Why the online comparison shopper is here to stay

A Q&A with Marc Ó Fathaigh, UK Country manager at Criteo.

How did you get to become Criteo’s UK Country Manager and what does the role entail?

I spent just over six years with Google working across Dublin and London before joining Criteo in 2017 where I’ve held a number of roles before becoming UK Country Manager in 2020. The Country Manager role leads the UK commercial teams with ultimate responsibility for revenue. My main role is to ensure that all Criteo clients get the most out of our solutions and teams. I focus on the added value that our Criteo data and expertise can bring to the table and make sure that the needs of UK advertisers are prioritised; whether that's across new solutions like CTV or audio, or control and transparency with the platform. Overall, I've got a really varied role which means there is never a dull moment!

What additional aspects of your role do you consider as important?

Being an ex-Googler, I’ve learned the importance of communication and have built this into my role by getting involved where I can on the 'speaking circuit,' including The Drum events. We're really transforming as a business, so communicating this to the market, for me, is key. Other aspects of my role I consider important are mentoring team members, cross-team collaboration with Country Managers across the EMEA and best practice sharing.

COVID lockdowns have had a profound impact on shopping habits and for the first time ever we saw online shopping accounting for more than 30 per cent of consumer spending in the UK. How do you see this trend playing out?

It is no surprise that, due to lockdown restrictions, online shoppers are spending more time browsing and purchasing online. However, digging below the headline stats adds depth to how this will all play out. So during the pandemic, 32% of never-before seen shopper segments such as UK boomers have discovered buying goods online and say they are likely to continue. COVID also brought out the comparison shopper with 49% of Criteo shoppers finding a new brand or retailer during the first lockdown and 83% of these shoppers saying that they would continue to shop with these new brands and retailers. So we should expect more of this in 2021 as consumers’ online confidence matures.

How have these new online shopping habits impacted online events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the festive shopping period in general?

I think the festive period has been changing for several years as more consumers have increasingly engaged with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The competition online is intense, with aggressive discounting strategies taking place throughout the year. However, it's reached a point where very few retailers can afford to boycott Black Friday. We tracked that over 95% of retailers had some form of promotion over the period.

If there was one year retailers needed Black Friday, it was 2020. So how did it succeed this year and how did it perform in comparison to 2019?

This year was a bit different to my expectations! Given the trends we have observed from the year so far. The 2020 spike was on par with 2019. Instead, growth came from the days before and after Black Friday. Sales in the first three weeks of November were up 17% year-on-year globally. This is interesting because it shows that the singles day event evolved into a much longer sales period this year. It may also help explain the slight drop in the US, since sales happened earlier this year than ever before. In countries where COVID-19 is surging again, lockdowns have been reimposed, and online shopping is the only option, so online sales are higher - not least because we have seen retailers become more innovative.

What part has innovation played in recent online growth and what does it mean for traditional retailers?

While COVID has accelerated the shift online, it has also accelerated innovation in the industry. Faster, tracked delivery, free returns, mobile-first shopping experience and better identification of the shopper have all helped make online work for shoppers in 2020, so I think it'll be a habit that will stand the test of time. In terms of traditional retailers, while they have certainly endured a tough 2020, their USPs remain intact. So long as they can capitalise on a true omni-channel shopping experience, in-store higher AOVs, in-store higher conversion rates and brand recognition they can continue to have a great success in 2021.

“Yeah, but measurement still has to improve…” is a crude summing up of so many panels at The Drum Digital Summit recently. How do you see metrics evolving over the next 12 months?

The next 12 months represent a great opportunity for omni-channel metrics. With "offline-only" shoppers currently online, many will go back to the physical stores when the COVID situation improves. We know that different channels and tactics move the needle in different ways, so identifying shoppers across multiple channels is crucial for advertisers going forward. The tools to measure data-driven attribution are improving all the time allowing advertisers to get closer to the Holy Grail of omni-channel personalisation at scale. It’s all about making sure your marketing pounds are being well-spent across channels and platforms with the right metrics and, of course, the right digital partner.

With more people shopping online, what are your views on the shift from third-party to first-party data and its potential?

Third-party cookie deprecation is something we've anticipated for some time. Over the past couple of years, user trust in third-party identifiers diminished, mainly due to insufficient transparency and control mechanisms. Finding an alternative to cookies is one of the biggest challenges our industry is facing today, and that’s why we are partnering on the Unified ID 2.0 in order to establish a new privacy-friendly and user-friendly identifier.

Nevertheless, this trend has accelerated the shift towards using first-party data, which has none of the privacy issues associated with third-party cookies. It’s clean, reliable, and information rich. Importantly, it gives the ability to create custom audiences to drive a higher return on ad spend. Additionally, clients can boost omni-channel revenue by engaging key customer segments to bring qualified traffic back to their website or drive foot traffic in-store. In terms of value going forward, it’s a no brainer!

Find out more by catching up on the Digital Summit 2020 panel session featuring Marc Ó Fathaigh, UK Country manager, Criteo and Chris Carter, marketing and e-commerce director, Specsavers. Watch ‘How will retail rebound in 2021’ here.