The way consumers shop during the holidays has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. Not only are they starting earlier, but as the UK’s cost-of-living crisis continues, they’re also spending less across all categories.

This situation places added pressure on brands to distinguish themselves during what is, hopefully, the most profitable season of the year — and not the biggest missed opportunity due to shortcomings in their data strategy. As advertisers shift into ‘holiday mode’, below are some critical insights to keep in mind for a successful and impactful campaign season.

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Matthew Biboud Lubeck Vice President EMEA Amperity

Out with the old

It’s time to expect the unexpected. Old-school holiday campaign timing and targeting simply don’t work anymore in light of new consumer behaviours. Customers are buying seasonal items earlier, focusing more on necessities rather than sale-priced luxury items and buying up-trending items shared as pairings or group displays.

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Disruptive sales events like Amazon’s Prime Day are demonstrating some of those behaviours. The eCommerce giant had huge numbers on Prime Day 2023, with sales reaching an estimated £10 billion worldwide – a 6 per cent increase over last year. This indicates a positive direction for the economy, which is great news for advertisers. But it also stems from smart planning.

Below are three tactics Amazon used along with my recommendations for your holiday strategies:

1) Invitation-only deals: Personalised, advanced offers based on consumers’ previous purchase histories.

    • Full access to every consumer’s unique buying profile will be key to tailoring unique communications like these.

2) Best value vs. lowest price offers: More consumers purchased essential items versus lower-priced luxury ones.

    • With smaller budgets, consumers are shopping for necessities – and having the insights to target them in the right place at the right time will be critical.

3) Pairing of orchestrated offerings: Amazon saw a large uptick around its curated lists and specifically strong product trend. Think of the mass appeal across demographics related to Barbie movie merchandise – Dad buys an “I’m Kenough” t-shirt, Mom nabs a hot pink jacket and the kids get a couple of “Weird Barbie” dolls.

    • Staying on top of emerging trends and offering easy access to grouping suggestions could be a gamechanger for you, too.

4) Preparing for privacy and a cookieless New Year

Privacy changes continue to impact the landscape. As it stands, the EU general data protection regulation (GDPR) remains the strongest privacy and security law in the world. In fact, just recently Meta and TikTok were fined big for violating its privacy laws.

Furthermore, in Q1 2024, Google will begin disabling third-party cookie tracking for 1 per cent of Chrome users. With 65 per cent market share, this is something advertisers cannot ignore – and as time goes on and cookies are further disabled, the impact will only get more pronounced.

Trends you need to know now:

  1. First-party data: Freely-given, first-party consumer data is now critical, not just for targeting, but also for attribution. Companies already turning to first-party data are running really clean AB tests and having the ability, without third-party data, to connect the data together on the back end for a clearer profile of each unique customer.
  2. Contextual Targeting: Marketing to a single person with static attributes is moving towards contextual targeting based on what people are doing at a given time rather than who they are in a more static sense.
  3. Data Clean Rooms: One of the biggest areas the continued deprecation of cookies will affect is measurement and attribution. Clean rooms are filling that hole – to tell advertisers if certain types of marketing were effective, drove incremental sales, etc.

AI: Your own personal Santa’s helper

Using generative AI in retail has been a big differentiator in creating propensity models for insights into why consumers purchase specific items – and how to promote more sales. Tasks that used to be very manual are now fed into AI engines to devise hyper-targeted messaging at scale.

Even more, if you don’t have enough holiday content to speak to different segments with different tones, using AI is a budget-conscious way to crank out a lot of content variations quickly and with minimal effort.

Preparation is key

Whether your advertising strategy is operating at a baseline (one-to-one communications) or a more advanced level (AI-driven), you can still prepare and succeed.

Understand and address the challenges you’re faced with today to:

  • Get ahead of things like lead times to pull specific lists
  • Develop the right copy to execute on those campaigns
  • Pre-test systems to prevent outages
  • Find the solutions to better know your customers and present them with relevant offers at the right place and time.

From ugly sweater parties to profit margins: Balancing holiday demands

It’s crucial to have the agility to target and act between Black Friday and close of fiscal. Often in retail, we need to move fast to see what’s going on under the sales – if they are soft or even if they’re strong – and decide what levers to pull or to hold back on.

Ask yourself:

  • Which holiday shoppers were buying last year and why they haven’t shopped yet?
  • Who are your ‘gifters’ and have you seen them?   
  • How can you design and target promotions to maximise basket size of different types of spenders to push them higher?

And last one – how hard is it to do this at the speed of the holidays without ruining a perfectly great ugly sweater party because you’re stuck at the office trying to run analytics jobs or waiting for data?

Jingling all the way through 2024

You’ll collect a lot of consumer data and need to put it to work. Consider where you sit on the maturity curve and what types of initiatives you can put on your roadmap early in 2024 to ensure you’re stepping forward as an organisation.

  • Baseline: Develop core buyer personas and begin defining initial segmentation
  • Basic Targeting: Improve operational process to generate customer segments
  • Cross-Channel: Test and analyse segment performance across channel mixes
  • 1:1 Personalisation: Begin operationalising personalised recommendations and next best action engines
  • AI-driven Activation: Incorporate broader range of touchpoints into decisioning (i.e. product reviews, customer care surveys, return rates)

Checking your tech stack twice

Do you have what you need to make these strategies easier? Or does your current tech just maintain the status quo? The goal here is to move up that maturity curve to put yourself in a better position than you may be now.

Pro tip: Using a customer data platform that merges all your physical and digital data within unified customer data profiles by using zero, first and second-party data (and even third-party data sources as a supplement where appropriate) is a critical way to stay current, keep sales moving in a positive direction and predict best ways to campaign into the future. If you haven’t already, look into it now.

Don’t delay – ‘sleigh’ the holiday retail scene now

There are a lot of basics that organisations can do right now to get ahead of the holidays and 2024 planning. However, don’t stall. If you wait until mid-November to start, you and your customers will come away empty-handed.

To learn more about ways to prepare, plan, and execute for a successful Black Friday and 2024, check out Amperity’s recent webinar: Countdown to Black Friday: Strategies to Win Holiday 2023.

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Matthew Biboud-Lubeck, Vice President EMEA, Amperity
Vice President EMEA at Amperity | + posts