How to prepare your eCommerce brand for Black Friday & Cyber Monday

By Rebecca Montag | August 30, 2022
How to prepare your eCommerce brand for Black Friday & Cyber Monday
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It’s never too early to start planning for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, one of the biggest shopping events of the year. Every year after Thanksgiving, swarms of consumers flock to stores and online shops to join in on the famous five day sales weekend.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday, also known as BFCM, is a huge opportunity for eCommerce sellers. Last year, nearly 180 million American consumers shopped during the November event, according to a survey conducted by the NRF. Of those, 127.8 million people did at least some of their shopping online.

That’s a lot of potential sales. In order to take advantage of this opportunity, eCommerce sellers need to plan ahead and make sure they’re prepared. This year, Black Friday occurs on Friday, November 25, with Cyber Monday following on November 28. However, many people begin searching for deals on their holiday shopping much earlier.

We sat down with four eCommerce experts to get their insider tips and advice. Brandon Young, 8-figure Amazon seller and CEO at Seller Systems, Steve Chou owner of two 7-figure businesses and founder of My Wife Quit Her Job, Liran Hirschkorn, CEO of Incrementum Digital, and Felix Leshno, co-founder and CXO of Underoutfit shared their BFCM insights. Then, we put together a guide to help eCommerce sellers prepare their businesses. Read on to find out how to maximize your sales this holiday season.

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Checklist

Beyond Planning

Planning for Black Friday/Cyber Monday

Order inventory

ECommerce sellers know that everything depends on inventory. If you’re out of stock, you can’t make sales and everything unravels. And going out of stock on or before Black Friday will certainly ruin your big sales plans.

“If you run out of stock, it’s much more than just running out of stock.” Felix Leshno reminded us.  “People can’t exchange the product, so they ask for more refunds, so your refunds go up. Your customer support tickets go up by far, your customer team can’t handle all of it, and your entire customer experience gets worse. Running out of stock is so much worse than just the stock.”

Use forecasting technology and past sales data to determine how much stock to order ahead of Black Friday. Many sellers stock up on more inventory for the holiday period than they would for a normal month of sales.

Remember that ordering and receiving your inventory takes time. Experts recommend ordering your BFCM inventory well in advance. Some eCommerce businesses order their fourth quarter inventory as early as the first or second quarter.

“We make our orders for Black Friday in Q1 of the year, or even earlier, because especially right now, when the supply chain is a little bit slow, you want to make sure that you absolutely have product by no later than September,” Steve Chou told us.

Depending on which platform you use to host your shop, there may be additional requirements. For example, this year, Amazon FBA (fulfilled by Amazon) sellers need to make sure their Black Friday inventory arrives at their fulfillment center by November 15. This means you need to place your order with enough handler and shipping lead time to account for any delays that might occur. It’s also wise to consider the fact that the supply chain may slow as things get busier approaching the holiday season.

Strategize and decide what to sell

It’s important to figure out your Black Friday/Cyber Monday strategy before deciding on deals and coupons and setting up advertising campaigns. Not every seller has the same goals, so there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy.

Liran Hirschkorn advises sellers to first “understand what your current goal is, and then your strategy should be based on that specific goal. Is it to move dead inventory? Is it to maximize profitability? Is it to grow a product’s reviews?”

Depending on what you’re trying to achieve this year, your sales and marketing techniques will vary.

For example, many eCommerce businesses stocked up on inventory during the past year due to the supply chain issues, and are now stuck with excess inventory. The holiday season is a great time to move this excess stock, or even to clear out dead inventory that you no longer want to hold. Selling those products at a discounted price can help your business, since storage fees tend to go up during Q4.

If you want to maximize profitability, on the other hand, make sure not to discount your products too heavily. While this might increase revenue, your profits will fall quickly due to the lower return on investment.

Set up sales and deals

Once you’ve decided on your strategy for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s time to create sales and deals that promote your goals.

If you’re trying to clear out dead inventory, mark it down. To maximize profits, don’t discount too heavily. If you’re trying to keep your AOV (average order value) high, introduce bundles.

Make sure to check your platform for the deadline to submit deals and coupons for the BFCM weekend. Amazon typically closes the submission window for Lightning Deals at the beginning of October, so make sure you get your submission in on time.

The Thanksgiving weekend is known for sales, but don’t feel pressured to cut prices too heavily. While this may increase your overall revenue, it can actually harm your profits.

“Don’t feel like you have to over-discount,” Steve advised. “Make sure you run the calculations.” Figure out how much you need to sell in order to break even with a given discount. Selling more isn’t always the best strategy.

“Remember, it’s all about profit, not necessarily revenue. You’d be surprised how many more sales you need to make with a 30% discount or a 25% discount.”

Brandon Young takes advantage of Amazon’s coupon deals to offer a large discount while still keeping prices near their normal level. “For the 30 days leading up to Black Friday, we will keep our prices a little bit higher but turn on a bigger coupon. This way, our baseline price is higher so that when we run a sale on Black Friday, we are still selling pretty close to where we’ve been selling even though there’s a bigger discount that day.” This helps raise conversion rates while still maintaining profitability.

Many consumers wait all year for this gift-giving season. “Once it’s here they have a much bigger urge to buy,” said Felix. “So even if you don’t have a discount, people will buy more.”

Reach out to your lists

One of the most important things eCommerce businesses can do leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday is to reach out to their email and SMS lists. Then, they should reach out to their lists again. And again.

In fact, eCommerce experts recommend emailing customers frequently throughout the entire holiday season.

“Any excuse we have to email we’ll email,” Steve revealed. He told us that he runs a 12-day campaign starting on Black Friday, during which he emails customers every single day with a different offer. This technique has helped bring in a lot of sales that he otherwise would have missed.

“What ends up happening is people come in for that one item, but then they end up buying a whole bunch of other stuff for Christmas as well,” he explained.

Using your lists is a much more cost-effective way of generating traffic than relying on paid advertising campaigns. That’s because advertising costs go up during the holiday season. Mixing in email and SMS marketing can help keep your ROI (return on investment) up and bring valuable traffic to your site.

Felix recommends using educational content, or content marketing, in your email strategy. “At least two of the five emails we send every week are educational, about other products,” he told us. These emails are “not trying to sell them something, but trying to educate them on the design, the features, benefits, stuff like that.”

This helps build trust in your company, keeps your brand in customers’ minds, and encourages them to buy more products once the time comes.

Make sure your site can handle the traffic

The holiday shopping season brings higher than usual traffic to your online store. While this is great for sales, it’s important to make sure that your website can handle the increased number of visitors. If your website crashes or falls during Black Friday/Cyber Monday, it will cost you sales and might even damage your reputation.

In addition, your page loading time has a direct impact on your conversion rate. In fact, a one second page delay can lead to a 7% decrease in conversions.

If your website takes too long to load, there’s a good chance that your potential customers will abandon your page in favor of another, faster option. With so many sellers out there, it’s vital that your website is performing up to speed.

Improve your customer experience

In order to improve your conversion rate and make sure that your potential customers go ahead and click that “buy” button, it’s important to make your website comfortable and easy to navigate. If the purchasing experience is too difficult, or if customers struggle to get answers to their questions, they may decide to abandon your store in favor of a competitor.

It’s a good idea to offer several different payment options, so customers can pay for their purchase in the way that best suits their needs. Make sure it’s easy to check out and that there aren’t too many steps. A long check-out process gives customers more time to second guess their purchase.

Since you’re expecting an influx of customers during the holiday sales weekend, you may want to reinforce your customer service capability. Confirm that frequently asked questions are easy to find and that they answer the most common queries that may arise.

Some sellers introduce a chatbot to handle the more common requests. This cuts down on phone calls and emails. Steve told us that he has an automated chat that can look up the customer’s email address to find their tracking number and order status. “This cuts down on a lot of the human correspondence involved,” he said.

Shipping is another aspect of your business that you should put some thought into ahead of the holidays. More and more customers expect fast, low-cost shipping. Offering this service has become vital if you want to keep up with the competition. Consider introducing free shipping for orders above a certain threshold, as this can increase your AOV as well.

Finally, your return policy should be clear and your reverse supply chain should be functioning properly. This is a common customer pain point. Ensuring an easy and efficient returns process can encourage customers to buy and lead to loyalty to your brand.

Optimize your listings

Optimizing your listings is one of the most important things you can do before Black Friday and Cyber Monday. According to Liran, this entails “making sure you have good copywriting in the listing that can help persuade the person to buy the product, answers the biggest questions somebody might have about the product, and includes the right keywords.”

Take some time to do your keyword research, capture high quality product images, and make your storefront look appealing and professional. Liran recommends “using infographics to highlight features and benefits of the product” and  “answering the biggest questions about the product again both in text and in your images.” Most customers don’t read through all of the fine print, so infographics are invaluable. Depending on your product, it can also be wise to include photos of the item in use, so potential buyers can picture themselves using the product.

Another important focus area is optimizing your listings for mobile. Mobile purchases are on the rise, with mobile purchases projected to account for nearly three out of every four online purchases in 2021. This means it’s more crucial than ever that your storefront and listings look good and function well on mobile devices.

“The full character count is not necessarily shown on mobile,” noted Liran. “So there are certain details that you want to make sure are shown before it’s cut off.” Make sure the important words and elements are visible and clear to avoid confusion and unhappy customers.

Get your advertising campaigns in order

When it comes to holiday shopping, consumers really look ahead. They start searching for deals early, do their research, and remember which brands have attractive advertisements.

Many eCommerce retailers start broadcasting their offers a full month before Black Friday. It’s also a good idea to start testing your campaigns early so you can check what works and what doesn’t and make changes accordingly.

When it comes to advertising, there are many different strategies that you may want to consider. Brandon recommends expanding your PPC, or pay-per-click advertising campaigns ahead of the holidays. “Keywords that typically will convert less on a normal day convert better on a sale day,” he told us. “What that means is that your ACOS, your advertising cost of sale, is lower on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Keywords and campaigns that typically weren’t acceptable because they weren’t profitable all of a sudden become acceptable and profitable.” This can really help your keyword ranking and conversion rate.

Recent data has shown that most consumers start their product search on Amazon. Therefore, utilizing Amazon Ads is an invaluable way to reach shoppers and bring traffic to your site.

Social media is another effective advertising tool for many eCommerce brands. Paid ads on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter can reach a large target audience and generate a great deal of traffic. If you can build up the hype on social media, your brand will stick in consumers’ minds when Black Friday arrives. Influencer marketing can also be a powerful tool for spreading the word and building trust in your brand.

However, be careful when budgeting your ad spend. As the holidays approach, CPC, or cost-per-click, and CPM, or cost per impression, go up, and it’s easy to get carried away. “One of the biggest mistakes that people make during that period is upping their ad spend and focusing on revenue during that period at the expense of profit,” Steve warned us. “What ends up happening is you find that the ad costs are so high that you’re not really making a return.”

Set up retargeting campaigns

Shoppers don’t always complete their purchase on their first visit to your website. In addition, cart abandonment is a big problem for eCommerce sellers. In fact, the average percentage of abandoned shopping carts is a whopping 69.99% worldwide. On Black Friday, you don’t want to lose that many potential purchases. That’s why it’s important to come up with a plan to bring these consumers back to your store.

Retargeting campaigns are a great way to re-engage potential customers who have already shown interest in your product. “There’s gonna be a lot of traffic that weekend,” Liran reminded us. “Set up retargeting campaigns ahead of it to retarget those people with sponsored display ads or programmatic advertising.”

Another way to convince consumers to go ahead and make that purchase is to send creative abandoned cart emails. These emails don’t cost much to implement and can win back 3%–14% of lost customers. You can also offer a discount as a shopper is about to navigate away from your website to give them that extra push to complete their purchase.

Have a backup plan in place

No matter how much time and effort you put into your Black Friday and Cyber Monday campaigns and sales, you can’t plan for everything. Unexpected stockouts can occur even to the most seasoned sellers. Advertising campaigns can go wrong, customers might have trouble with discount codes, websites can crash, and more.

Make sure you have a plan in place so you don’t panic if something goes wrong. What will you do if you sell out of inventory early in the day? How will you adjust your advertising campaigns if they’re not working? Is your customer service prepared to handle an influx of questions?

Having a backup plan will allow you to feel more confident going into the sales event, and it will help you succeed even if something goes wrong.

Beyond Planning

You’re stocked up on inventory, you’ve sent emails and text messages to your lists, your listings are optimized, and your advertising campaigns are going strong. However, your work isn’t done once Thanksgiving begins. There’s still plenty left to do, both during the holiday weekend and throughout the month of December.

What to do on Black Friday/Cyber Monday

It might be tempting to sit back and let the sales roll in on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but most eCommerce sellers know better. It’s important to continue to monitor your inventory levels, your advertising campaigns, and your site performance to make sure that everything is running smoothly.

“You have to be very active on those sale days with you and your team monitoring the performance of your advertising,” advised Brandon. “A few hours into the day, you need to check your click through rate and conversion rate on those campaigns and see if you’re getting impressions. If you’re not getting impressions, you need to bid more. If you are getting impressions and you’re not really getting clicks, then you can back off of them.”

When you do sell out of a product, make sure to adjust your campaigns and listings to reflect that. You don’t want to continue paying for campaigns that advertise a product that is out of stock.

It’s also a good idea to play off of consumer psychology, creating feelings of urgency and scarcity to increase the likelihood of a purchase. When shoppers feel like they need to buy something quickly before it runs out, they are more likely to go ahead and do it.

Brandon outlined one example of this technique using Amazon’s Lightning Deals. These deals are limited both in time and quantity, and create that sense of urgency that encourages customers to buy. “If you have a lightning deal going, if you can keep it around 80% claimed, that increases your conversion rate because people have a fear of missing out, or FOMO,” explained Brandon.

After Black Friday/Cyber Monday: it’s not over!

ECommerce sellers should remember that Black Friday is only the beginning of the holiday sales season. Consumers continue their holiday shopping during the following weeks leading up to Christmas

“The second week of December is often just as big as Cyber Monday and Black Friday,” Brandon told us. “So it’s important that you position yourself to take advantage of the entire season, not just those two days.”

It’s a good idea to keep reaching out to your customers to remind them what you’re offering. “Most people don’t email and reach out to their customers enough,” Steve revealed. “You might think that you’re bothering people with your emails and your texts, but every single email makes money.”

Felix has a strategy that saves him time and ensures that his advertising campaigns perform well. He makes sure that his Black Friday/Cyber Monday ads don’t mention those days by name, and instead say “holiday season” or “promotional season.” Then, he continues running the same campaigns throughout the month of December.

Be thoughtful when deciding on an approach for the rest of the holiday season. Discounts and sales might help you increase your revenue, but always keep your profits in mind. “You may want to consider raising prices, or even test raising prices, because there’s gonna be a lot more demand,” said Liran. “You can test not only selling more inventory but also making a better margin in December.”

Finally, even though it’s the biggest shopping time of the year, it’s also time to start planning your business’ future. November and December are the time to start thinking about your Q2 sales and ordering enough inventory to carry you through the beginning of the next year. This is particularly important with Chinese New Year coming up in February. It’s vital that production is completed and your orders are shipped before factories shut down for the holiday.

Helpful tools and resources

We asked our eCommerce experts which tools they use to help them succeed during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend as well as during the holiday season. Here are the tools they recommended.

Klaviyo: An eCommerce marketing automation platform for email and SMS marketing

Postscript: An SMS marketing tool for Shopify stores

ManyChat: Automated conversations for Facebook messenger, Instagram DMs, and SMS

Gorgias: A customer service solution for eCommerce stores

Helium10: A suite of tools to help Amazon sellers improve their ranking and sell more

Amazon Ads: Amazon’s suite of advertising tools

Incrementum Digital: ECommerce growth engine that helps brands scale using Amazon marketing

Funding for Black Friday/Cyber Monday

ECommerce sellers need working capital ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The costs of stocking up on inventory, investing in advertising campaigns, and running your business can add up fast.

That’s where 8fig comes in. 8fig is a growth partner for eCommerce businesses. In addition to growth capital, 8fig provides sellers with a suite of planning tools to help you map out your supply chain and cash flow and grow your business. 8fig also offers users a comprehensive analytics dashboard, giving you valuable insights into sales.

Sign up for an 8fig Growth Plan today, and get the tools you need to prepare your business for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

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