year.

1. More moments to plan

As Black Friday becomes less of a focal point during the holiday season, shoppers turn on the Christmas tunes earlier and earlier. In our 2021 Holiday Gifting Survey, we asked respondents when they intended to start their holiday shopping; surprisingly, 68% said they have already begun.

When do holiday season shoppers plan to begin?

2021 Holiday Gifting Survey

When asked in May, "When do you intend to start your holiday shopping?":

Chart showing when holiday shoppers plan to begin their shopping: 20 percent earlier than May, 23 percent this spring, 25 percent over the summer and 22 percent in October or November, the rest by mid-December.

A longer holiday season also means consumers will rely less on a single channel or ad to make their purchases. While search remains the most prominent ad type in the retail conversion funnel, Shopping Campaigns ads and native advertising play a crucial role in influencing purchases in the middle and top of the funnel. Our first-party data shows 75.6% of users are likely to engage with a search ad in their next touchpoint after exposure to a native ad.

Search, Shopping, and native ads work together to drive retail customer journeys

Search remains prominent driving lower funnel activity, while the Audience Network captures 1/3 of all touchpoints mid-journey

Ad served by conversion path position for Retail across the Microsoft Network:

Chart showing percentage of native, search, or shopping ad types in different stages of search query paths.

Top tips for planning your holiday campaign:

  • Start early: Businesses will need to prepare and launch their seasonal marketing campaigns much earlier to take advantage of lengthening consumer demand.
  • Spread out: Businesses who take advantage of native, search, and shopping ad types will have the most coverage across the consumer path to purchase.

2. More travel moments

Travel-related search volume has grown 27% in Canada YoY (year-over-year):

Weekly year-over-year travel-related search volume in Canada.

As travel demand continues its upwards trajectory, it can also support businesses of other industries, including retail and automotive. When travelers plan their trips, they plan transportation, accommodations, rentals, things to do, and purchases such as apparel, luggage, and footwear. Canadians spend an average of $2,573 on vacations each year.

As travelers plan to head home for festivities or away for a much-needed vacation, here are a few ways businesses can stand out to travelers:

  • Target an unexpected audience: 66% of in-market searchers for a hotel room are also searching for women’s apparel. Use In-market Audiences to target audiences across industries and extend reach to interested shoppers.
  • Target audiences in or interested in a location: Location targeting helped RVshare drive 76% more traffic to their website YoY.

3. More gathering moments

Dining and entertaining are core to the holiday season, with numerous occasions oriented around gatherings like Labour Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Diwali, Christmas, Boxing Day, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, and seasonal sips and suppers in-between. Consumers are likely to host or attend small celebrations with loved ones more often this festive season than they did last year. They’ll need help decorating, preparing, cooking, dressing, impressing, and keeping festivities safe for everyone.

Smaller businesses, especially, have a big opportunity to capitalize on more consumer gatherings. In a US consumer study, 93% of people typically travel 20 minutes or less when shopping for everyday purchases. In 2020, small consumer packaged goods companies were the only size to grow market share, from 18.2% to 19.2% YoY.

Search engines have become even more important to consumer packaged goods (CPG) shopping. Not only did weekly average search volume grow 25.8% from 2020 to 2021, but also search engine marketing (SEM) continues to help CPG brands drive discovery.

In fact, during the holiday season, when searchers were exposed to a CPG company’s brand during a non-brand search, they were 157% more likely to search for that brand in the future.

Businesses that want to influence where consumers turn to purchase groceries, hire professionals, and find festive attire, and more should remember:

  • Strengthen buyer confidence in your brand: Review Extensions showcase top reviews and ratings from your peers and customers to build trust with searchers.
  • Location matters for local shoppers: Location Extensions make it easy for customers to see your address, phone number, directions, URL and business description while increasing click-through rates 7 to 10%.
  • Reach consumers unfamiliar with your brand: Non-brand keyword campaigns reach shoppers before they’ve decided on a brand, and help grow acquisition and sales.

4. More deal-seeking moments

Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic last year, Cyber Week and Singles Day (Nov 11) smashed records, with 67% and 26% YoY growth, respectively, and are forecasted to continue growing in 2021.

The deal-seeking spirit spans across categories. According to BigCommerce, top categories for Cyber Week 2020 included Sporting Goods (+136% GMV YoY), Apparel and Accessories (+37% GMV YoY), Autos (+51% GMV YoY), Health & Beauty (+43% GMV YoY).

How businesses can capitalize on the deal-seeking spirit:

  • Advance your audience targeting: See how Bose increased traffic by 47% by using a combination of audiences features, including In-Market Audiences, Remarketing, and Similar Audiences.
  • Showcase your products: Shopping Campaigns display products with custom images, pricing and brand info — putting searchers closer to making a purchasing decision even before they click. See 10 more ways to improve your Shopping Campaigns for the holiday season.
  • Reach MSN,, Microsoft Edge users: Audience Ads on the Microsoft Audience Network helped Daily Sale increase brand visibility 20% and generate incremental revenue with 2.6x return on ad spend.

5. More shopping, shipping, and gifting moments

Once Cyber Week (October 18–21, 2021) concludes, December sees a shift in the shopper behavior from deal-seeking to prioritizing inventory availability, delivery time, and convenience. Impending shipping deadlines also drive shoppers to local businesses, and to leverage options like buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS). Furthermore, a US consumer study found that 93% of disposable income is spent within 20 minutes of home, which provides heaps of opportunity to local businesses.

Help gift-givers finish off their shopping list:

  • Set up your Local Inventory Ads, including curbside pick-up details.
  • Use Sitelink Extensions in ads to highlight promotions, key categories, and Buy Now Pick-up Later (BNPL) options.
  • Multimedia Ads or Multi-Image Extensions can help retailers display multiple product offerings, and non-profits share visual media to attract donors and volunteers by their heartstrings.
  • Responsive Search Ads resonate with the shoppers’ most pressing needs — convenience, availability, delivery, and more — by showing them the most relevant ad from 15 headlines and 4 descriptions.

6. More treating ourselves moments

Consumers are giving themselves something to be merry about. Year after year, Christmas Day (December 25) and Boxing Day (December 26) earn some of the highest click volumes of the entire year. The popularity of gift cards, expanding return options, and prevalence of after-Christmas sales across markets drive self-gifting in-store and from our couches. Here are some dates to watch for regional variations of this phenomenon:

United States
Australia, Canada, and United Kingdom
After Christmas sales:
Dec. 26–Dec. 31
Boxing Day sales:
Dec. 26
Les Soldes:
Jan. 6–Feb. 2
Winter sales:
Jan. 3–Feb. 14

How to help shoppers treat themselves:

  • Even though 70% of people abandon online shopping carts, you can bring them back after the holiday season with Dynamic Remarketing ads, so they revisit their abandoned shopping cart.
  • Use Callout Extensions to entice gift users, feature sales, and pick-up and delivery options. These free extensions increase your ad size and attract shoppers.

Get ready for the holidays

Learn more about what you can do to make this holiday season mean more for your business with Microsoft Advertising:

  1. Tune in to our 2021 Holiday Digital Marketing Guide webcast. Available on demand.
  2. Dig deeper into our 2021 Holiday Insights and register for the Microsoft Advertising Insider newsletter.
  3. Schedule a free consultation with a digital marketing specialist.
  4. Launch a search, shopping, or Microsoft Audience Ad with Microsoft Advertising today to access over 1 billion people globally.