In recent years, there has been a steady increase in online shopping as consumers spend more time browsing and making purchases from eCommerce stores rather than making visits to retail storefronts. As the world continues to grapple with the consequences of COVID-19, there has been an even greater surge in online shopping, a positive outcome for retailers looking to expand their eCommerce presence. This shift in consumer behaviour constitutes a new way of planning for Black Friday. 

At the height of the pandemic, many eCommerce retailers aggressively discounted their merchandise. Research by PwC shows that markdowns reached Black Friday levels in the spring as retailers attempted to sell through their inventory due to store closures. Data from EDITED indicates that the weekly discount amount averaged 44% in the U.S. which is nearly equivalent to Black Friday discounts—averaging 45% in the U.S. last year.

Black Friday is traditionally the busiest shopping day. According to Adobe Analytics, in 2019, U.S. consumers spent a total of $7.4 billion online, breaking records for the largest Black Friday event for eCommerce retailers. Cyber Monday generated even greater sales with American consumers spending a total of $9.4 billion online.

Black Friday is already looking much different for 2020 with the necessary implementation of physical distancing measures and strategic discounting planning. However, there are still ways that eCommerce retailers can successfully participate in the event. The key to a successful Black Friday is planning ahead, keeping up with eCommerce trends, and understanding exactly what consumers are seeking this year.

Black Friday Marketing Strategies Retailers Should Consider in 2020

Anticipating the competition and starting early

Each holiday season, shoppers are inundated with promotional offers from various retailers. The key to having a successful Black Friday weekend is anticipating the competition and planning ahead. This year, it is likely that online sales will start earlier and end later, as fewer consumers will spend their spare time standing in lines hoping to find the best deals. This shift leaves consumers with more time to research, plan their purchases in advance, and more efficiently check items off their holiday shopping lists.

As an eCommerce retailer, it is your responsibility to create your holiday roadmap well in advance, detailing your promotions schedule and precisely what deals you will be offering throughout the weekend. Consumers are eagerly anticipating the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, with 35% of shoppers starting their holiday shopping before the official events. Ensure that you are communicating your offers well in advance so consumers have ample time to make their purchasing decisions.

Email Marketing

Pre-plan your promotional calendar and emails

Optimize your email marketing strategy by planning ahead and creating several email marketing campaigns tailored to your Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. These are designed to entice shoppers to revisit your website so they can find the best deals during the sale period.

Begin planning, creating, and scheduling your email campaigns about a month before your Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales begin.

Have backup offers ready

No matter how far in advance you plan for Black Friday, your sales may not do as well as anticipated. Always prepare for a worst-case scenario with backup sales ready to go, which you can easily swap out of your email marketing campaigns. 

Pro tip: Your contingency plan should include careful consideration of pandemic product trends. Typically, you will want to highlight your best-selling products during the sale period but it will also be a good idea to consider which products saw an uptick in demand since the beginning of the pandemic, and which products are likely to be in higher demand as the winter approaches. 

Build out email lists

Spend the weeks leading up to Black Friday building your email lists to connect with new and returning customers, inform them about upcoming sales, and raise awareness pertaining to new products.

To successfully build your lists, use a variety of tactics to garner the attention of shoppers and entice them to subscribe to your company’s email list. Some examples include creating a lead generation campaign, promoting early or exclusive sales to your most loyal customers, and adding on-site pop-ups and incentives (e.g., receive 10% off your first order when you subscribe).

Instapage has outlined a variety of email generation tactics to consider as you prepare for Black Friday. 

Hillberg & Berk email

Hillberg & Berk Lead Generation email campaign.                       

Pulp & Press email on mobile

Pulp & Press Lead Generation email campaign.

Test for mobile

The number of consumers shopping on their mobile phones is rapidly growing each year. Last year, Mobile Commerce (mCommerce) broke Black Friday and Cyber Monday records totalling $2.9B and $3.1B respectively in the U.S. As shoppers become increasingly more comfortable making purchases on their mobile devices, it is safe to assume that this Black Friday and Cyber Monday period will break records again for mCommerce.

Ensure that your store is optimized for mobile ahead of Black Friday and run tests for user experience, responsiveness, and double-check that all devices are image-blocker friendly so shoppers can effectively see your offers and promotions.

My Wine Country website on tablet and phone

Andrew Peller Limited responsive mobile website.

A/B test subject lines

It is always a good idea to test subject lines and email templates when running any email campaign. This Black Friday, draft a few different email templates and subject lines and send them out to a small pool of people. Based on the winning subject line and/or email template, send it out to the rest of your subscribers and customers to maximize ROI.

Automate your email workflows

Automated email workflows are essential to having a successful Black Friday and Cyber Monday period. Create your email schedule and ensure that your core workflows are in place ahead of time.

As retailers increase their ad spend, it is imperative that you have effective email workflows in place to maximize ROI. In fact, according to a 2019 Data & Marketing Association report, ROI from email marketing is $42 for every $1 spent.

Northern has outlined some email workflows you should be integrating into your Black Friday email campaign strategy. 

Booch eNewsletter

Booch Organic Kombucha Abandoned Cart email workflow.

Paid Media

Paid media is another powerful conversion tactic to add to your Black Friday strategy. Similar to email marketing strategies, it is recommended to test different variables throughout your campaign, such as testing visuals, copy, or audiences. 

Facebook ad for Lonestar Texas Grill on phone on table with food

Lone Star Texas Grill paid media campaign.

Plan your budget scaling strategy

With the impact of COVID-19, expect to see even more paid advertising campaigns leading up to and during Black Friday. This means there will be more competition during the holiday sale period so you will need to plan your ad budgets accordingly to ensure that your ads are effective and not lost within the crowd.

This month, work on increasing your budget and building audiences that you can retarget with Black Friday promotions in November. By retargeting those that previously saw your ad, they have a higher chance of recognizing your brand, engaging with your content, and ultimately purchasing your products and/or services during the holiday season.

Plan ahead & align ad campaigns with email promotions

For Black Friday, you can never over-prepare. In advance, determine which advertising channels you will use to run your promotions and schedule your campaigns to align with your email marketing campaigns to maximize conversion opportunities, and have backup channels in place.

You may want to consider tapping into new avenues, like TikTok, Pinterest, or Snapchat if deemed appropriate for your audience. It is imperative to have consistent messaging across all your platforms so your audiences can recognize your brand and retain your promotional offers.

 Build and test different creatives

As you build and test your email and paid media campaigns ahead of time, also test different creative assets to accompany your campaigns. Consider running A/B tests with your creative and continue your campaign with the winning asset.

Because the holiday sale period is relatively brief, ensure that your plan details when you will swap out creative assets with different messaging (e.g., Only One Day Left!).

Pulp & Press sponsored post
Pulp & Press sponsored post alternate

Pulp & Press sponsored post – creative variable.                                          Pulp & Press sponsored post – creative variable.

Optimizing Your eCommerce Storefront for Traffic

Save the updates for later

Throughout Black Friday, your eCommerce store will see an increase in traffic. It is important to be prepared and ensure that your eCommerce store is equipped to handle the influx of customers.

Refrain from making any site updates roughly one month leading up to Black Friday. Changes made to your store may create some technical issues which could affect user experience and lead to a potential decline in conversions. If you are looking to update your digital experience, hold off for a few extra days.

Monitor site traffic

Be prepared in case your online store cannot handle a surge of shoppers. Most importantly, pre-plan any necessary solutions if bugs arise and your store begins to slow down due to the increased traffic. Shoppers will not want to waste time waiting for your site to load.

Ahead of Black Friday, test your server load capacity. There are a variety of tools you can use, such as k6 Cloud and Spirent. These tools test the speed of your homepage and high-traffic product pages to optimize load time during your busiest hours. 

Ahead of the expected increase in traffic on Black Friday, monitor the number of visitors to your storefront during peak hours and how long they spend browsing your website. Consider the benefits of leveraging user information by collecting data from your customers for any future campaigns or marketing strategies.

Northern recommends Hotjar for analyzing and understanding user behaviour which helps you make the appropriate changes to improve user experience and website conversion rates.

Social Media

Create your organic social schedule

As you create your email and paid media campaign plans and schedules, we recommend you do the same for organic social media.

Social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, and Tik Tok can be integral for influencing people’s purchasing decisions. In fact, 11% of social media users shop directly on Instagram and 81% of people use Instagram to find products and services. Leverage your organic social media reach by teasing your Black Friday deals through stories and feed posts well in advance of the holiday. This will help your business stay top-of-mind with your loyal customers, and by using organic social strategies such as hashtags, you will be able to increase your reach. We also recommend integrating Facebook Shops features into your social media platforms so consumers can easily select items that they would like to purchase. 

Your organic social media plan should also include strategic creative assets that match competitor promotions and offers. Get creative with social! Consider the benefits of running sweepstakes prior to Black Friday to boost engagement and following so there is more of a chance of users seeing your organic offers.

Influencer marketing

COVID-19 has also resulted in an increase in the popularity of both “social media” brands and influencer marketing as a whole. Because consumers are heavily influenced by social media, and specifically Gen Z, there are countless opportunities to work with influencers to promote your products and brand.

As Black Friday approaches, consider how influencers on social media may be helpful in creating awareness about your products and Back Friday or Cyber Monday deals. You may also want to consider partnering with influencers before the holiday sale period to bring brand awareness to their audiences.

Additionally, recognize the impact of influencer marketing as it pertains to your customer base. For example, Gen Z is known for purchasing from brands they trust and resonate with. If you begin your influencer partnerships in advance of the holidays, this will help prime new customers–if they trust their favourite influencers, they can trust your brand.

Omni-Channel Commerce

Curbside pickups

As a result of the pandemic, retailers are now offering curb-side pickups at their storefronts. To prepare for Black Friday, consider promoting curbside pickups as an alternative through your email marketing campaigns and on your eCommerce store. Allowing your customers to visit your store to pick up their orders may also lead to more foot traffic on Black Friday where consumers will be inclined to make other purchases on the fly.

Exclusive in-store shopping experiences

Leading up to Black Friday, consider offering exclusive in-store shopping events to your most loyal customers. Leverage your email database and send customized emails to your VIP customers. VIP customers are typically those that make large purchases, those who are the most frequent customers, or they may be the ones that engage most with your emails. Target these customers by sending them customized emails encouraging them to visit your store for an exclusive Black Friday shopping experience where they may have access to early sales, limited edition items, and more. 

Shift of Intent 

We understand that Black Friday events are not necessarily appropriate for every brand or aligned with every consumer’s interest. If Black Friday is not aligned with your brand position or audience, there are many ways to approach Black Friday differently.

For example, consider promising your customers that a certain amount of profits will be donated to a specific organization throughout the Black Friday period. Popular retailer Everlane is known for donating Black Friday profits to their Black Friday Fund. This year, Everlane is partnering with Oceana to help protect and restore the world’s oceans from the damages caused by single-use plastic.

If you want to take a similar approach with your eCommerce strategy, consider the options for creating the appropriate awareness prior to Black Friday. Send out emails detailing your Black Friday intent, display your decision to “opt out” of Black Friday on your website, and continue to use social media to your advantage to spread the word about how you will be tackling Black Friday in 2020.

Next Steps for Preparing for Black Friday 2020

With Black Friday looking different this year, there is no one right way to approach the event. In an eCommerce-first world, there are various ways to ensure that your brand will gain substantial traction and result in a successful Black Friday.

Plan ahead of time and get started on your marketing strategies as early as possible. Now is the best time to prioritize developing features for your eCommerce store, ensure that your customer database is updated and ready to go, and that you are using effective marketing strategies to spread awareness about your business and promotions.

If you are looking for eCommerce solutions that drive performance and increase conversions, contact Northern today!