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Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which were once exclusively American traditions, have become well-established events for shoppers worldwide. Originally coined in the early 1960s, ‘Black Friday’ described the chaos that resulted when large crowds of tourists came into the city to begin their holiday shopping. Today, things aren’t that different, though, now people can avoid crowds and shop from the comfort of their homes. Last year, we saw that global sales (article in Dutch) on Black Friday were on average 135% higher than in October. Whether in-store or online, it’s safe to say that if shopping were a sport, then Black Friday is the Olympics.

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Ecommerce professionals all over the world are no doubt busy preparing for the exciting (and profitable) period. Though, you’ve probably been planning for this since about September, right?

If you happened to be among the lesser organised of us (no shame, it’s been a hard year), then today is your lucky day. We’ve put together a handy last-minute checklist to make sure you are prepared for a profitable holiday season.

Last year, unlike any of the years before, everything was different due to the still ongoing global pandemic. Uncertain conditions meant that shopping habits changed a lot. We saw sales explode online as the majority of consumers shifted to ecommerce over brick and mortar stores to avoid crowds. When compared to October, Black Friday sales in Europe last year generated +165% sales, with significant sales spikes in all EMEA markets.


How Fresh ‘n Rebel Prepares for Black Friday

In preparation for this busy period, we caught up with Hélène Vermeulen, the online marketer at Fresh ‘n Rebel, an electronics retailer, to ask what last year was like for her and how she is preparing for the busy season ahead.

Last year, Hélène and her team started off the busy period with Singles’ Day on the 11th of November. Curiously, they managed to earn more revenue than expected, though they didn’t go too hard with ad spending. Whereas on Black Friday, they invested way more on ads, but the revenue did not add up. So, this year, Hélène and her team decided to up their game and increase their spend for Singles’ Day. Unfortunately, they noticed that their efforts didn’t match the revenue, and their sales didn’t perform as well as they’d hoped.

From every campaign you lead, you learn something, and something I have learned is that, in order to be successful, you have to be really flexible, and be able to change your strategy. You have to look at what your competitors are doing and take that into account, you should always be checking out what’s going on and what’s happening in the market.

Hélène Vermeulen

As we mentioned earlier, knowing when to compete on advertising and when to step back is very important. The sign of a good marketing strategy is one that is adaptive and ready to pivot to achieve your goals. After evaluating their performance on Single’s Day, Hélène has a new plan…

Right now, when I see what competitors are doing, I see that they have way more budget and way more ads, and I know that we cannot compete in this way. So, my new strategy will be focusing on remarketing and less on the prospective audience.

Hélène Vermeulen

Remember: It’s critical that you determine what you want to achieve with your Black Friday ecommerce strategy and focus on that. It doesn’t necessarily need to be revenue or sales, it could be raising brand awareness, or improving customer loyalty. Whatever it is, once you’re focusing on your KPIs, you’re able to analyse the campaign afterwards, and you can understand what parts were or were not successful, then you’re good to go.

So, what can you do to get ready for Black Friday?

Though, many of you might be thinking, how can I survive this Black Friday chaos? It’s worthwhile to try to look at this time as an opportunity for your brand to have some fun, grow loyalty and make a statement. Does your brand challenge overconsumption? Perhaps rethink doing any Black Friday sales or, think about donating a portion of your profits to a charity that aligns with your brand values.

Alternatively, you can use this as an opportunity to reward your valued customers for their loyalty, and offer them personalised discounts based on their shopping habits to win extra loyalty and customer satisfaction. This is what we can learn from Helene.

1. Evaluate and Forecast

In order to get ready for this busy season, it’s best to sit down and determine exactly what you want to achieve, what your budget allows you to do, your company’s positioning and what your brand values are. Think about your performance last year, and the years before. Determine what worked for you and what didn’t. Consider sales, inventory, and marketing, so you know what to avoid or what’s worth giving another try this year. By evaluating last year, you should be able to forecast the number of orders, traffic, and your conversion rate. The pandemic has obviously disrupted the shopping experience, and the ongoing uncertainty makes it hard to pinpoint consumer behaviour. That’s why managing expectations, controlling market expectations and analysing customer behaviour are essential steps to take. Learn from the data you have and try to tailor your campaigns to that.

2. Set goals

Next, like any successful campaign, you need to clearly identify what you want to achieve this year—a specific sales goal? A more streamlined process?—and be sure to keep it in mind throughout the season. Particularly, if you’re late to the game this year, make sure to identify attainable goals, there’s no point setting yourself up for failure with unrealistic expectations. Think about what strategy you are going to implement and the products you want to promote. The more decisions you make now, the more time you have to make changes before the big weekend.

3. Spend it to earn it

If you want results during this busy period, it’s almost certain that you will have to invest in advertisements. Otherwise, your competitors will no doubt steal your market share. Consider forecasting a 15% increase (at least) in overall budget from last year’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday period. Though, it’s important to remember that simply buying lots of ads is pretty useless if you don’t employ a solid strategy to them. Though, it is good to note that while buying plenty of ads is pretty essential for most businesses, it’s good to know when to take on the ‘big guys’ or larger retailers, and when it’s best to go a different way and try something else.

4. Offer a site-wide discount

You don’t have to be so specific with your discounts. If you are a small business, then consider a 10 or 20% off promotion, or just be super selective with the products you promote. Another idea is to agree to take a loss during Black Friday with big discounts on your products. Or, contrarily, give a discount on some of your bestsellers, this strategy is the opposite of trying to shift all of your old stock at a discounted rate, and boosts customer loyalty and satisfaction.

5. Ensure customer service needs are met

Customers today know what they want, and, as we saw through the pandemic, customer service is essential for their brand loyalty. Advances in customer experience technology have been raising customer expectations about what constitutes a ‘good’ online experience for quite a few years now. Customers today demand consistency, interaction, and convenience. Don’t make your customer’s wait hours to speak to a customer service agent, ensure that you and your team are well-prepared to handle any and all issues in a timely manner. You don’t want to miss out on revenue due to poor planning, do you? Unnecessary friction during the checkout process can severely damage sales, so it’s vital that you identify any problems before the big rush. Collecting customer feedback can help you to gain deep insights into the customer experience, which in turn provides you with the means to enhance your CX and bring in more customers. It’s a win-win!

6. Keep a close eye on inventory

The loss of potential sales due to items being out of stock online in 2018 was $484 million. There’s nothing worse than spotting, let’s say, a stunning dress, perfect for your upcoming Christmas party, or, the perfect gift for a loved one, going to make the purchase and then seeing that it has sold out. You certainly wouldn’t be very happy, would you? Maybe a little frustrated, even. I know I would be. Avoid customer upset by keeping a close eye on your inventory, and constantly updating your website to display accurate information. Best-case scenario, a customer is upset that they couldn’t purchase what they wanted. However, the last thing you want is to sell the same product twice, or even sell a product that you don’t actually have in stock at all. This could potentially result in a customer service nightmare, which you would be wise to avoid! While you can’t solve all the potential logistical issues, you can optimise your customer’s journey from an out-of-stock product page to an alternative.

7. Make Returns Policies Clear

According to Shopify, consumers collectively returned products worth $428 billion in 2020—just over 10% of total retail sales. As you can see from the image above, people are more likely to shop with a retailer that streamlines the returns process. Simple return policies bode well with customers, and making your policy clear and easy to find helps too.

When customers know that they can get their money back just as easily as they can spend it, they’ll shop with more confidence and spend more.

— Sanaz Hajizadeh, Happy Returns

8. Get your website ready

You’ve probably been working on your website performance for months now, so right before the big weekend might be a good time to quickly check that everything is in order. Your website is about to go through a high number of traffic, all within a short period of time. Usability is a key factor in customer satisfaction, and if your site crashes during this crucial time, the missed revenue will be sure to sting. Are there any images that need to be optimised? It’s pretty well known that images that are too large can really affect the loading time of your website. 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. It’s particularly important to optimise images on your “above the fold” content and for any deals pages you’ve created for the busy period.

9. Collect feedback

Of course, one way to fuel your Black Friday Cyber Monday sales is to collect customer feedback to identity any friction or issues in the funnel in the moment. While we recommend this strategy year-round, now is definitely a perfect time to start. With all this new activity taking place on your website, there are sure to be a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong.

Collecting and analysing feedback is critical to keeping your website’s customer experience up to par with customer expectations. Today, the customer journey is longer and more complex. There are multiple touchpoints that must keep customers engaged. Retailers cannot remain focused on the purchase itself, but rather they must focus on maximising the value of each stage. Using software like Mopinion, you can boost the value of your customer touchpoints and get a deeper understanding of your customers and their behaviour.

Looking forward: ‘Tis the Season

Now that the holiday period is quickly approaching, be sure to save this list for future reference. Black Friday marks the beginning of the busiest shopping period of the year, and every single one of these tips will help set you up for a successful holiday season, and more. Now it’s up to you to apply them to your website strategy. We wish you the very best of luck and happy holidays!