Black Friday: the day when the holiday season is full-on in-your-face, and you're about to be as busy as a one-armed paper-hanger. Many online sellers have been in holiday mode for weeks already. But when it comes to that critical date, the day after Thanksgiving, what are some of the things online sellers should do, and just as importantly, what should they not be doing during this frenzied time?
We spoke to a few experts in the fields of marketing, website management and online selling to gather up their best tips. Read on for all kinds of ideas for what to do to make your Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) smooth sale-ing this year. (Note that Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, and Cyber Monday is the following Monday.)
Web Site Prep
For those online sellers who have their own website, after Black Friday is not the time to make major changes or updates to your website.
Minimize, or completely eliminate, site updates over the six weeks following Cyber Monday, advises Fred Lizza, CEO of Dydacomp. If critical updates are required, they should be done during off-peak hours, between 3 and 8 am, he says.
Test and re-test holiday promotions.
While design changes should also be kept to a minimum and avoided if the site can go without them, Lizza says, many online retailers will want to highlight special holiday promotions online.
"If updates are made, test those changes thoroughly before they go into production - then test them again. Add software that enables testing in multiple browsers, as there are a number of popular options available and you can't predict what browser any one customer may be using. Create and use a test page, never a live page, and keep a backup of the original page in the event there are issues with the new page when it goes live," he says.
Larry Kavanagh, Chief E-Commerce Strategy Officer of Kalio Commerce, an ecommerce platform for mid-market retailers, advises "pumping up your site speed" with free services like WebPageTest.org and PageSpeed.GoogleLabs.com.
Also, revise your navigation to emphasize top-selling categories from last holiday season. Create new categories, like "gifts for men under $50," for destination shoppers.
For those harried shoppers who got interrupted in mid-checkout? "Abandoned cart emails," he suggests, adding, "spice them up and give them a holiday flavor."
Kavanagh also suggests the following:
- Make shoppers, especially new ones, feel safe with "trust marks in the right places."
- Post a "Last day for standard and expedited shipping" message.
- Advertise your holiday deals in PPC (pay per click advertising).
- Run a "Get on the nice list" promotion to get email signups from your website and Facebook page in late October and early November. Also consider a "get your friends on the nice list" promotion through email.
Kavanagh also suggested reviewing the search phrases entered on your site daily starting Black Friday; "failed searches go up at this time of year," he said.
Holiday Email Marketing
Many sellers have really pumped up the volume of their promotional emails this time of year. But shoppers are getting bombarded with emails from all sorts of retailers; what can you do to make your communications stand out?
"Refine your subject line," counsels Janine Popick, CEO/founder of VerticalResponse. "With emails flooding inboxes this time of year, it'll be more difficult to stand out from the rest. Be clear about what subscribers get if they open your email. Give it some urgency so they won't skip it to open later (which most never remember).
For example, try something like, "5 Days Left to Use Promo Code XYZ for 25% Off All Boots" or "Order By Midnight Tonight for 25% Off All Boots."
Popick also suggests the following:
Include a preheader.
"A preheader is nothing more than the first line of text before the main content of your message," says Popick. Many email clients and mobile devices allow users to display the first few lines of an email without actually clicking to open it. So, if the subject line isn't enough to entice a reader to open your email, maybe the pre-header will! A Black Friday pre-header could be a second promotion, or the title of a holiday-oriented blog post or article.
More people than ever before are reading emails on smartphones. "Online merchants need to send mobile-optimized emails, especially during the critical holiday shopping season," says Popick. "Thankfully, it's not rocket science; there are lots of resources online that teach you how to design your email campaigns for mobile and tablets."
At a conference earlier this year, Popick said one of her marketing team members heard a presentation from Gilt Groupe, the online retailer. For Black Friday, they figured they could capture shoppers' attention while they waited in lines at bricks-and-mortar shops, so they launched a mobile-only sale called "Black Friday Fever." They held price points at under $100 and used attention-getting subject lines like "Gilt Groupe - Black Friday Fever! Dresses Under $100," "Sweaters Under $100" and "Boots Under $100 & Much More!"
The result? "They had a 34 percent year-over-year growth in sales that weekend. Not too shabby!" said Popick.
Use a Black Friday-specific email template.
Drop in your text (don't forget that great offer), product photos and links to your online store, and you're done - no fancy HTML coding required. Some email marketing service providers provide mobile-friendly Black Friday templates for free.
Create a custom coupon URL to leverage social media.
Not only can you include the coupon in your email campaign, you also can share that URL with your Facebook and Twitter followers and get in front of more eyeballs. VerticalResponse has a coupon wizard that lets you create, publish and track online coupons that have their own URLs, Popick said.
If your offer is time-sensitive, make it obvious.
Consider adding a widget with a live countdown showing how many hours they have left to redeem the offer. Or, Popick suggests, send a series of emails letting subscribers know they have only so many days left to get that amazing deal.
Re-think your free shipping offer.
These days, consumers expect free shipping with a minimum purchase because so many online retailers offer it, she says. "Differentiate yourself by offering free shipping with no minimum purchase, or free expedited shipping, or free shipping to a second address."
Free shipping is expected, concurs Kelli Beougher, COO at discount/coupon site RetailMeNot. "Consumers will shop around for a free shipping offer," she says.
As far as when to send your promotion? Now would not be too soon. Some retailers even begin before Halloween! "As far as timing Black Friday email promotions, there's no hard and fast rule," says Popick. "But, we've noticed that each year the time frame seems to inch a little earlier than the previous. We're already seeing Black Friday references from top retailers now."
Discounts and Offers that Work
"Retailers should consider that all major players will have a presence on Black Friday and Cyber Monday," advises Beougher. If a retailer wants to stand out from the big guys like Amazon, Wal-mart and Best Buy, they should consider releasing deals prior to Black Friday/Cyber Monday or afterwards, she says.
Offers that work:
- "Gift with purchase" performs well during the holidays. These deals work especially well in the health and beauty space.
- Site-wide discounts work well as they give customers the opportunity to choose what they want. If a merchant cannot do site-wide offers, they should also discount categories that resonate most during the season: electronics, clothing, travel, shoes, jewelry.
- Free returns are also an important consideration when shoppers determine what and from whom to purchase. Brick and mortar retailers should extend the same offers on and offline to create a seamless shopping experience.
Consumers will be inundated with newsletters this holiday season, so retailers should make sure their newsletters have compelling offers. "In addition, retailers should supplement exposure for their offers by working with coupon destinations like RetailMeNot that have great reach."
- Do a Black Friday preview promotion two weeks ahead of Black Friday for the early shoppers who just can't wait, says Kalio's Kavanagh.
- For the 10 days before Christmas, do a product of the day. Promote it on the site, in email campaigns and Facebook posts starting Black Friday (send your first email/post the afternoon of Thanksgiving), Kavanagh advises.
An Amazon Seller's Tips
"This is the time of year Amazon sellers are licking their chops," according to the folks at AmazonGenius. Around Black Friday, with the holidays quickly approaching, this is the most lucrative time to be an Amazon seller, they say. They offers these tips for the Black Friday timeframe, and you can find more tips for Amazon holiday selling on the AuctionBytes Blog.
FBA - Stock Inventory. Because Fulfillment By Amazon offers so many advantages to sellers, it's become our crown jewel and #1 tip for Black Friday. "First off, if you're not using FBA during the holidays, stop what you're doing and sign up," AmazonGenius advises. "Amazon's FBA program offers sellers the opportunity to bypass packaging and shipping orders by having sellers ship their products directly to Amazon." When an item sells, Amazon quickly packages and ships it off to your customer. Also, using FBA allows your products to qualify for shipping rewards like Super-Saver Shipping and Amazon Prime, which allows customers to receive their purchase with little to no shipping cost. Nothing says "Buy Me" more than free 2-day shipping.
Use Amazon Deals/Add-ons. Although Amazon.com doesn't offer sellers many options to create their own deals for the holidays, they do have one program that could significantly help sellers. Amazon's "Add-on" program allows customers to add low-cost items to their shopping cart in order to qualify for free shipping. This is great for sellers as customers must buy more products to qualify for this offer. Normally Amazon contacts sellers directly with this opportunity, but it doesn't hurt to reach out and request permission for this program, advises AmazonGenius.
All these tips should give you plenty to do between now and Black Friday. Of course, even just doing one or more of them should help boost your sales. And if you don't get it all done by then? There's always Cyber Monday.