Split testing and Black Friday: 4 things you can test now

With Black Friday right around the corner, merchants want to do everything they can to ensure success. After all, BFCM weekend is a prime opportunity. Of course there’s the increased sales volume, plus new customer acquisition and therefore more chance to improve post-holiday retention rates. So what more can ecommerce merchants do to make the most of every opportunity they have over BFCM?

One idea - split testing. When many think of split testing and Black Friday, they think of doing it over the weekend itself to harness all that high value data. However if you split test both before and during BFCM, you’ll get data you can use to enhance your store before Black Friday as well as that rich data from the weekend itself.

And you don’t have to split test everything - that would take a lot of time and resources. So let’s take a look at four things you can start split testing now, and again over BFCM weekend.

What is split testing?

In ecommerce, split testing is a method of determining the best, most successful kind of content or functionality based on a series of tests. These tests involve splitting an audience into groups, each provided with a different variant of the same content or functionality. It’s also known as A/B testing. For example, you may want to test conversion rates on product pages so you might show group A one version of a product page, and group B a different version. After a set amount of time, you analyze the results, and you’ll be able to determine a winning version. 

However, split testing can extend beyond website content and functionality. You can A/B or split test lots of different elements of your customer and user experience, like email marketing, SMS, and more. You can also choose to test within specific segments of your audience, such as new vs returning customers. The more in-depth you go, the more specific your results will be. 

Why you should split test before and during BFCM

The value of split testing is being able to determine the most successful combination between audiences and whatever variants you’re testing. Testing some of these variants before Black Friday means you can go into the weekend with a clearer idea of what your existing audience will respond best to. There will be some opportunities to test for new customers also. 

Of course there will be a larger number of potential new customers over Black Friday weekend. This means that it’s also valuable to test some of the same elements throughout BFCM. By combining data from before and after BFCM, you’ll have some really strong data sets to draw from as you plan your strategy for the new year.

4 things to split test before and during Black Friday weekend

#1 - Promotions 

Let’s start with the biggest question you can answer - what kind of promotion would your customers actually prefer? The default for many merchants over BFCM is to go straight for discounting, but is this really the best option? Without testing out a few different options, you won’t really know.

There are of course other options for promotions, all of which are valuable testing out:

  • Percentage discounts - As it sounds where the customers are given a certain percentage off, e.g. 10%, 15%. It could be a site-wide discount, or on certain items only.
  • Fixed value discount - Rather than a variable amount like a discount, customers get a dollar value off their order or off individual items. 
  • Gift cards - Customers are either given a gift card on every order, or after reaching certain spending thresholds. For example, $5 gift card on orders over $30, $10 on orders over $45. 
  • Discount plus gift card - You can also try combining offers, for example 10% off plus a gift card. 
  • Shipping incentives - This could be free shipping on all orders, or a limited time offer where expedited shipping is free over a certain cart spend. 
  • Free gift - Everyone loves a freebie, so perhaps you can test if customers will take you up on the offer for a free item. It might be items complementary to their cart. 

You may not want to test every single option, but it’s worth testing a few. Before Black Friday, you can try some out with a time limited deal - say over two chosen weekends. You can test with specific segments of your audience - loyal customers vs customers who have only placed one order. This will give you a clearer picture of what customers will actually respond to. 

Over Black Friday weekend, you can run a promotion based on that previous split test. However you can also start adding in bonus promotions, such as some customers will be given the option for free shipping whereas others won’t receive this offer. Or you can split your loyal customers, and some will be offered a bonus discount. 

#2 - Checkout incentives 

Next question - do checkout prompts really work? Are they worth it? There’s only one way to really find out for certain and that’s to split test. To recap, a checkout prompt is something that either appears in the cart, or as a pop-up when an item is added to the cart. It’s usually some kind of incentive that will encourage them to increase their cart spend. For example it could be “you’re $10 away from free shipping!” or it might be a bundle featuring the products they’ve added. 

These are valuable to test ahead of Black Friday, as you want to be able to find ways to increase cart spend and AOV. You want to find out what the most effective checkout prompt is, and where and how it should appear. For example, you could test free shipping vs a free gift card, as well as if it should appear as a “load bar” style prompt in the cart itself. 

Over BFCM weekend, you can test to see how effective the winning results from beforehand really are. You’ll get some solid data about the impact of checkout incentive and placement on different sets of customers.

#3 - Communication 

What’s the best way to communicate your promotions to customers? What will catch their attention most? And more specifically, what’s the best way to communicate with different segments of your audience? The answers to these will greatly improve your strategy going into BFCM, making communication more effective and streamlined. 

It can be tricky to know what messaging will most affect new customers, given they’ll be slightly different over BFCM to other times of the year. Focus your testing on the channels you might acquire customers from. The most obvious channel would be social media. You can test different ads on different platforms to find the combination that works best for a variety of audience segments. That might using very similar content on each platform, or testing different messaging on each platform to find that sweet spot for conversions. 

However there are a couple of even more powerful channels to test - email and SMS. 66% of consumers say they’ve made a purchase as a result of an email, and 58% say that SMS is the most effective way for businesses to communicate with them. For both, you’ll be focusing on your existing customer base. This is still valuable, because they will likely still shop over Black Friday weekend also. Here you can split test a lot of variants to find some reliable sweet spots you can use over BFCM. For example, testing subject line styles, send times and days, and even content layout. You can go a little further and test against different audience segments, for instance long-term customers vs one-off orders. And further still, testing those promotions we mentioned with your audience - what offers will get your existing customers to open your emails and SMS?

#4 - Navigation 

Being able to easily navigate a store is essential to customer experience. If it’s confusing in any way, customers won’t want to engage with your site. Especially over Black Friday, you don’t want to lose customers just because your site navigation wasn’t quite up to scratch. 

Ahead of Black Friday, you can test things like adding a “gifting” or “sale” section to your primary navigation vs as a subcategory from a primary menu item. You’ll then be able to see the impact of each option, on different customer segments in the run up to BFCM. It will take time for you to get some good data to use from this kind of split test, so consider starting this earlier rather than later. 

Also related to navigation is how you’ll direct customers to the right pages. You could try split testing site banners, homepage content, pop-ups, and more to determine the best way to help customers find the right content. Say you decide to run a flash sale, you can test having this be in the site banner vs on your homepage to see which segment converts better using the sale code or buying sale items. 


Data is your best friend and partner in crime when it comes to Black Friday success. By split testing before BFCM weekend, you’ll have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t for your audience. And by testing over the weekend itself, you can compare data, learn about your BFCM customers, and better strategize. 

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