It will come as no surprise to many to say that Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend is one of the biggest dates in the retail calendar. Every year there are articles wondering if BFCM is actually less popular than years gone by, and as soon as it’s over the opposite almost always proves true. And so long as customers continue to spend so much over BFCM, retailers will continue to look forward to it as a crucial period for their business.
But it’s only one weekend out of the year. Give or take a few days where merchants may run extra promotions to get more out of it. So given its short timeframe, it makes sense that many will really start planning a couple of months ahead of time, maybe even longer.
How much further in advance should you prepare for Black Friday weekend? Well, we’d say you can never plan too early.
Recap: Why Black Friday is such a big opportunity
BFCM is a huge opportunity, that much is clear. Many focus on Black Friday weekend’s sales potential, and that’s not without merit. After all, it’s known for high sales and high order volumes - sales on Shopify alone in 2022 were up 19% on the previous year. Sell outs, bargains, promotions and more make it enticing for merchants. But that’s not the only reason why it’s valuable - you can run a big sale any time of the year, after all.
Let’s break down some of the other reasons why BFCM is so beneficial. First of all, it’s the concentration of attention from customers. Customers will start looking at Black Friday deals weeks in advance, in preparation for the big weekend. It’s not an occasion with a narrow audience as with holidays like Mother’s Day, or time periods like back-to-school. Black Friday has wide appeal and customers plan to spend, so businesses of course want to get a piece of the pie.
Part of that increased attention comes from customers who see Black Friday as the first big shopping weekend of the holiday season. In the US, 53% of shoppers plan to shop for the holidays over Black Friday. After BFCM, the holiday season is often seen as the most lucrative sales opportunity, so by planning for a good Black Friday and Cyber Monday you’re setting up for an even better holiday season.
That increase in visibility over BFCM can lead to something that’s extremely high value for any ecommerce store - customer acquisition. It’s something that’s very expensive most of the year, and very important to business growth. Over Black Friday, more customers are willing to shop with new brands as they want to get the best deal for the products they want. After the weekend, this new group of customers can then enter into retention strategies in the new year which can help get over that dreaded January slump in sales. There’s then returning customers, who will also of course be more than happy to grab a deal from a brand they already love.
Now, surely any event with so much opportunity warrants some forward planning well in advance, right?
BFCM prep work you can do months ahead
#1 - Review promotions and plan what you’ll do this year
To create a successful plan for the future, you need to start by looking back at what you did previously. Look not just at the promotions your store ran the previous year, but the year before and further back. Analyze lots of key data beyond just the total sales volume or order volume. Think conversion rates on key pages, popularity of specific promotions i.e. email open rates/CTR, social media engagement and ad conversions, sales volume by product i.e. which products sold best with which promotion.
This gives a clear picture of what kind of promotion has engaged your target audience, and what hasn’t. How does each promotion compare? What were retention rates like for new customers after the holidays? If past promotions have followed a fairly similar pattern, then you can look at new alternatives to try. One way we’ve seen our merchants see success is by incorporating gift cards - either as the only promotional reward, or as part of the reward.
#2 - Make improvements to your store experience
The closer you get to Black Friday weekend, the more difficult it will be to make changes to your store experience. You want your customer experience to be at its absolute best, because this isn’t just your store experience for over BFCM - it’s also the experience your customers will have over the holiday season. There won’t be time between the two to make significant changes, so it needs to be BFMC and holiday ready at the same time.
Go through your customer journey, and think about the different customers who may shop over BFCM. For example, we mentioned earlier over half of US customers plan to buy gifts, so what’s your gift experience like? Can you improve this before the season starts? That might be things like enhancing your gift options, for example adding in gift subscriptions or giftable products. Be sure to look at things like your checkout experience - is it fast, and could it be faster? How easy is your store to navigate?
Changes to your be it aesthetics or apps take time, so planning these in advance mean you’ll have ample time to dive into the data, explore your options, implement, test, and adjust.
#3 - Run split tests on promotions, emails, social media ads
Split testing is a great way to make sure your strategy for BFCM is based on real data from your actual audience, not just guesses made by looking at best practices. This is where you essentially split your audience, give them different content of some kind, and analyze which gets a more favorable reaction. Say you want to test the impact of the subject line on email open rates, Audience A would get one subject line and Audience B would get a different one. At the end of the test, you’d be able to see clearly which subject line was the most successful.
You may already be running this kind of test on things like email and social media, but how about using it to test promotions? Given you can run a promotion any time of the year, after all. When you have months to plan, you have the time to test a couple of different tactics for promotions without it appearing to customers that you always have a promotion on. For example, you could try running a discounting promotion, then a gift card promotion, then a combined discount and gift card promotion. You’ll then be able to compare data, and see what attracted new vs returning customers, which resulted in higher AOV, which garnered more attention vs which actually resulted in more sales.
#4 - Review and plan content and SEO
SEO is crucial for your business year-round, especially during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend when people are actively searching for deals from new brands as well as holiday gifts. To ensure your website appears at the top of search results, it would be worthwhile to conduct an SEO audit and find ways to improve your store's ranking ahead of time.
Optimize your store to capture customer attention and drive traffic during Black Friday weekend. This period is unique as it concerns something called seasonal SEO - in other words, keywords and content that search users will only be looking for at a very specific time of the year. They want BFCM content and will be using related keywords. Consider this, as well as fixing technical issues to provide a positive user experience. Planning ahead means you can make changes to your store’s SEO, monitor their effect, and revise if needed.
Of course with any SEO strategy, you need great content. Start planning what kind of content you want to use to gather attention in search in the weeks leading up to BFCM. That might include a Black Friday landing page which will have all your deals in one place. With blogs, you can post buying guides with details about upcoming deals, and gift guides for those shopping for the holidays. You can also plan to create some temporary collections, such as for Black Friday exclusives like one-off seasonal bundles.
Black Friday might be months away, but that makes it the perfect time to start thinking about it. Planning ahead means getting ahead of the competition, and making the most of every opportunity ecommerce’s biggest season has to offer.