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Black Friday 2017 - Part One: Strategy and Planning

Laura Lewis
Laura Lewis


Black Friday is just around the corner, is your ecommerce store ready or are you still getting everything prepared? With only one month to go until the sale begins, we have put together this five part series covering a range of topics and considerations for your company this Black Friday. Firstly, we are going to cover Black Friday in a bit more detail before discussing some considerations for your Strategy and Planning process.

Black Friday

What is Black Friday?

During recent years this hugely anticipated sales weekend has gained momentum in the UK, with many brands reporting record levels of sales. In 2016, John Lewis reported the event as responsible for their most profitable week during the year (ahead of Christmas), so we can understand why more businesses are looking to capitalise on the event to boost profits.

Black Friday is an American sales event, which traditionally falls the day after Thanksgiving and unofficially kicks off the start of the Christmas shopping period. It was introduced to the UK via online giant Amazon and now sees high street chains and independent brands competing to offer the best discounts.

The term Cyber Monday was introduced in 2005 to define the most popular ecommerce trading day of the year and falls the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday. Since then, Cyber Monday has been coined as a marketing term and is linked to the Black Friday event, driving customers to online shopping. Although, many brands are opting to run promotions both instore and online for the four-day weekend period, and even some additional days around this.

When is Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2017?

  • Friday 24th November - Black Friday
  • Monday 27th November - Cyber Monday

Key shopping dates for 2017:

  • Saturday 16th December - Super Saturday
  • Saturday 24th December - Christmas Eve
  • Monday 26th December - Boxing Day
  • Saturday 31st December - New Year’s Eve

Strategy and Planning

Have you reflected on last year?

Firstly, before any planning, make sure that you have reflected on how you performed during peak trading periods the previous year. Consider everything from what went well to what didn’t go well and what could be improved this year, taking into consideration the whole experience both for your team internally and more importantly for your customers. For example, did you have enough people in the warehouse to fulfil the quantity of orders you received? Did you order enough packing materials? Did your website crash or experience performance issues? What feedback did you receive from customers by e-mail or on social?

Planning Black Friday Team

It would also be helpful to understand popular consumer trends from last year to help predict what you can expect for this year. You will know your market better than anyone else and what’s on trend for this year, so make sure this knowledge is implemented into your strategy. You may also benefit from speaking to your customers and analysing the all the data sources you can pull from across the business.

If you haven’t already, you should liaise with your agency partners to pull together a plan based on the information you have gathered from last year. Reviewing the previous year’s performance is an essential part of planning for peak trading periods to make sure you can plan for necessary improvements. Taking this approach, will not only benefit the running of your business through peak, but also ensure you’re well placed to outperform your competition.

Are you ready to expect the unexpected?

No matter how well you plan, things can and do go wrong. You should have a contingency plan in place that all stakeholders are aware of as part of your Black Friday strategy. Primarily, the plan will be to maintain service ‘as normal’ and prevent disaster whilst operating at increased capacity.

Considerations include:

  • Who needs to be or can be on hand to support the business through peak? Can you offer overtime or other incentives to key staff?
  • What provisions do you have in place to ensure you have enough stock to sell, particularly of items that you will heavily discount or promote?
  • Have you load tested your website to accept the anticipated higher levels of visits you’ll receive?
  • Have you completed test purchases in the mindset of your marketing personas to validate that the customer journey hasn’t been inhibited at any stage?
  • Have you checked the page load speed of your site, checking for third, fourth, fifth party requests that may be slowing the site down?
  • Have you checked your sites tagging and analytics is up to scratch to ensure you get good data from peak?
  • Are there any broken links on your page?
  • Do you have specific landing pages going live for peak, are these already live to build SEO equity?
  • Have you Informed your digital agency and hosting partners of your anticipated increase in traffic? Will your solution scale better vertically or horizontally?
  • Have you got increased logging (both server and application side) running? Tools like New Relic and Logic Monitor can be great assets here.
  • There can be a delay with automated server scaling, so it’s good to have a team on standby to monitor traffic and manually add additional servers before a problem arises.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but should prompt thought to the fact that this is a business wide discussion that needs consideration and support from across the company.

Due to the many functions and integrated systems that an ecommerce site comprises of, at peak, small oversights in planning and preparation can have a large impact on your sales numbers.

To prepare for the unexpected, a comprehensive checklist should be produced of any issues that could potentially arise on the day and how these can be resolved. Due to the many functions and integrated systems that an ecommerce site comprises of, at peak, small oversights in planning and preparation can have a large impact on your sales numbers.

Should an unexpected situation arise, remember to also keep your customers updated through all relevant communications channels. You should consider ways you may be able to limit reputational damage. If the issue is likely to effect customers or damage the brand, are you prepared to offer your customers something in return for the inconvenience and what support do you have available in the process?  You could maybe think of extending the sale, sending out an e-mail out to your mailing list offering a voucher code or post a discount code on social media. Whichever approach you decide, it’s up to you, but remember to have one at the ready.

What promotion are you running?

Which promotion have you decided to run this year? There are many different types of promotions to choose from and it can be a challenging task to identify which ones will work best for your company and fit your overall strategy. Therefore, it is crucial that your promotion is decided in advance, so you and your team can prepare your website and ensure campaigns are managed effectively.

Promotion Sales Tags

Some of the most popular promotions are:

  • Blanket discounts on all products e.g. 10% across the whole site.
  • Discounts on specific ranges over the whole weekend.
  • Discounts on ranges which change throughout the day (e.g 9-10am womenswear, 10-11am bikes, 11-12pm menswear).
  • Free shipping on every order.
  • Free gift with every purchase.
  • Buy one get one free.
  • Buy X get Y.

It’s also worth checking that your website can run the promotion mechanic you’re considering, it may be that running a special campaign such as spend £50 and get £10 off your next purchase is not readily available without development input. Knowing this now can help you to tweak your proposition or enhance the solution.

Have you established the sales length?

With businesses increasing the length of their sales each year, customers are no longer waiting until the clocks strikes midnight on Black Friday to flood their favourite websites and add all the best deals to their basket. In fact, it’s far from that nowadays, customers are wise to this trend and make their purchases over the sale period rather than primarily on Black Friday.

Calender with Pin

If your company has decided to join the trend and increase your sales length, you will find that this is advantageous for the website from a technical perspective because it reduces the risk of huge traffic spikes over a small-time period, decreasing the risk of the website crashing. If your solution is on auto scaling hosting or a scaling licence model, this can lead to quite significant savings for you too. Extending the sales period and offering different target audiences different promotions at different times is a tangible way to balance the load on your solution. You may also wish to offer your top tier customers a special code or promotion that gives them early access before the sale starts officially. There are many ways that you can achieve this, and it’s down to your creativity to work out what the best mechanics are for you, your business, your solution and most importantly your customers.

An increased sales length will mean your website traffic is more consistent and spread out across a longer period but this will also mean that you and your agencies need to be on hand to deal with issues quickly and efficiently. Also, be sure to plan in downtime for yourself after peak trading, it’s usually quite intense!

Whilst all this does have its advantages, (for example, like the video game store Game, your products can be purchased in lots of other stores) increasing sales length may dilute the impact of the sale. Longer-term sales can sometimes devalue a brand and deduct customers anticipation for sales such as Black Friday. Also, consider that customers are becoming wise to frequent sales and as Black Friday approaches, can become reluctant to purchase full price items because they know there is a chance they will end up in the sale.

Which products are going in your sale?

We know products are planned, ordered and purchase agreements are placed months in advance of Black Friday, and whilst this might sound obvious, you should make sure that all products contribute to your bottom line profit figures, not just your revenue number. Don’t be busy fools!

Other key points to consider when planning which products are going in your Black Friday sale lines are:

  • Check your stock reserve – Ensure you’re not promising customers items you do not have in stock, or cannot fulfil quickly.
  • Identify old products – It’s likely that you will have products in your stock that are near end of life or have higher margins, so you can afford to discount these over others. Black Friday is a good opportunity to try and move on these items at a lower price.
  • Upsell – Everyone loves a bargain, and offering additional items at slightly reduced rates when purchased alongside on deal items will increase your order values. 
  • Analyse previous sales – By understanding which products are popular with your customers, you can get a feel for which ones would be best suited to place in the lineup.

Products in the Sale

Different companies have different strategies for choosing which products they put in their sales, keeping in mind what their customers will want and expect, but at the same time, considering what their competitors will do. Which of these have you chosen to put in the Black Friday sale? 

  • Everything
  • One area or product section (home, baby clothing etc.)
  • Products with the highest margins
  • Products that you would prefer to sell first (end of line etc.)
  • Newest products
  • Most popular products

One thing to keep in mind is that because of the increase of companies having permanent sale sections throughout the year, consumers increasingly expect companies to include new products in their sales.

Regular or returning customers may notice if new products are not added to the Black Friday offers, therefore changing up your products and giving discount on popular items could make a huge difference to overall interest in your store and lead to an increase in transactions.

We hope that you found the first part of our Black Friday series useful and you have picked up some key points to take away for your Strategy and Planning process. Next up for part two of the series we will be covering how to prepare your website for Mobile and Tablet this Black Friday.  

If you have any questions or would like to speak to us regarding the preparation of your website for Black Friday, then feel free to contact us

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