Running an online business can be a challenge at the best of times (as I'm sure you already know), and Black Friday is no exception. In fact, shoppers spent more than £1billion online on Black Friday alone in 2016, and these numbers are expected to increase further by 3% this year, which is why it's crucial that your business is prepared to take advantage of this potential increase in sales.
But don’t be alarmed, there’s still time. There are plenty of ways you can make the craze of Black Friday manageable, so we’ve gathered 12 eCommerce experts to give their advice on how you can smash through the Black Friday sales.
#1 Richard Goss: Commercial Director at Rinkit
“It’s definitely worth speaking to your couriers about collecting on the Saturday and Sunday of the Black Friday weekend – they will do it and helps them, you and your customers. You should also start creating product bundles NOW and let them propagate in advance of the big day. Finally, pre-pack as much as you can now so that when it comes to Black Friday all you need to do is stick the label on”.
#2 Matthew Thorpe: Founder of Grasshopper
“I guess the rules that really stand out for me are:
Target Segments - A 30% off everything is a little lazy and un-targeted. Segment your list in advance and target them based on products they have purchased already. You will get a better strike rate because they need it!
Create Pre-Sale Buzz - Instead of hitting customers with an offer on the day (like everyone else will), plant the seed a week before and have a couple of pre-sale emails to wet their appetite, then use the increased traffic to get people onto your list, even if they don't buy.
Always Add Value - Don't be tempted to spam customers with discount offers. Just because it's cheap, it doesn't mean to say people will buy it and you will damage your brand. Get them to open your emails because it will interest them”.
“In my experience, site search is a good opportunity to drive improvements when going into peak trading periods, quick wins which address 0 - result search errors, boost key products or collections, and are able to handle more complex queries and improving the performance.
Applying boosting rules is a good example, to ensure that the right products are being promoted (which could be at a global level or a query level), whether this is due to margin, general popularity, a seasonal surge in popularity etc (in the same way as visual merchandising). Without this, your search results will be based purely on what the technology deems most relevant. I generally recommend Klevu, as I work with them a lot, however, there are other alternatives out there.
Spending time looking at search terms that are driving 0 - result errors and fixing these using synonyms is another good quick win - historically I've had some really good wins with clients in this area, often as a result of a term not matching catalogue references. Ideally, you'd use an NLP-based (natural language processing) search solution, which would be in a better position to facilities for more advanced queries.
Other things that I'd generally recommend looking at would be the allocation of paid media budgets (ensuring that key campaigns aren't capping out and that budget is focused on high demand products etc), investing time in server provisioning and ensuring that top sections of your site are merchandised effectively.”
#4 Chris MacNeil: Founder of E-booster Limited, Amazon eCommerce Consultant
“Amazon Black Friday offers you a fantastic opportunity to make a lot more sales of your products due to the major upturn in traffic on Amazon. In order to benefit from this, you must be prepared and ensure that your inventory stocks are high enough to cope with the additional demand.
Your aim on Amazon Black Friday is to get as many people to view your product listings as possible. So you must be prepared to monitor customer feedback and respond very promptly. When others see these swift responses, they are more likely to buy from you.
A secret that is not that well known to drive sales on Black Friday is to offer free shipping on your products. People shopping on Amazon Black Friday are expecting a good deal so you can reduce your prices, offer free shipping or do both.
If you have a number of related products on Amazon then you can strategically bundle them in an attempt to win the “Buy Box”. If you have some low-cost items that compliment the main product then offering a bundle can really make a difference”.
#5 Dave Hermansen: Founder of Storecoach.com
What we do in preparation for Black Friday depends on the type of website we are working on. No matter what type of site it is, we definitely create a Black Friday banner with an overall message that these are the lowest prices of the year. We affix that banner to the top of the home page as well as every category and product page, and of course, the special ends at the stroke of midnight in order to create urgency.
If the website is a one-off site where somebody purchases once and you never hear from them again (for example a site selling refrigerators) we really don't do anything except create the banner. We don't change our prices because there is no reason to. They are still the lowest prices of the year. All we have done is spun a perception.
On the other hand, if it is a site with repeat customers and/or one with a large following on social networks, you're not going to get away with that. For those types of sites, create a Black Friday Specials page and link to it from a banner. You certainly do not want to discount every product on your site; you just want to have a few where you lower the price. Pick a few of the most popular products and knock the price down as much as you can tolerate. It is an extremely good idea to offer your specials on products that usually need accessories (which are not discounted) so that you can recoup some of the discounts you gave.
You'll definitely want to tease your Black Friday special on the social networks each day, starting a few days before the big event. "Don't Miss Our Black Friday Sale - Our Lowest Prices of the Year - Prices Too Low to Advertise!"
It doesn't really take much planning or much work to have an effective Black Friday. You just need to think a little bit and, of course, rinse and repeat for Cyber Monday!
#6 James Gurd: Founder of Digital Juggler
"Black Friday is a price driven event, so you need to find hooks to get people listening to your offers as they go live. Here are some sensible tactics:
- Encourage people to sign up for price alerts – do this at different levels, from receiving all price alerts to being able to subscribe to specific categories, brands and products based on customer interest. If there are no price alerts for a subscribed product or brand, cross-promote other relevant brands/products e.g. you wanted price alerts on Men’s Ted Baker shirts, here are deals on Hugo Boss and Ralph Lauren shirts.
- Build a ‘discount’ landing page that links to all products that will feature in your Black Friday promotion, and add a ‘Get price alert’ Call To Action for each product, so that as a product is reduced, all interested customers receive an email notification. Depending on the systems you use, you can also do this via SMS and look at push notifications (most effective if you have an app).
- Targeted campaigns are important as well, they have to be different to any other time of year. For example:
- For people who have bought more than X times from a specific category or brand in last 12 months, send a focused email with matching products.
- Offer tiered incentives to drive basket size e.g. Increasing discount based on spend threshold.
- Use affinity segments to cross-promote products/brands to people based on their previous purchase history e.g. If you know people who buy dresses often go on to buy matching shoes, target all people who haven’t yet bought the matching shoes.
- Use price levers to upset people to higher ticket items e.g. customers who have only ever bought items less than £100, promote discounted items that are £100 or more.
- Create special bundles where the customer gets a good discount but you get a much higher average order value.
But most important of all is ensure that your people and processes are ready to cope. Ensure there is sufficient resource throughout the Black Friday period to handle inbound enquiries and make sure you have the best possible 24/7 technical support to keep the website and back-end systems working efficiently as demands peaks. There’s no point driving huge sales increases via the website and phone line if your operational capacity won’t support it".
#7 Ryan Gardiner: Founder of DCI Digital
Want bigger results? Put the time in.
The sad truth is, I’ve witnessed more businesses fail at Black Friday than I have successful, and not just from the smaller guys either. Regardless of the advice of my team, tips they’d read online or just cold hard stats put in front of them, they were driven by hype and promises of riches from the media.
The reality is most articles won’t discuss all the retailers witnessing Black Friday disappointments, so I’d like to bring you back down to Earth for a moment and share some of my own life experiences in hope to steer you away from making the same mistake as millions of others retailers this November.
Plan & prepare, don’t just wing it. It’s well known that some industries certainly lend themselves better than others to the Cyber Monday & Black Friday epidemic, but what I’ve witnessed is a similar trait among the business owner’s mindset that’s the real problem.
Focus on what works, instead of what doesn’t.
One of the biggest reasons retailer giants do so well with Black Friday & Cyber Monday sales is because they’re promoting popular products they know people already buy. Of course, the discount can certainly make or break the sale, but if the people don’t want the product in the first place then a minor discount is rarely going to sway them.
If you’ve got a few winning products, put all your time and effort into squeezing every drop of juice out of them. So many businesses chase fairy tale sales on products that have never proven themselves as sellers. This is the biggest shopping day all year, don’t waste it promoting products that you already know don’t sell.
Focus on products that sell well at their regular price and you’ll know with confidence that the product has every possibility to succeed. Once you’ve found a discount level that works for you, your only job is to ride the Black Friday wave and maximise exposure, via social, email, paid ads and any other channel you have available to you - the product should do the rest.
And to finish, here are some of my pointers for the smaller retailers out there:
- If margins are tight, have a chat with your supplier or rep and explain you’ll offer them prime positioning on your Black Friday/Cyber Monday marketing in exchange for preferential rates during that period to allow you to offer a bigger discount.
- Make sure you have strategic cart abandonment in place! People are easily distracted this time of year.
- Consider the lifetime value of a new customer, not just the Black Friday sale profit.
- If you’re restricted by brands forcing RRP’s on you, offer it as a discount code by email.
- Add a Black Friday category to your site and have a prominent site-wide banner to steer people towards it, or change your regular sale banners to mention Black Friday.
- If your email list is already segmented, try to send targeted emails to users rather than a general email blast.
- Prepare your Adwords titles in advance. Duplicate Ads and change titles to mention Black Friday to massively improve Click - Through Rate.
#8 Kathir Sid Vel: eCommerce Specialist at Optimise Web
Beware the coupon code wormhole
Coupon codes are synonymous with Black Friday. Get your coupon code strategy right, well in advance. It is highly likely that your customers might be expecting a coupon code of some sort. Do not make it hard for them to find your code(s). Flash the coupon code on all pages. Promote it on your social profiles. Create a 'Black Friday Coupon Codes' page and optimise it for search rankings. The last thing you want is for your customer to leave your website to search for coupon codes and get snatched away by a competitor.
Stock status and lead time
You'll be registering a high volume of sales. It could be easy to lose track of stock. Get your stock system integrations tested and ready for real-time updates. Even better, make it clear how long it would take for the ordered products to reach your customer. Buy yourself a bit of breathing space as you're going to be very busy fulfilling a large number of orders!
#9 Chris Dawson: Founder of Tamebay
“It’s the best quarter for business we are coming into at the moment. But how do you get involved?
Gift sets: Make up your own gift set, with a combination of your best-selling products, it will increase your average order value. Because instead of buying one item in one transaction, I’m buying 5. It also makes it more attractive, because as soon as you call something a gift set, someone will think “oh great I can buy that for so and so for Christmas”. Make sure you include the word “gift set” in the title of your item.
Delivery: In terms of delivery, you don’t need to offer a bargain price with premium service. Offer next day delivery for Black Friday because if customers buy something for Christmas, they have a whole month to wait for their item, therefore slower standard delivery will ease the pressure of your warehouse. Look at offering extended returns, so customers feel they have a safety net if they buy something at the Black Friday sales, and your business will be there to support them after Christmas”.
#10 Tom Robertshaw: Founder of Meanbee LTD and Hivemind Research
The time has come to batten down the hatches and prepare for the flood of new and returning customers over Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The new features and website updates that this year's eCommerce strategy decided upon should now be in place ready for the peak season that will be upon us shortly. In the last few weeks, it's best to focus on squeezing the most out of your site. Here are a few areas you could look into:
- A last minute check for quick wins on server performance (time to first byte), or frontend performance (time to load/interactive). Is your cache hit rate looking good? Is there any more aggressive caching strategies that you can put in place during the high traffic periods? Have a developer look over the frontend as well to see if there's any optimisation that can be done on a number of images, CSS and JS files being fetched and parsed on each page load. For images that you upload to content areas, make sure they're optimised and compressed before upload. Not all ecommerce platforms will do this for you and you don't want customers bouncing from the first page because the large images made it take too long to load.
- A/B Tests
- The increase in traffic during this period is a great time to run some tests because it won't take as long to get a good sample. Clearly, there's some risk involved, but also a big opportunity!
- Checkout Optimisation
- There's not much more time for this but related to the previous point. Trial a tool that gives you insight into how new customers use the checkout. This might throw up some easy to fix issues (and some others to put in the backlog to fix at a later date).
- Familiar and simple payment methods
- I'd recommend using a wallet that people are familiar with like PayPal Express. This is typically easy to set up on most platforms and helps to get those orders in before people change their minds. With this, there's no need for customers to worry about your checkout which they're probably not familiar with. It's probably too late for it at this stage, but for the larger ticket items, a financing payment method may also be helpful in getting the sale for some customers.
- Clear and good value shipping methods
- Make sure that there's a line around to the add to basket button which clearly says what standard shipping is likely to cost. Consider running a promotion to reduce shipping costs during this period (and incorporating into product price if need be) as it can really be a sticking point with customers. A good deal on a product might be ruined by unclear or steep shipping costs.
- Triple check your marketing strategy
- You want to make sure that your campaign reaches as many people as possible and they feel the urgency to grab a deal before they're gone. Ensure you've got multiple newsletters going on, preferably with some targeting based on past purchases if you can. Your messaging, particularly around urgency will be different depending on your brand, but if there's a way you can build up excitement in advance and then show depleting stock levels or time left to capitalise on the deals, that'd be great!
#11 Craig Weiss: Founder of ArtYah
These eCommerce experts, have probably faced every problem you have running your business, after all, we are all in the same boat. Small businesses can also benefit from the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, but keeping up with the latest tactics is tricky, because many can quickly become out of date, so, what are you waiting for?