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Six months into the pandemic, we’ve all heard the “un-” words: unprecedented, unknown, unexpected. As we approach this holiday season, it’s likely to be full of its own “un-” words: unconventional, uncharted, unlike any other.

But in my work with retailers, I’ve heard that, while navigating this time has been hard, it’s also been freeing. Changes they’ve long wanted to make have become prioritized or even urgent, and this has accelerated innovation in their business, enabling them to be helpful to customers and find new ways to grow. As we approach what will likely be the most digital-first holiday season yet, retailers realize that digital marketing is critical for continued growth.

So how do you use digital channels and tools as a growth driver for your retail business? Earlier this month we hosted Think Retail On Air, a virtual event dedicated to helping retailers be ready for the holidays. During the event, I spoke to some of our omnichannel customers about how they accelerated digital when it mattered most, and how they’re continuing to use those strategies going into the holiday season. Here’s what we learned:

Use real-time insights and automation to inspire and acquire new customers

As many of us were stuck at home seeking new ways to exercise, technical apparel retailer Lululemon used real-time insights around at-home fitness trends to drive content creation and ads for its YouTube channel. For example, the retailer saw spikes in searches for “yoga at home” and prioritized creating and posting content for those queries. This helped the team meet a clear consumer need while expanding its reach to new audiences, growing subscribers by 89% and inspiring 950,000 hours of watched YouTube content in its first quarter, 25% of which was driven by advertising.

Lululemon also continued to lean into its existing automation strategies across its paid programs, enabling quick reactions to behavior and business changes. Lululemon Director of Digital Marketing Lindsay Noyes offers one piece of advice for other retailers going into the holiday season: “As much as you can automate, automate it, and leverage machine learning wherever possible. We have a finite number of people resources, and automation and machine learning really enable scale.”

Watch the full conversation.

Bring the best of the store and physical assets to digital

At the onset of the pandemic, essential retailer Petco saw that while people were stocking up for themselves, they were also stocking up for their pets. As this happened, the brand’s digital-only competitors were unable to fulfill orders at the speed that pet parents needed. Petco accelerated its plans to launch curbside pickup and ship-from-store options, bringing them live in a matter of weeks.

These actions enabled the brand to grow e-commerce sales by 100% year over year and use demand-driven investing to cut acquisition costs by two-thirds. Going into the holiday, VP of Media Transformation Jay Altschuler recommends other retailers have a strong data strategy by unifying their first-party information across retail channels to remove silos and ensure confidence in advertising investment.

See how Petco did it.

Driving online sales through full-funnel approaches

Omnichannel footwear and apparel retailer Ariat refocused its strategy to digital when stores closed during the pandemic. To drive online sales, the brand inspired upper-funnel awareness of its products through YouTube brand campaigns, then used other Google Ads products like Shopping Ads for a full-funnel approach. This strategy helped the brand generate 7X more e-commerce sales year over year, making April its second-best month online ever in the history of the company. CEO and Founder Beth Cross says the team will continue this full-funnel strategy going into the holiday season.

Watch their story.

We hope you use these strategies to be ready for the holidays with your own “un-” words: unfazed, undeterred, unlimited.

Want more insights and strategies to help you be ready for this holiday season? Watch the rest of Think Retail On Air, on demand now.