How to prepare your ecommerce retail store for Black Friday

How to Prepare Your Ecommerce Retail Store for Black FridayAs the weather grows colder and brick-and-mortar stores begin decorating for the holiday season, online retailers are preparing for a different kind of fall event — Black Friday. This after-Thanksgiving sale usually calls to mind blockbuster deals such as 50-inch TVs for $180, vacuum cleaners for 50% off, or cameras with a $300 discount.

Traditionally, the tradeoff on Black Friday has been the time spent lining up outside of a store, sometimes as early as Thursday night, for the chance to buy these steeply-discounted items. However, most customers would prefer not to fight the crowds or wait outside for hours. They would rather shop in the comfort of their own homes.

This is where your ecommerce store comes in.

Compared to a brick-and-mortar retailer, your ecommerce store is uniquely positioned to offer customers both the deals they are looking for during the holiday season and the convenience of shopping from the sofa and having their items delivered. With Black Friday sales in 2017 reaching $7.9 billion (and the five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday reaping a massive $19.62 billion), not engaging in the event would be a huge wasted opportunity.

Ready to capture your share of the Black Friday sales? Follow these steps to prepare for the biggest retail event of the year.

Choose your promotions

Does your product range suit a sitewide percentage discount? Sales on specific items or categories? A one-day event? A weekend promotion that extends from Black Friday through Cyber Monday? Determine what value your ecommerce site will offer to customers for Black Friday.

You can also research what your competitors might offer and subtly frame your messaging around why yours is the better option. Remember that value is often about perception — if you can appear cheaper, then you don’t necessarily need to be cheaper.

Start your marketing early

Since about half of customers begin their holiday shopping before Black Friday, it is essential to nurture your prospects as soon as possible. Start with the customers who have engaged with your shop before, either by purchasing an item, signing up for your email list, or liking your page on Facebook or Instagram. Sending a “sneak peek” type of communication can lend an air of exclusivity and make these customers feel special that they know about the sale first.

After that, branch out to include new customers who are starting to research Black Friday sales in your niche — men’s clothing, toys, jewelry, etc. You can do this effectively with search engine marketing, targeted ads on social media channels, and other forms of paid outreach where you are able to target by audience interests and demographics.

Prepare your site for the extra traffic

You might have the best marketing plan in the world, but it won’t mean anything if your site cannot accommodate the surge in web traffic. Slow load times, broken links, and issues with your checkout could lead to thousands of dollars in missed sales.

Don’t let this happen to you. Test your site in advance with tools like LoadImpact and work with your IT team to address potential issues. Cloud-based solutions can help distribute traffic, while authentication protocols will ensure that only real customers rather than cybercriminals are visiting your site.

In addition, make sure your payment gateways are functioning properly and that customers can use their preferred method of payment. All facets of your web store should be in working order long before the sale begins.

Make sure your site is mobile-friendly

According to surveys conducted by Adobe Insights and Salesforce, mobile shopping on Black Friday increased significantly from 2016 to 2017. On Thanksgiving Day alone, nearly half of web traffic to online retailers came from smartphones. This suggests that consumers might even be searching their phones for Black Friday deals before their meals are finished!

Make sure your mobile website has an intuitive user interface and a seamless checkout experience. Shoppers should be able to find items easily, add them to the cart, and submit payments from their smartphones or tablets. Even better, if your online shop has an app, test it in advance like you would test your website to ensure that any bugs are fixed and consumers won’t have any issues with browsing and purchasing items.

Line up extra customer service staff

More customers means more sales — and also more potential for problems. Whether a customer will need troubleshooting, assistance handling a return or an exchange, or answers to their questions about a product, you’ll need staff at the ready to help out. Obviously, this is even more significant if your store offers a “live chat” feature.

Customer service can be a make-or-break feature for online retailers, and one negative experience can color a customer’s perspective of your shop. You may also wish to consider revamping the FAQ section on the website before Black Friday starts to reduce the potential burden on human staff.

Have an engagement plan for after Black Friday

While consumers may be attracted to your Black Friday offers and discounts, the long-term value of a recurring customer is significantly higher than that of someone who purchases from you just once — up to 300 percent more, by some metrics.

As such, you must keep the momentum going after Black Friday by encouraging each new customers to subscribe to your email list, follow you on social media, submit a product review, or join your loyalty program to earn discounts in the future. Try using some Black Friday email templates to give you an easy start, then customize to suit your brand.

Additionally, send abandoned cart notifications before the promotion ends to capture last-minute stragglers, and send notifications after orders are received and after items are shipped to demonstrate that you care about your customer experience. That’s how you’ll keep customers around and give your business a strong foundation.

Preparing for next year

As with all sales events, you must analyze what worked and what didn’t. Did you have enough inventory to meet demand? Were some types of deals more popular than others? Were there any unexpected issues related to web infrastructure, customer service, or shipping?

You should also track the success of your various marketing campaigns to see which channels and ads attracted the greatest number of conversions. Armed with this information, you will be able to quickly and effectively prepare for Black Friday 2019, ready to earn a lot of revenue from all those shoppers reluctant to join any queues.

Guest blogger, Patrick Foster

Guest blogger, Patrick Foster

Patrick Foster, e-commerce entrepreneur, coach, and writer. He writes e-commerce tips across multiple sites where he creates and shares content for entrepreneurs and online retail business owners. Follow him on Twitter: @myecommercetips