Cross-Channel Integrated Planning

Marketer’s Guide to Holiday 2021 | Edition 1: Playbook

Marked by a global pandemic, an election, and the longest shopping season in history, 2020 was an unprecedented holiday season. While many are hoping and planning for a “return to normal,” consumer shopping behaviors have changed, and marketers must be prepared to deliver this holiday season in new ways. This year will require an elevated digital experience, proactive budget and scenario planning, agile responsiveness to changes in consumer trends, and ongoing alignment with fulfillment and operations teams to deliver on consumer expectations. Below is a summary of what you’ll find in the Marketer’s Guide to Holiday 2021.

What happened last year?

2020 sales and results were overall better than expected driven by strong ecommerce growth, an elongated shopping season, and blurred lines between site and store. Three key events impacting the 2020 holiday season were:

Global Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing—causing store closures, shipping delays, and diminished disposable income for many Americans. With store closures and restricted shopping experiences, consumers turned online. Ecommerce spending jumped 32.5% to $185.88 billion and drove large gains as online shopping became the norm for many consumers.1 The lines between stores and site blurred as contactless shipping and other hybrid models (BOPIS, Curbside Pickup) grew in popularity and retailers tried to mimic in-store experiences online (virtual try-on) to best serve customers.

Election Year

A divisive election added noise to the start of November, causing many marketers to shift their messaging strategies. During the election period we observed a significant change in costs and media efficiency, due to increased competition and limited inventory, likely caused by the increase in political advertising spend. Additionally, most of our clients chose to pull back on marketing spend during key dates of 11/2-11/5.

Longest Season in History Starting with Prime Day Date in October

A shift in Prime Day timing from July to mid-October was driving retailers to kick off an earlier-than-usual start to the season. Beginning in October with Prime Day and extending to late December, the shopping season was the longest in holiday history. Despite historic Cyber Monday performance, Cyber Five underperformed expectations, decreasing overall share of holiday season ecommerce sales for the first time since 2016.1

View The Full Guide: Marketer’s Guide to Holiday 2021

What we expect to change this year?

This year we expect the following themes given consumer behavior and lifecycle of the pandemic:

WHO – Consumer Trends Impacting 2021 Shopping Season

  • Consumers are confident but not back to normal, with Delta variant as main concern
  • Unemployment has declined but is still higher than pre-pandemic

WHERE – Holiday Shopping Channel Trends

  • Ecommerce will continue to grow faster than stores with a focus on mobile
  • Lines will continue to be blurred between site and store throughout the entire buying process as consumers expect a digitally connected experience

WHEN – Dates to Be Aware Of

  • Cyber 5 will return to prominence representing ~20% of the holiday season’s sales, and while shoppers will begin shopping early it is not anticipated to be the same elongated season as 2020
  • Child tax credit payments are likely to drive spikes in shopping with six key payment dates July 15th -December 15th

WHAT – Anticipated Category Trends

  • Expect spend on apparel, travel, events, and experience will grow
  • Back-to-school will be an indicator of upcoming holiday performance and consumer shopping behaviors

HOW – Considerations for Pricing and Fulfillment

  • Prices are rising compared to last year as supply chain pressure continues and given observed lower prices in 2020

View The Full Guide: Marketer’s Guide to Holiday 2021

So, what’s a marketer to do?

Maximize your enterprise return

Use a fluid investment strategy and have frequent budget and scenario conversations. Create up and down scenarios including the following components:

  • Measurement: Develop a proactive measurement strategy in anticipation of trends that enables fast, nimble, and fluid investment decisions across your marketing portfolio.
  • Digital Experience: Double down on digital experience to ensure your digital, mobile and hybrid experiences exceed consumer expectations. Reach consumers where they are, measuring and accounting for cross-device behavior, improving the shoppability of social ads, and adjusting search bidding based on evolving consumer intent. Optimize your mobilefirst digital experience, including considerations for site speed, stability, and delivery.
  • Enterprise Support: Where you doubled down on digital-only last year with stores closed, ensure you have a strong plan for driving and measuring enterprise sales (online + store sales).
  • Flighting: Plan to pull budgets forward and accelerate based on early performance. A dollar in October is as good as a dollar in December.
  • Promotions: Leverage promotions thoughtfully to accelerate business as you hit or miss forecasts. Don’t starve a hard- working promotion due to time constrained budgets. Stay competitive on Free Shipping.
  • Categories: Consider profitability and LTV in your product category investment approach. Emphasize products across the site and through marketing that deliver a high marginal return for the business and are in-stock.
  • Customer: Maximize impact from current customers and the influx of new customers. Have a plan to grow and retain the influx of new customers you may have seen in the last few months while maximizing impact from current customers.

Align operations and logistics with marketing

Know when and what inventory is available, sync messaging and spend to your delivery strategy, consider ship cut-off dates, and lean into stores with BOPIS in metro areas.

Expect the unexpected

Build a playbook of likely potential outcomes, closely monitor key indicators, plan for each scenario, and be prepared to adjust in the moment as reality plays out.

View The Full Guide: Marketer’s Guide to Holiday 2021


Steve Baxter

Executive Vice President, Media

About the Author

Steve is the Executive Vice President of Media at Ovative. Steve oversees delivery and growth across paid digital media, owned digital media, traditional media, marketplaces, and creative services. He has been with the company since 2010 and launched Ovative’s media practice in 2012. Prior to joining Ovative, Steve worked at Target for 8 years where he led development of... Read More >>

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