This is a post by Abby Heugel.
The air is filled with pumpkin spice and the leaves are changing colors, which means that the holiday shopping rush isn’t far behind. As a retailer, this is good news, given that shoppers spent a record $5 billion in 24 hours last Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving.
But how did this tradition come to be, and how can retailers capitalize?
History of Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Shopping the day after American Thanksgiving seems like a modern tradition, but it actually began in the late 1950s. Some say “Black Friday” has a dark meaning, namely that police officers in Philadelphia assigned the moniker to discourage people from coming out and shopping because the growing crowds had become too much to handle.
While the title stuck, it didn’t stop people from going out and spending big in November.
Now we don’t only have Black Friday, but also Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday. The National Retail Federation reported that more than 174 million Americans shopped over Thanksgiving weekend (from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday) in 2017. They spent a whopping $6.59 billion online on just Cyber Monday, making it the biggest day in the history of ecommerce in the US.
Then we also have Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday — a total of four days to capitalize on this spending spree.
But while it can be the most profitable time of the year, it can also be stressful for store owners to navigate Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM). Between special requests, an influx of traffic, order fulfillment, and everything else that comes along with the holiday rush, it can feel overwhelming.
That’s why it’s good to have a plan, and below we’ve outlined what you should be doing to prepare for your store for more customers and fewer headaches.
Four to eight weeks before
Develop a promotional plan and schedule
Think of this as your plan of attack. Figure out how you plan to let customers know about BFCM sales, the products you plan on promoting this season, and what discounts you’ll run these two months. Look at all of your products and plan your deals and discounts now so you’re not rushing at the last minute.
Create a sales/promotions calendar with start dates and sale prices on Google Sheets or Excel so that you and your staff know what events are happening and when.
Pitch to blogs and gift guides
Given that it can take weeks of back-and-forth to secure a partnership agreement, it’s never too early to get on the radar with websites that can help advertise and promote your sales. Look for websites in your niche that run gift guides and BFCM coverage, send out an email or make a phone call, and let the bloggers know you already have a plan and would like to partner up.
Need more tips on reaching out to blogs and publications? Check out our DIY Guide to Getting PR Coverage for Your Retail Store.
Three weeks before
Start preparing for sales
According to a report from Nextopia, retailers like Walmart and Target have released their Black Friday sales ads as early as three weeks before the big event. That makes sense when you hear that according to RetailMeNot, more than half of US shoppers plan to start their holiday shopping before BFCM.
The simplest way to prepare — after creating your promotional plan, of course — is to simply start verbally telling your current customers what your sales will be in the weeks leading up to BFCM. Have your sales associates talk to them, and make little flyers or coupons to send home with them so that they know what to expect in the coming weeks.
Begin email marketing
But of course, you have to do much more than just verbally advertise your sales. An ad agency found that on Black Friday, click-through rates more than doubled across all of their clients’ ads in 2017.
Business owners should have a variety of email marketing campaigns planned to bring customers back to your website so they can act on your holiday sale offers and come into the store. Now is a good time to plan, create, and schedule your BFCM sale emails. Some campaigns could include an announcement of your BFCM sales, a reminder before the sale begins, another reminder before the sale expires, and teases and hints about upcoming promotions.
Test your website
Work with your servers to confirm the maximum number of shoppers your website can handle at a time. Sometimes your site can crash with too many simultaneous requests, which can lead to downtime and loss of big sales. Tools like LoadImpact.com allow you to test the server load capacity of your store.
What kind of user experience does your site offer shoppers? It’s important to get impartial feedback, and one option is UserTesting, which helps you “capture the critical human insights you need to confidently deliver what customers want and expect.” You set parameters about who you’d like to test your store, and then a random user browses your website so you can listen to their feedback.
Two weeks before
Take stock of inventory
The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t have the items that shoppers are looking for, but this can be avoided by carefully taking stock of what you have and what you need. Work with your suppliers and ensure they’re prepared to handle your projected sales for the holiday season, as you want to meet the demand of your customers.
It’s also important to take inventory of your equipment. Make sure you have enough shopping bags, receipt tape, etc. to ensure your BFCM sale runs smoothly. In addition, stock up on packing and shipping materials. This will guarantee you can mail all items sold on Cyber Monday as soon as possible.
Schedule your best employees
While everyone on your staff should be reliable, there are those rock stars who have more experience and will be better equipped to handle the Black Friday Cyber Monday crowds.
Start with pulling reports from your POS software on past Black Fridays to figure out when your store saw the most sales and foot traffic. Once you’ve pulled the data on your peak hours, use your scheduling software and your knowledge of best sellers to put together the perfect team for the job.
Make sure your peak hours have your elite staff, but that you also have a competent clean-up crew to come in for the final shift. You may sell very little for the final hours of business, but a lot of time will have to be spent cleaning up the store.
Test your technology
You never want your POS system to go out on you, but you really don’t want that to happen during the biggest rush of the season. This can be avoided by checking in with your software vendors to ensure your POS is capable of ringing sales even if the Wi-Fi goes out, and check to make sure you’re capable of ringing an unlimited number of sales.
If possible, consider implementing a mobile POS to ring people up throughout the floor. Not only will this dramatically cut down on long lines, but it will also cut down on customer tensions.
Update your contingency plan
Something will go wrong — it’s inevitable — but you can at least try and prepare for the worst. If a display gets destroyed, make sure employees know how to set things back up. If your POS conks out on you, continually communicate to your customers that you’re doing everything you can to get things up and running as soon as possible.
Think about the worst case scenarios for your business and communicate with your staff about the possible plans of action. It’s much easier to handle the planning now, versus trying to figure it out in the middle of the biggest sales weekend of the year.
One week before
Update your website
Now that you’ve tested your website, it’s time for one last update. When shoppers land on your page, they should have a clear idea of what your BFCM deals are at first glance. A single, strong sales message, such as “20% off all regular priced merchandise” or “Free shipping on all orders over $75,” is more effective than having several different deals advertised all over your page.
Meet with your team
Things will be crazy the day before Black Friday, so meet with your team a week out to make sure everyone knows what’s on sale so that they can easily communicate that to customers, and also that they know where every item is located.
It’s also important to remind them about your return policy, and also how you handle theft and the security protocol.
Email loyal customers
It’s believed that it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one, which is to say BFCM is the perfect time to reward previous customers and get them to come back.
Email and retarget your previous customers with your best deals, letting them know they’re accessing sales earlier than everyone else or that this sale is only for those on your list. This helps to build up a positive relationship and gives them the incentive to spend their money with your business. Letting people know there are special promotions for those on your list also encourages users to leave their email address before they leave your site.
The day before
Send out last-minute reminder emails
People are going to be scouring the Internet for BFCM sales, so make sure your email finds its way into their inbox. Remind them about what deals you’ll be offering, when the offer expires to create a sense of urgency, and even a promotional discount code, if you so choose.
Get active on social media
According to Facebook, from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday 2017, more than 130 million people took to Facebook and Instagram to boast about deals they found online or share in holiday purchases. While social media isn’t the biggest driver of conversions, it’s still important to preview what’s in store and highlight high-demand items, and in most cases, it’s free.
Nearly 1 in 3 mobile shoppers surveyed in the US said that video is the best medium for discovering new products, so if you have the means to do so, excite your audience with spontaneous, memorable content using Instagram Stories or Facebook live.
After Black Friday Cyber Monday
Conduct a post-mortem
After you take a deep breath and get a good night’s sleep, come back and analyze how your week went. Did you implement a new system that worked? Are there changes you would make for next year? Take good notes while it’s all front-of-mind, and make plans for next year’s adjustments.
Follow up with seasonal customers
Just because the frenzy is over doesn’t mean you’re done marketing. Now is the time to build that relationship with new seasonal customers. Stay active on social media and send out post-sale emails to those who signed up for your list and encourage them to sign up with your loyalty program.
You don’t want to miss the opportunity to reach out again to remarket your products and services. Conversion rates have been shown to increase up to 400% when targeting your previous seasonal shoppers to get them back to your store to buy again.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out Vend’s guide to increasing sales. This handy resource offers 10 proven tactics for boosting retail sales and improving your bottom line.
Specifically, you will:
- Discover how to turn savvy shoppers into loyal customers
- Learn how to add real and perceived value to each sale
- Discover the most effective ways to set yourself apart from your competitors
When all is said and done, remember the reason for the season and that shoppers can choose to spend their money anywhere they choose. They’re choosing your store, so make it worth their while!
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.