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The Ultimate eCommerce Guide to Boosting Your Black Friday Sales

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The festive season is big business for all retailers, and Black Friday kicks it all off with a bang. This is especially true for online eCommerce traders who have learned to make the most of the Black Friday frenzy. In 2012 online spending on Black Friday rose 26% compared to 2011, hitting over $1 billion. With the rapid rise of mobile commerce, this is a trend that's set only to continue in 2013.

Ecommerce analyst Gian Fulgoni said the huge rise in online Black Friday sales marked a sea-change in retailing and marketing for the holiday season. Retailers are putting their in-store offers online, and consumers are turning to the internet to save them a trip out to the mall. In Fulgoni's own words:

Despite the frenzy of media coverage surrounding the importance of Black Friday in the brick-and-mortar world, we continue to see this shopping day become more and more prominent in the e-commerce channel — particularly among those who prefer to avoid crowds at the stores.

What can microbusinesses do to make the most of the changing landscape of shopping? How can you drive people to your online store in droves as they search for bargains on Black Friday? It's important to get your promotion strategy ready for this big event.

In this ultimate guide, we've got you covered. We'll look at what it takes to make your eCommerce business a Black Friday success story.

Get in the Black Friday Mindset

Black Friday is a consumer's paradise, with the numerous opportunities it presents to pick up a bargain.

But what's in it for retailers? Don't you just cannibalize profits, if you offer your products on the cheap?

That's one way of looking it at, but if that's your mindset, you'll miss out on the opportunities Black Friday presents. There's a reason why every major online retailer promotes Black Friday heavily: this event brings in a significant return.

Black Friday being shown heavily promoted on Amazon Black Friday shown prominently featured on Amazon Prime.

By jumping on the Black Friday bandwagon, you can:

  • Clear inventory you've overstocked. Instead of writing off stock as worthless, Black Friday gives you a chance to sell it at low-cost without losing face. In turn, that frees up capital to buy stock you know will sell.
  • Create buzz around your brand. Your Black Friday offers will get people talking, online and to their real-world friends. This word-of-mouth marketing boosts your visibility, and gets more customers through the doors of your virtual store.
  • Win first-time customers. The hardest sale to make is always the first. When a customer has bought from you once, you've gained their trust and started a relationship. They're now more likely to buy from your store than they were previously. Black Friday is the ideal way to get first-time customers into your online store.
  • Grow your online presence. Don't give your offers away for nothing! Make sure everyone who's interested signs up to your email list, or likes your Facebook page. Even if they don't buy this time, you've created a connection.
  • Make a tidy profit. Just because you're selling products at lower prices than usual doesn't mean you've got to do that at a loss. In fact, the opposite should be true. You should use Black Friday as an opportunity to have one of the most profitable days of your trading year.

Work Up Anticipation

Black Friday is the big one when you put your best offers out there. But simply slashing your prices for one day will only generate a small amount of buzz.

To make the most of your promotions, and to get the word spread far and wide, you should build up anticipation in the weeks and days leading up to Black Friday. Not only does this get people talking, it also gets them looking around your store, thinking about which products they might buy, as with the following initiative from Lowes:

black-friday-lowes

Strategies to raise anticipation include:

  • An email campaign whetting your subscribers' appetite for the kind of offers you'll have in store on Black Friday. Spreading word about the discounts you'll be offering ahead of time gives people a chance to get talking, and will mean you'll get more traffic on the big day. Don't give everything away, though. Surprises on Black Friday will bring people into your store to see everything that's on offer.
  • Banner ads on your site, reminding shoppers to come back again on Black Friday to get the best offers. This is how Lowes does it and smaller eCommerce sites can benefit from similar tactics.
  • Use Pay-Per-Click Ads. Paying for advertising is a surefire way to pull in traffic, but use it sparingly. You'll pay extra during the festive season. What's more, it's far better to get people spreading the word for you, rather than paying for the privilege.
  • Spreading the news on social media. Black Friday is a great opportunity to grow your social media following. Why not plan to have some offers that will only be available to your Facebook fans?
  • Start your small offers early. There's no rule that you should only offer discounts on Black Friday. Featuring a today only special offer each day in the week leading up to Black Friday keeps customers interested, and means you'll benefit from the Black Friday buzz all week.

Amazon is particularly good at using this strategy with Black Friday Deals Week, offering new deals every day.

Black Friday Deals Week

Get Your Site in Shape

There's no point in drawing a crowd if you're not ready for them. Having your site crash on you, or being bombarded by customer enquiries you don't have time to answer is the worst way to spend your Thanksgiving weekend.

  • Get your design sorted. Promotions aren't just about setting an attractive price. They've got to look good visually, too. Work with your graphic designer to get your offers looking good as RadioShack has (shown above, and featured in this awesome article on Black Friday web design).
  • Check that your servers are up to speed. Do you have a hosting plan that can handle the extra load on Black Friday? Even a one second delay in loading times can mean a drop in sales figures of up to 7%.
  • Hire the help you need. Make sure you've got enough people on hand to answer any customer queries that come in.

Choose Your Headline Promotion

To get your brand talked about as much as possible, and to pull in traffic to your site, you need to make your offer clear. What's the reason people would come to your site? What's your unique selling point?

It can be tempting to do an across-the-board offer, such as 20% off everything. This can work if your store has a clear niche that's reflected in your name. For example, if your store is called "Women's Yoga Wear" then "20% off everything at Women's Yoga Wear" is an offer that will make sense to whoever sees it, regardless as to whether they've come across your brand before.

On the other hand, if your store is called "Yoggles", then "20% off everything at Yoggles" only works for people who already know your brand.

That's why it's better to be specific about your promotion. You can:

  • Offer a big discount off a single product. This works well if you need to shift a lot of stock, or if there's one product that's the flagship of your brand.
  • Put a specific category or product line on offer, e.g. 20% off tablets, or baby clothes, etc.

Time limiting your offers will make them even more powerful. It can also help to boost sales earlier in the day. Take a look at what Victoria Justice did with their Beat the Clock promotion (shown right).

Victoria Justice Beat the Clock promotion

In the example promotion, notice how different times have specific deals attached to them. In this case, it's just percentages off purchases being offered, but you can get a whole lot more specific than that. Tie timeframes to product promotions or attach other proven tactics to narrow timeframes.

If you use a beat the clock promotion, be sure to only show the offers that are still available. You don't want your late arriving customers to feel bad that they didn't get to your store earlier.

Are You Mobile Ready?

The winners and losers in this year's festive season could well be defined by the battle for mobile shoppers.

Research by Pew Internet in May 2013 found 56% of American adults have a smartphone. Additionally, their September 2013 study discovered that 35% of Americans over 16 own a tablet computer.

Ignore mobile shoppers at your peril.

What's more, research by comScore published in August this year found that a third of visitors to a typical online retail website accessed the site using a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet.

On top of that, a significant proportion of consumers are accessing eCommerce sites only from their mobile phone or tablet. For example, research by comScore found that of Amazon's 150 million digital population, around 60 million are desktop only. The rest of Amazon's visitors use mobile and desktop computers to access the site, or mobile only. Traffic to Wal-Mart and eBay is proportionally similar. Learn more about this mobile data from comScore.

Digital marketing experts eMarketer estimate that around one in seven online sales this year will be made through mobile devices. This could be even higher on Black Friday, as shoppers use their tablets to browse stores while having a lazy day in bed, or price check online using their smartphone while they're shopping at the mall.

What does this mean? Ignore mobile shoppers at your peril. At a minimum, you should ensure your website offers an optimal browsing experience on mobile devices. Make sure your eCommerce store is built using responsive web design. To go one step further, consider introducing a mobile app for your store.

Are You Selling The Right Products?

Lord Alan Sugar, the protagonist of the British Apprentice TV show, has a well-known phrase: "smell what sells."

The idea is that when you notice a product is popular with your customers, make sure you're well stocked with it. In other words, focus your resources on what's selling rather than what's not.

If this is your first Black Friday, you'll still be learning about which of your products will be bestsellers. Your best bet is to look at sales data from other retailers.

Last year, the fastest growing product categories were Digital Content and Subscriptions, Toys, and Consumer Packaged Goods. That's according to this ComCast data.

Digital content taking first place is great news for microbusinesses, many of whom are focused on selling ebooks and e-courses. Just because you've not got a physical product to sell doesn't mean you can't make the most of Black Friday.

You can take advantage of this data, even if toys or digital downloads aren't what you sell. Just think outside the box. For example, if you're a crafter who sells handmade clothes, you could put together an ebook of your own craft designs, or branch out into handmade toys. Knowing what people are looking for means you're more likely to make sales.

Are You on Amazon?

Amazon is the undisputed leader in the world of eCommerce, and on Black Friday 2012 it was the most visited online retail site, above Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target and Apple.

The good news is, you can benefit from Amazon’s success and traffic by listing your products using the Amazon Marketplace.

The good news is, you can benefit from Amazon's success and traffic by listing your products using the Amazon Marketplace.

It's unwise to rely on Amazon as your single source of sales. If they notice your products doing well, there's a good chance they'll start selling the same product and undercut you.

However, because Amazon is so well-trusted and has such a high amount of traffic, it's great for making sales to first-time customers. Once they've bought from you on Amazon, they know your brand, and will be more likely to buy from you again.

Even if your products aren't suitable for Amazon (for example, if you're selling services), then you can still join the Amazon party by writing an ebook related to your niche and publishing it for the Kindle. Ebooks make great lead magnets.

Don't Forget Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday, the monday after Thanksgiving, is another big sales opportunity for online sellers. In 2010, it was the highest spending day of the year for online stores.

While Black Friday is the time to offer your best promotions and generate a buzz, it's worth having additional promotions up your sleeve for Cyber Monday.

What are Your Black Friday Tips?

In our ultimate guide, we've covered the bases of what it takes to succeed on Black Friday. Even using just a few of the strategies we've shown you will help you make the most of the Black Friday rush.

What are some Black Friday promotions that got you to open up your wallet? What promotions are you planning in your store?

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