It happens like clockwork every year. It’s as sure as the sun rise and sun sets.
To say you don’t have time to prepare or have no resources will be a lame excuse and utter failure on your part as an e-commerce business.
Yes. I’m talking about Black Friday and Cyber Monday — the year’s best time to rake in the dough, laugh all the way to the bank, generate more sales than you would all year round.
It’s traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year because it kicks off the holiday season.
Around 30 percent of annual retail sales occur between Black Friday and Christmas. For some retailers, such as jewelers, it’s even higher, at almost 40 percent. So it is undoubtedly a crucial season for the economy.
Over 100+ million shoppers will be scouring the internet for hot deals, attractive sales, and offers. These shoppers have their wallets open and ready to hand over their shopping dollars to your business — provided you have what they want.
The average spending per shopper is projected to be well over $950, and show no signs of slowing down.
But before you go running to your eCommerce team and get excited about the revenue opportunity, there are a few things that have changed over the years that are important for you to know about your shoppers.
Their insatiable and often unreasonable expectations for lowest prices, fastest delivery, and availability has grown exponentially and their hunger for the best of everything is a bottomless pit.
If you think you can just have an eCommerce site with a few discounts and offers, and expect to grab a slice of the $600+ billions in sales, you’re hugely mistaken.
You will need to do a lot better and strive for customer shopping excellence to win over your competition.
If that has not scared you, then let’s move on.
By the way, if you’re in a hurry to see this HUGE LIST….you can jump to it now.
Online shopping for Black Friday and Cyber Monday is clearly overtaking brick-and-mortar operations. While stores like Best Buy, Apple Store, Macy’s, Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and few others will continue to draw a moderate crowd, but the turn outs are dwindling year over year.
The ability to shop at home (naked, in pajamas, whatever you fancy) is far more appealing and convenient.
We live in a world where everybody can lay in bed and shop. Your customers can do their shopping from their smartphone devices without ever having to leave the room.
Your job, is to give your shoppers an excellent eCommerce shopping experience wherever they shop from.
Just so I’m fair to the brick-and-mortar experience, after all, it was the catalyst for Black Friday.
Shoppers still camp out in front of Best Buy for 8-12 hours for that flat screen TV — it’s still an option, a dying art form that my grandchildren will only read about it history books.
While others still stand in line outside local Targets, there’s definitely plenty of standing room now compared to 5 years ago when Black Friday brick-and-mortar experience was all the rage.
Your eCommerce projects should lead up to the super bowl of shopping
An e-commerce site takes a lot of work to maintain and manage. There are endless things to fix, new features to add, systems to upgrades, the list goes on.
But how much of the work is designed for the long-game? “But, Derek, we have to decide how to add more content for SEO.”
Yes, SEO is definitely a long-game strategy.
But does that take precedence over making sure your site is AMP ready? It’s not an easy decision especially if your resources are limited, which is typically the situation in most organizations.
The AMP Project is an open-source initiative aiming to make the web better for all. The project enables the creation of websites and ads that are consistently fast, beautiful and high-performing across devices and distribution platforms.
What I hope for you is that your team had the foresight to recognize that everything that is on the priority list your team is working on leads up to the super bowl of shopping.
When I meet with brands to discuss their eCommerce strategy, they are usually focused on immediate changes. And that’s perfectly fine. You need to drive steady online sales throughout the year.
But many are short-sighted and unable to look further than two months out.
Like super bowl teams, you need to work on the right strategy and relevant training to make sure you have the best shot when it’s game time.
You already have what you need to prepare for #BFCM
Here’s the dirty secret.
Every brand I have worked with, ambitiously want to start planning for this in August. I hear things like “Derek, we started late last year, so this year, let’s make sure to plan early.”
But reality…most eCommerce business do not start planning for Black Friday or Cyber Monday until the end of September to beginning of October.
Why? It goes back to my point about prioritizing eCommerce projects for your super bowl. If your strategy was planned with this in mind, then you are already many steps ahead of your competition.
What 15 years of helping retail brands have taught me
15 years sounds like a long time. But in eCommerce and digital marketing, it flies by quickly when you’re having fun.
Working with retail brands taught me important lessons and provided valuable insights into how to prepare for Black Friday and Cyber Monday domination. It ranges from straight forward day-to-day tasks and operational excellence to campaign strategy and customer service and everything in between.
I will list everything (or as much as I can write) — with complete transparency about the reality in preparing for this shopping madness.
How to prepare your eCommerce for Black Friday?
I divided this into relevant sections. Instead of a vomit of things to do, this will make it look more organized (at least in my mind).
Check your brand sentiments
You need to know the sentiment of your brand from your customers and everyone else.
This insight gives you a directional picture of how loved or unloved your products are. Don’t treat this lightly. Your brand is at the mercy of your customers’ sentiments.No brand is immune to negative customer reviews.
This will require a lot of work, but consider cleaning up your mess that you caused in the first place.
1. You can research customer interest for your brand online
If your brand is declining in interests, that’s where you will need to focus on immediately. Why? Because it’s your identify.
It’s your most valuable currency as an eCommerce business.
I have seen brands gradually become irrelevant.In Google Trends, you can enter your search term and select custom date range that is relevant for your client.
You get a snapshot of interest over time for your search term. This is a good place to start. Check if there’s anything to worry about before moving on.
2. Social engagement health
Social isn’t going anywhere. And a simple social mention, tweet, or video can have serious positive or negative impact on your brand.
If you have guarded your brand and nurtured your community properly, you’re in great shape.
I’ve worked with brands that ignore questions, feedback, complaints from their users. I was shocked to find see how many customer complaints were unanswered in their social page.
Make sure this doesn’t happen to you.
3. Google Ads brand campaign
If you’re running Google Ads, this is one of the clearest indication of interest in your brand.
These are shoppers actively searching for your brand online and clicking to your website. If searches for your brand has declined over time, you should be concerned.
I’ve worked with a handful of brands that were consistently in denial about this.
If you have been driving new customers consistently over time, your patience and investment will pay off, there’s nothing to worry about.
Platform and Mobile Ready
1. Get your mobile site ready
If you haven’t realized how important it is to get your eCommerce site mobile-ready, you’re living under a rock and you need to crawl out of it right now.
Mobile sales accounts for over $1 billion in Black Friday sales and is only growing from here on.
Shoppers on their mobile devices want fast, digestible, and user-friendly.
Everything that makes for a pleasant buying experience.
The idea of a mobile-first approach is nothing new these days, yet so many brands are still behind in their focus on mobile experiences of their eCommerce site.
2. Check your hosting, twice, then again
Your eCommerce site up-time is all that matters at the end of the day.If the site slows down or crashes during peak traffic hours, you might as well pack up your bags and go home.
With cloud hosting, your website can scale with the traffic accordingly, and that’s always a good fail-safe. But the devil’s in the details.
Make sure your IT or system administrator has a checklist to review all necessary items.
3. De-prioritize the nice-to-haves
Identify the must-haves with your eCommerce and marketing team.It could be a simple Google Sheet like the example below with fields indicating dates, priorities, status, owners, categories, and he details.It’s important to mark the priorities.
In this case, we use the common P1, P2, P3 to denote which task should get the team’s attention.
This is nothing unique. But what it does is allow the teams to come together and agree on what are nice-to-haves versus what are must-haves to prepare for our super bowl.
4. Do not plan major upgrades
This one sounds so obvious, at least I thought so.
I’ve seen brands migrate eCommerce platforms, release a major feature, perform system updates, and other critical changes right before the busiest shopping season of the year.
There is absolutely not enough good reasons in the world, unless your website is totally trash, to perform any major changes going into Black Friday.
This is the main reason your VP of Engineering usually puts a “code freeze” period. Obey it!
Google Ads Campagins
1. Review your Google Ads Strategy
This can be its own article. But for brevity, here are the things you should start planning. You can expect clicks, spend & average cost per click to increase 20% – 50% from Q3.
- Update ad extensions
- Remarketing tactics
- Lower your ROAS/ROI targets to drive higher volume
- Create new ad copy
- Create best selling items campaign
- Adjust your low and mid-funnel keyword targets
- Prepare to scale bids up and down based on shipping dates (The closer to shipping cut offs, the lower your bids should be.)
2. Optimize your shopping feed
Shopping ads have grown significantly in both Google and Bing search engines.
There are many ad formats that shopping feeds can be used. From shopping ads, to dynamic display ads, to display retargeting.
If you’re updating your feed once per day, consider increasing your frequency to a few times daily to account for higher volume inventory changes. This will make sure your campaigns are always serving the most up-to-date product availability to shoppers.
3. Go online with sooner with your deals
Times have changed.
40% of shoppers start shopping for the holidays before Halloween.
You will be left behind if you wait until the week of Thanksgiving to start your Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales and promotions.
Your shoppers might have already spent all their money by then.
Start planning your sales, emails and advertising today, so you can get the word out about your sales weeks before these big online spending days arrive.
I’ve always advised the brands we work with to start their actual sale a few days or a up to week before Black Friday to get a leg up on the competition.
It’s not a secret tactic, but where brands fail to execute is usually due to their lack of planning and resource.
Don’t be running around at the very last minute promote your business in Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Plan your email campaigns and customer personalization strategy
1. Start planning your email strategy
Your email strategy is one of your most valuable assets for the holidays.
These are your shoppers who have already bought from you or subscribed to receive your newsletter. Talk about a captive audience! Right?
If you don’t have time to build more advanced subscriber segments, the least you need to make sure you have is the following lists: new subscribers, customers, and inactive or lapsed customers.
Your email templates should also be designed to speak to each segment with unique messaging. Figure out how many emails you want to send, when to send it, and who to send it to. This will serve as the outline for your holiday email strategy.
2. Check your email automation and triggers
I’ve worked with brands who thought their email automation sequences were firing perfectly.
At least until we took a closer look. We found cases of broken sequences and triggers that were no longer relevant.
The power of triggered emails and automation sequences will save you time, but also deliver emails to your customers’ inbox based on specific actions to increase the likelihood of engagement and transactions.
There are 10 types of triggered emails you should implement that can better engage and convert your customers.
3. Grow your subscriber list
Get creative with how you grow your email list between now until the shopping season.
But whatever you do, stay away from buying a list.
A fashion brand here in Los Angeles that I worked with many years ago bought a list of 100k emails.
They imported the list into their email software and started sending marketing emails to this list. What ended up happening took 3 months to fix.
Their delivery rate tanked. What does that mean?
While the email software shows that the email was sent to 100,000 subscribers, the ISPs blocked their emails from reaching the inboxes of those people. And when delivery rate tanks, your email account gets flagged and everything goes downhill from there.
Customer service must be an excellent experience for all customers
1. Customer service excellence
I am all-in on this.Commit to provide your customer service team with the best training.
Teach them the importance of empathy, understanding, and kindness.
At one of my previous position as marketing director, my team collaborated closely with our customer services team ensure our messages to all customers were aligned — that meant updating all our FAQs to make sure they address a large percentage of common things customers need for the best holiday shopping experience.
Expect majority of customer calls to be frustrated shoppers who needs immediate attention.
They won’t care about your feelings. They want their issues resolved, or money refunded, or products shipped quicker — it’s nothing personal. Everyone’s rushing for the holidays.
With customer service, it is important to be mindful how you treat your customers will be remembered well after the holiday season.
From a customers’ perspective, if you treat them with compassion and kindness during the most stressful season, they can only imagine how much better it will be during regular times.
2. Build a solid frequently asked questions page
Many eCommerce site miss the opportunity to leverage a comprehensive Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) strategy to help with customer service questions.
By communicating the most frequently asked questions, you’ll have answered at least 50% of the same questions every customer will ask.
Here are a few ideas of how you can communicate your FAQs to your customers:
- Send an email before the holidays
- Call it out clearly on your website
- Include the top 3 FAQs in every order confirmation email
- Include a link to the FAQ in your welcome email
3. Fast and free shipping is key
We all want this. As a matter of fact, I may even go as far as saying we NEED fast and free.
Amazon Prime has managed to trained shoppers to have to patience. Thanks Jeff Bezos!
Your business should not even argue about this internally anymore. Free shipping is now expected. It has been table stakes for many years.
If you want to WOW your customers, you should consider going one-step further and offering 2-day or faster shipping for a flat rate.
Do not create unnecessary hurdles for your customers to complete their purchase. Your job is to make every touch point as smooth as possible.
Social Media and Content Marketing
1. Define your social strategy
If your website crashes, your shoppers will blast your social media within seconds (minutes if you’re lucky). You can expect to be called every name in the book by angry shoppers.
What is your social team’s protocol to diffuse those situations? I encourage you to make this as part of your Black Friday / Cyber Monday strategy planning.
You also need to decide which social network you’re going to focus on.
Are you going to outsource your social marketing?
Who’s going to handle your organic social posts and engagement.
As I mentioned above, your social media will drive majority of your brand’s eCommerce visibility as shoppers turn to social networks and friends to look up reviews, ask questions, and read reviews before they complete their purchase on your website.
Put your best foot forward.
2. Create your content calendar, now!
Your content strategy for Black Friday and Cyber Monday is important to drive continuous awareness and visibility to your eCommerce site.
Think about what type of content your audience will engage with.
And don’t wait till November to distribute your content. Start as soon as you can so you’ll have enough content to boost, sponsored, and promote when the time comes.
Your seasonal content should be unique in order to stand out from the noise. If you’re going for the same “50% OFF SALE” treatment, your message will drown in the sea of discounts. Brainstorm, try new things, be daring.
There is a secret that every successful social marketing campaign uses to win.Consistency.
It’s imperative that your social calendar includes a cadence of content distribution you can commit to. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is important to remember.
You need to put your content in front of your customers before someone else gets their attention.
Download Our Social Playbook
3. Social Marketing Campaigns
You have unprecedented ability to target millions of people on social media based on their interest, age, and location.
In addition to targeting by demographic, you also have access to five ad formats.
That’s a lot of targeting power at your fingertips.In Facebook, you can test these different ad formats before the season arrives.
It can be intimidating if you’re new to Facebook Ads, but there are plenty of tutorial and their ad setup process is fairly intuitive once you get used to it.
We talked about content marketing earlier on, so now you understand why I asked you to create consistent content that you can leverage later on.
eCommerce Operational Excellence
1. Plan your inventory of your best sellers
Safe to say that your entire inventory will not sell out during #BFCM shopping frenzy.
But chances are high that your best sellers will sell like hot cakes. This is where your team will need to pour over product performance data and figure forecast inventory needs.
Last year, one of our clients neglected to order enough inventory of our of their best selling winter jackets.
One email campaign exhausted the inventory. There was lack of communication to our team, so paid campaigns were running for hours before we were notified.
We wasted thousands of ad dollars, frustrated many customers, and wasted time dealing with social media complaints.Product availability and inventory management is fundamental to achieve eCommerce operational excellence and 100% customer satisfaction.
2. Defining your metrics for departments
Even though my focus is on customer acquisition and digital marketing, I was fortunate to get involved with and learn about the entire eCommerce ecosystem.
From pick/packing/shipping and inventory management to customer service and server management.
If you’re not defining metrics for each of these department to track, especially for the holidays, I implore you to.
The success of each department contributes to your overall success and is interdependent.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
There are obviously a myriad of other things you can do to prepare for Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping.
Hopefully this list kick starts your creative juices and lights a fire under you. Don’t waste another year arriving late to the game. You can do better!
If you are looking for more ways to acquire new customers, you still have time to increase you subscriber list, acquire new site visitors, and increase brand awareness if you’re ready to commit.