Preparing for retail peak: A checklist for paid search marketers

Any retailer will know that the peak sales period provides an opportunity for brands to drive substantial revenue in an isolated period of time. And as we edge closer into the ‘new normal’ across the globe, with increasing trends for shopping online, the opportunities to drive sales this year seem higher than ever.

In this article, we’ll explore key things paid search marketers should consider when preparing for retail peak.

The opportunities are huge…and growing

Google found that last year, the global sales peak topped at $1.1tn, with a whopping 45% of those sales happening during Cyber weekend. And whilst we’re all starting to venture back outside, the industry has proven that the new ‘norm’ is purchasing online. And this was only further confirmed by search continuing to remain the number one way in which consumers have discovered and purchased from brands.

Moreover, Google also found that 58% of holiday shoppers have said they’ll purchase more online this year, and 40% of consumers have also admitted to using digital to assist their in-store shopping. With this growing opportunity available, it’s crucial that brands are as prepared as possible for peak sales periods.

Checklist for a successful peak strategy

Every successful peak strategy should cover four of the basic retail paid search marketing elements:

  • A set of realistic goals
  • A clear stategy which leverages tools to plan and optimise performance through the growth maturity curve
  • Preparation for increased demand and the ability to capitalise on this
  • Plans for post-sales periods

Here at Croud, to ensure the success of our retail clients, we have devised a core checklist for campaigns during peak sales periods. As part of our commerce maturity framework, the elements in this checklist include:

  • Audience
  • Reach
  • Experience
  • Effectiveness
  • Operations


When setting up audiences for your campaign, you should ensure you’re reviewing your audience depth ahead. Are you targeting the correct audience profile with your peak promotions? Additionally, are you likely to capture a different audience with a discounted offering that might cause your target audience to need shifting?

It’s important to assess audiences via platforms such as Google’s Audience Planner to see which audience group might be over-indexed. Don’t forget to implement seasonal audiences too when they become available. Heavily investing in audiences that show a higher propensity to convert is key to success.

Top tip: First-party data is king, so ensure you’re utilising those CRM audiences for post-sales purchases, and have a clear plan for how you’ll re-engage with these audiences. Brand affinity is on the decline during sales peak, and whilst this is a good opportunity to ‘steal’ consumers from your competitors, you can’t be sure they will be returning customers. So it’s worth engaging with these audiences to encourage them to stay connected with your brand. For example, VIP discount access is often a successful approach.


Does your paid search strategy account for demand shifts? Are there sufficient broad match terms and breadth of coverage to account for demand increases in the run-up to Cyber weekend? If the answer is no for both, it is worth identifying those growth opportunities early and utilising products such as the Recommendations Tab and Performance Planner within Google Ads, to ensure you’re not at risk of losing any impression share due to budget constraints.

Whilst we would always recommend a full-funnel approach both across your wider marketing efforts and in your paid search accounts, realistically, it isn’t always that simple, especially with budget and KPI constraints for brands. However, in the run-up to peak periods, it’s worth aiming to use a full-funnel approach (awareness, consideration, conversion and engagement) as much as possible to make sure you’re leaving no stone unturned.

Also, look at increasing the funnel feeding ahead of peak periods, particularly during that time when normal purchasing takes a back seat – e.g when consumers are waiting for Black Friday deals. When doing this, make sure you’re building awareness and consideration using formats such as YouTube, Discovery and Prospecting via the Google Display Network.

Additionally, using lead generation campaigns for VIP early access is a fantastic dual-purpose approach that will help improve total sales for peak periods as well as increase your CRM breadth.


Look at taking all the learnings from any creative testing throughout the year and implementing them into your peak period creatives. Consider leveraging those with the highest performing call-to-actions and unique sales propositions and use these throughout.

All messaging used within the consideration, conversion and engagement stages should support your promotional offering in order to stand out from competitors. Additionally, consistent brand messaging should be used throughout all marketing activities so you have a clear, consistent brand.

In addition, make sure you’re maximising all creative formats and extensions that are at your disposal to take up as much real estate as possible against your competitors. Remember, taking every opportunity to get the very best engagement and traffic to your site is crucial.


Start to reduce changes to your bid strategies towards peak periods in order to prevent the amount you are intervening with AI. Look at also utilising auction-time bidding as much as possible to ensure your bidding is based on as many changing signals as possible.

Further to this, look at utilising seasonal adjustment events over peak periods, particularly if you’re expecting conversion rates to change by more than 30% over the course of promotions. Additionally, seasonality adjustments instruct your return-on-investment (ROI) bid strategies, so make specific adjustments to bids during the promotional period – these can be utilised for up to 14 days.


Finally, ensure you have a thorough plan for budget phasing throughout the peak period. Within reason, most brands utilise budgets fairly linearly normally; however, during the months of November and December, you should intentionally pull back spending (other than feeding the funnel and capturing immediate demand) to reduce spending where there is a purchase lull and then increase investment when people are looking for discounts.

It’s worth considering your competitors too. Do you know what they’re doing? A heat map of competitor bidding alongside benchmark bidding is key to understanding what potential cost-per-clicks (CPC) and competition you’ll have over the peak period – and also help you understand where the additional opportunities lie.

Armed with this checklist, you should be well-positioned to successfully navigate peak sales periods. However, don’t forget the final piece to the puzzle – a comprehensive timeline. Start early and prepare well with definitive deadline goals for each element.

For more holiday marketing tips, download our holiday marketing 2021 guide here. And to find out more about how to navigate retail peaks through smart digital marketing, get in touch.

by Victoria Cooper-Samios
15 November 2021



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