I’m hear­ing peo­ple say that Black Fri­day was good and that sales have risen year-over-year for this hol­i­day period. But mar­keters would do well to con­sider that this year’s Thanks­giv­ing fell 5 days later than last year. That means this year’s U.S. hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son is 15% shorter than it was last year (27 days vs. 32 days). So even if Black Fri­day 2008 was a few per­cent­age points bet­ter than 2007, things still look mighty bad rel­a­tive to retail­ers’ expectations.

As far back as the Great Depres­sion, in 1939, Franklin Roo­sevelt was aware that a shorter buy­ing period could have detri­men­tal effects on the econ­omy. Thanks­giv­ing was set to fall late that year; Roo­sevelt used his pres­i­den­tial pow­ers to order that the hol­i­day be moved a week ear­lier, from Novem­ber 30th to Novem­ber 23rd, in an effort to pump life into a flag­ging U.S. econ­omy. His the­ory was that con­sumers would begin shop­ping ear­lier and, hav­ing a longer shop­ping period, would spend more on the hol­i­days. Unfor­tu­nately, “Franks­giv­ing,” as it was called, caused more harm than good, mess­ing up sport­ing event and travel sched­ules for mil­lions of peo­ple while pro­vid­ing no dis­cernible pos­i­tive eco­nomic impact (as detailed on Wikipedia).

Still, when Thanks­giv­ing occurs later in the month of Novem­ber, as it did this year, it’s almost cer­tain to have a neg­a­tive effect on the econ­omy rel­a­tive to years where the hol­i­day falls earlier.

Thanks­giv­ing is the psy­cho­log­i­cal marker for when we’re to start our hol­i­day shop­ping; Christ­mas Eve marks the last day to buy gifts. Because the cur­rent year’s hol­i­day period length is 15% shorter, it’s pos­si­ble that total hol­i­day shop­ping could be as much as 15% lower than for last year’s 32-day shop­ping period. That, of course, is a worse-case sce­nario: one would hope that our gift-giving is not so directly tied to the num­ber of days we have to shop. But because of the macro­eco­nomic pain we’re in, as well as the speed with which that pain descended upon us, it’s unlikely the 2008 hol­i­day shop­ping period will bring any­thing but pain to retail­ers, includ­ing those using search as a pri­mary mar­ket­ing channel.

While mov­ing Christ­mas out one week is not an option, there are things search mar­keters can do to lessen the neg­a­tive effects of this year’s cal­en­dar, includ­ing the fol­low­ing two moves.

  • Tem­porar­ily lower your ROAS goals or raise your allow­able Cost of Sales con­straints.
    It is pos­si­ble, per­haps even likely, that con­sumers — aware they have fewer days to shop — will thus con­vert at a higher rate over the com­ing days than in years past. This is a hol­i­day sea­son where antic­i­pat­ing what con­ver­sions from search are likely to be will be important.
  • Tune your bid management’s data recency weight­ing — at least for high-volume key­words — to take only the last few days into con­sid­er­a­tion when mak­ing bid changes. Now that the first few days of the hol­i­day sea­son are in the data bag, so to speak, adver­tis­ers should rely on these last few days of data, and have their bid man­age­ment sys­tem man­age to that data, rather than look­ing back 30 days or more.