What You Should Have Learned from Online Retail’s Christmas Season

Ian O'Rourke Posted by Ian O'Rourke

Christmas in 2014 was a major event, as we witnessed some major tussles between new and old players in the retail market.

According to the Daily Mail, 48% of Britons said they would buy their Christmas gifts online in 2013; in 2014, this proportion could have only grown. As a result, the top online retailers pulled out all the stops, leading to both surprising and unsurprising results.

First Question: Who Earned the Most Clicks?

No surprise here: Amazon won by a large margin. The graph below shows share of voice (SOV) for the Christmas period, and also reveals that Amazon had a lot to celebrate.

[lightbox rel=”group1″ width=”860″ href=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/xmasretailpaid.png” title=”Christmas retailers paid SOV: Adthena data” src=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/xmasretailpaid.png”][/lightbox]
Christmas retailers paid SOV: Adthena data

Consider these figures for a moment: Amazon took more than a quarter of all industry traffic in the UK during the Christmas period, a mammoth achievement given the high stakes, and one that must have produced impressive sales on its site. It’s even further proof that Amazon is now the king of online retail.

John Lewis earned second place at just under 10% SOV, which is rather surprising, given that this company often lags in the PPC department. However, we should remember that Christmas is a time for treats and luxury goods. Given that John Lewis is a premium brand, it may well have seen more traffic as a result.

Interestingly, given the dominance of online-only Amazon, behind John Lewis came Argos with nearly 7% and Marks and Spencer with nearly 4%. Clearly, the old guard knows how to fight in the new market. Besides Amazon, the only other online frontrunner was XXL-Sale, with just under 4% SOV.


The diagram below shows which keywords Amazon, John Lewis, and Argos all bid on, and which ones each retailer uniquely held. You can see that Amazon bid on the most keywords, but the gap wasn’t as big as you’d expect. The two old-school retailers bid on about the same number of keywords, and the overlap between the three was rather large.

[lightbox rel=”group1″ width=”860″ href=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/xmasretailh2hpaid.png” title=”Christmas retailers keyword head-to-head: Adthena data” src=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/xmasretailh2hpaid.png”][/lightbox]

We can derive at least two insights from these results: firstly, those keywords on which only Amazon bid served the retail giant well. Secondly, given that Argos only took home the equivalent of 70% of John Lewis’ traffic while bidding on a similar number of keywords, John Lewis’ choices must have been much wiser.

We feel obliged to mention that Amazon’s competitors likely could have closed the gap even further using Adthena’s toolset, which would have told them who was bidding on which keywords and how much they were spending.

We also noticed that a particularly powerful group of keywords emerged this year: those related to Christmas-themed costumes and seasonal clothing. Children love to dress up, adults love those Christmas jumpers, and the retailers noticed. John Lewis and Amazon even bid on “baby christmas jumper.”

Second Question: Who Spent the Most?

[lightbox rel=”group1″ width=”860″ href=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/XmasretailSOS.png” title=”Christmas retailers SOS: Adthena data” src=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/XmasretailSOS.png”][/lightbox]

Right again: It was Amazon by a comfortable margin. It must be a bit galling for the other competitors to see that Amazon actually accounted for a lower proportion of the spend than it got back in SOV. And none should be more appalled than GAP, which spent almost 7% of the total, but didn’t even rank in our SOV data.

The simplest explanation for this outcome is the one that you’ll most often read: Amazon was the smartest of the pack while simultaneously compiling the best data.

The Also-Rans Fight Back

[lightbox rel=”group1″ width=”860″ href=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/xmasretailpaidtrend.png” title=”Christmas retailers SOV trend: Adthena data” src=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/xmasretailpaidtrend.png”][/lightbox]

As you can see from the graph above, Amazon’s SOV didn’t drop below 25% until December 22nd. From this point on, including over the Bank Holiday, the runner-up brands like Argos, John Lewis, and Marks and Spencer ramped up their spending in order to bring in more traffic.

This push sent Amazon dropping below 20% for the first time, and overall, the strategy seemed to pay off for the competing brands, which all hovered around the 10% mark.

Moreover, Argos and M&S managed to spend less in proportion to the SOVs they got in return, though the same did not hold true for John Lewis, which spent 10.18% of the total in return for 9.14% of the traffic. Argos and M&S proved that, once again, a smart PPC strategy is essential to earning efficient results.

Amazon, it seems, woke up the happiest on Christmas morning, taking the cake in terms of both quantity and quality. However, the efficiency and success that Argos and M&S enjoyed highlight the fact that PPC continues to be a game that’s not just for those with huge wallets.

(Main image credit: Kevin Dooley/flickr)

About the author

Ian O'Rourke
Ian O'Rourke
Ian is the CEO and Founder of Adthena. He has been involved in technology businesses and start-ups for over 22 years and has built businesses across the globe including in Silicon Valley, London, Australia and Taiwan. Ian has grown Adthena since 2012 to its current position as the premier global provider of competitive intelligence. Ian likes to foster a culture of great products, getting things done, responsibility, freedom and continuous improvement.