Before Summer is even over, all talk in the world of retail turns to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And for good reason - it’s one of the most universally lucrative opportunities for retailers, and not just for sales that weekend. The opportunities for acquisition and long-term retention are equally as valuable.
Preparing for BFCM doesn’t involve just planning for that weekend, but also what comes after - the holiday season. That makes it all the more important to prioritize, plan, test, and implement changes to your store so that your team can focus all their efforts on order fulfillment, customer support, and other crucial tasks over the coming weeks.
So, where and how soon should you start?
How early should I prepare for BFCM?
There are many different opinions in the ecommerce and wider retail industry about when brands should start preparing for Black Friday. Some say as soon as Black Friday is over you need to start thinking about the following year. Others say 6 months before, whereas some will argue that’s too late.
The truth is, it’s never too early and it’s never too late. There are tasks you can do months in advance such as product development and inventory forecasting/planning. While certain things may change such as delivery dates, planning far in advance is of course highly beneficial for this area of your business. On the other hand, there are things you can do right up until the day before Black Friday that will have an impact like tweaking your email marketing, or making small changes to your website such as adding a site banner.
What matters more is which tasks you choose to prioritize, and making sure they’re taken care of in advance of Black Friday weekend. You want to allow your team and your store a solid buffer period, where you can implement, test, and tweak. This avoids any last minute rush to add more to your store, and gives your team the space they need to keep a clear head and execute BFCM weekend properly.
What tasks should I prioritize, and how long do they take?
With a few months to go, your priority should be on making changes to your store, testing, and planning.
New app installs
Apps and integrations are one of the big benefits of running your business on Shopify. They allow you to design a store experience perfectly tailored to your needs, and can often be implemented in less than a day. That being said, you need to allow for at least a few weeks before BFCM to properly implement and test any apps you’re considering for your store.
You’ll want to consider…
- - How they may impact apps you already use.
- - How they’ll fit into your overall customer experience.
- - Whether or not they integrate with other apps already installed.
- - How you’ll use those integrations to improve your store.
Another consideration is whether there are apps better suited to long-term strategy, rather than filling a current gap in your store experience. For example, if a merchant needs a gift card app ahead of BFCM and the holidays - they might initially look to install an app totally focused on gift cards, or they may instead consider Govalo as they also use Recharge and want to offer gift subscriptions. Just because one app fills a current gap, it’s worth looking into whether other apps offer a solution to that gap and more that may prove useful in the future.
This should all be carefully thought out before installing a new app. Once installed, thorough testing should be conducted to ensure it works smoothly. The last thing you need in the run-up to Black Friday is a shipping app calculating cost incorrectly for a certain group of customers, or a bug in a checkout extension making it difficult to process discount codes. More time will also allow your team to understand an app fully, and identify any other use cases.
You want to ensure your store is optimized for conversions over Black Friday weekend. The better and smoother the experience, the more sales you’ll make and customers you’ll acquire. But how do you know if your CTAs are as effective as they could be? Or at which threshold you should offer free shipping? You could decide based on best practices for your industry niche, but the most effective way is to start split testing.
Split testing is where you take two or more groups of customers, and show each group something slightly different then measure the outcome. For example, Group A may be offered free shipping at $25, and Group B at $50. You can then measure the impact that has on not just conversions, but on AOV.
Defining some areas you want to focus on now will give you time to test ahead of Black Friday and ensure that your store is optimized and ready.
If there’s one thing every customer expects on Black Friday weekend, it’s some kind of really great promotion to take advantage of. Traditionally when we think of BFCM, we think of discounts. However, there’s so much more than just discounts and in fact, it’s worth considering ditching them altogether.
Discounting is an understandably popular go-to for ecommerce stores over Black Friday. It’s simple to set up, and it’s popular with customers. However, in the long-term it can devalue your products by setting customer pricing expectations lower - they may not ever purchase it at full price. Discounts can also often bring in a lower quality of customer, one who is more interested in grabbing a bargain than in your brand or products.
Here are some alternatives to consider:
- - Gift cards - There are many different ways you can use gift cards as a promotional tool. You could offer loyal customers a gift card that can only be redeemed over BFCM weekend, or new email subscribers get a gift card instead of a discount. You could also do a buy-one-get-one-free on gift cards, top up the value i.e. buy $10 get an extra $5, or do a 50% off on gift cards.
- Charity donations - Especially if your brand has some kind of mission related to a cause such as the environment, charity donations can be a better approach to Black Friday. Rather than getting 10% off their order, it might be that 10% of their total order value is donated to a charitable cause.
- - Limited edition products - Design a BFCM exclusive only available for that weekend. This could also be a bundle that isn’t usually in stock, or a previously retired item or variant. This can be teased ahead of time, and bring in customers without the need for any other incentive at cost.
You could also look at a mix of different incentives. This could allow your team to test which incentives attract the most orders or highest AOV and with which audience, so that you have a better understanding for future promotions.
Another aspect worth considering as part of your promotional plan is how your loyalty program fits in. BFCM is a great acquisition opportunity, but if you want to retain all those new customers you need to have something to bring them back. Loyalty programs are a great way to add value to your retention strategy, and can also engage existing customers over Black Friday weekend. For new customers, ensure you include your loyalty program in your onboarding email campaign. This means not just mentioning it in an email, but dedicating at least a couple of emails to detailing how your program works, what perks the customer can earn, and any bonuses you may want to offer as an incentive.
A common stumbling block for merchants around Black Friday is inventory management. Picture this - you have a majorly successful Black Friday weekend, and customers clear your store of your best-sellers. You ship all the orders, and are ready to move on to the holiday season…only to realize you won’t have stock of your best-sellers until January. Especially if you’re using discounts over Black Friday weekend, you’ll be losing out on a lot of potential orders between Cyber Monday and the end of December.
That’s why it’s important to look at your existing inventory and scheduled deliveries, then create a stock allocation plan. That may be saying you’ll make 50% of your inventory of a given product available for Black Friday, and reserve the other 50% for the holidays, or some other split depending on the data you have from previous years. This may also be different depending on the product. You can then create contingency plans, for example if you sell out of the allocated stock on Black Friday itself, what percentage of remaining stock you’ll make available for Cyber Monday. Or what you’ll promote instead and how.
As part of those contingency plans, you should consider what you’ll do if you sell out of a product entirely. For example using Govalo, you can display the option to purchase a gift card when a product is unavailable. This can then act as a potential option for customers who wanted to purchase a product as a gift, as they’ll be more open to gift products than a regular customer who may purchase on BFCM weekend.
Content and SEO
Seasonal content and SEO are extremely valuable in the run up to Black Friday and the holiday season. You’ll frequently see the term “evergreen” come up when SEO and content is discussed online. This is content which can be read at any time of the year, regardless of when it was published. Seasonal content is as it sounds - content which does rely on a time of year to be relevant. The benefit is that at key times of the year like the weeks before Black Friday and the holidays, this is the kind of content search users are looking for. When they search “Nike black friday deals”, they want to see the most recent content, not content from last year.
Now is a good time to start building out your seasonal SEO content calendar. Determine the seasonal keywords you want to target, and start planning the content that best suits those terms. The best way to do this for BFCM is through landing pages and blogs.
Landing pages provide a hub for content that’s useful for users looking for Black Friday information, and can be repurposed over the years to make the most of the link authority it gains. Blogs on the other hand, you can create fresh content and even respond to any seasonal keyword trends as they appear. You can publish buying guides that highlight your best promotions, as well as gift guides for those customers purchasing gifts over BFCM weekend.
BFCM weekend may hold huge potential for merchants, but it comes with an equally large amount of competition. Every retailer online and off will be looking to take advantage of the opportunity Black Friday holds. If you want to be one of the stores that comes out on top, it’s time to get started on preparing your store.
If you want more advice and strategies for the upcoming BFCM season, be sure to download a free copy of our ebook - “Ready. Set. Go”. It features chapters from top Shopify experts Recharge, Loop, Kurt Elster, Alloy, LoyaltyLion, and Venntov, designed to give merchants the insight they need to thrive this holiday season.