As an online retailer next month’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) sale days on 27 and 30 November will no doubt be front of mind. In fact, Cyber Weekend will be even more important to many of you given the COVID Global Pandemic that has changed so much and still gripping the planet.
Setting the BFCM scene via Google ecommerce data
While many online retailers are generally asking will BFCM even exist this year? Let’s look at some data from Google to help answer this question.
The data shows COVID as a major theme in 2020 reporting an acceleration in ecommerce across many more categories. The stats suggest that online shopping will continue its popularity heading towards and during BFCM weekend and beyond. Last year Google reported 58% of shoppers making BFCM purchases online, and even though it’s hard to predict, when surveyed, 73% of US holiday shoppers said they would shop online this year for the sales weekend.
In effect, Google saw a dramatic rise in sales figures in the past few months larger than any other time since the mobile transformation. For example, there has been a growth of 100% year-on-year in the online clothing shopping sector. Google says for the upcoming BFCM sale weekend online shoppers have begun planning earlier with one in four US shoppers already purchasing in August.
Google has also shown an increase in online shoppers’ openness to new brands and support of local business with 30% purchasing new brands and 66% planning to shop online from local small businesses. Google is predicting the same to continue for BFCM sales period.
While COVID has in many ways influenced a shift in shopper behaviour and a reset in buying expectations, Google has for some years seen trends emerging such as a rise in online shoppers wanting greater value for quality and price. The search engine reported a growth in searches for ‘best affordable’ products of 60% year-on-year. Google analysts have predicted that these trends will continue for BFCM in 2020, and with the growth in online shopper’s need for value, the notion that past impulse buying won’t be as prevalent this year is safe to assume.
Overall, Google data can help us to see that while some things have stayed the same in 2020, it can predict that for this year’s BFCM (during COVID) shoppers expectations will remain high and recommends online retailers to take heed of the following points in order to prep for the sales weekend:
- There has been a dramatic shift to online shopping across more categories
- Shoppers are getting on to BFCM deals /offers earlier than ever
- Shoppers are wanting more value through quality and price
- Analyse data and make sure to build resilient plans based on these figures.
Add in Shopify data
Shopify data also helps us to see how BFCM will pan out from the online retailer’s POV. It reports that despite the rollercoaster of a year, the majority of brands are excited for BFCM with 78% offering discounts (57% offering blanket discounts and 55% offering free shipping), promos and special offers and 65% of brands deciding not change their overall approach.
In preparation for BFCM, 2/3 of brands are preparing earlier than ever and 1/3 are planning to continue any offers past the BFCM sales period. Shopify also tells us that a large 80% of brands are planning on holding sales online with the remaining 20% delivering sales online and physically in-store and lastly 67% of brands will also choose to use a marketplace like Amazon.
How can brands prepare for BFCM?
Analyse your data NOW – This will allow you to see where you need to pivot or diversify your business. For example, now you know that customers are looking for value in quality and price, analyse your business’ online price ratio and look at ways of increasing online sales as well as how to keep your customers online during and after the BFCM sales period.
- Put more into researching what your customer wants – Increase market research even if it’s just a start before BFCM. Getting to the nitty gritty of what your customer wants always pays off particularly during a tricky and constantly changing global pandemic year.
Develop a BFCM Sales Strategy – From your data research (that includes COVID data), you will see where and what you need to drive and pare back. For example, if you have closed a physical store as a result of COVID, you will need to see how to transfer these customers online, or perhaps look at driving sales more locally or globally according to the COVID changes your business has seen.
Compare pre-COVID sales to during COVID sales – For some businesses, the pre-COVID climate hasn’t changed much, but for some the changes have been substantial, so that is why comparing data is crucial. For example, following a closure/s of physical stores sales targets will need to be readjusted. Online sales should help to balance this as many have found a huge lift in online sales during COVID. However, don’t forget to consistently check sales figures and data heading towards BFCM because as we all know the situation is always changing.
Revise Shipping Policies – Many businesses have had to make customer-friendly changes to Shipping during COVID. By streamlining and increasing how customers are being updated on shipping and delivery changes, customer satisfaction hasn’t been compromised. If shipping is first delayed by ten days, communicate this and then send updates when it’s six, four and two days out.
-For the BFCM sales period you could consider a fast shipping or free shipping offer for over a spend of $75. But make sure that what you are offering is always sustainable for your business.
Revise Returns Policies – For BFCM extending returns periods may encourage customers to purchase as well as repeat purchase after the fact. Perhaps allowing for a more generous Returns Policy just for BFCM could be beneficial to gain or retain customers. For example, a longer - love it, keep it, or return it for full refund Returns Policy could serve well. Looking at what your competitors are offering is always a helpful indicator.
Make sure all communications are crystal clear – Many online retailers like to use the internet to not just sell a product, but to sell an experience. So, making sure to consistently review communications to customers so they are crystal clear is crucial but even more so during COVID and heading up to BFCM (and after). Changes to products, supplies and shipping delays are things that we’re all experiencing, so upping the communication within your business team and out to your customers is something to focus on.
-Make sure your websites and all online sales platforms are updated continuously with consistent messages right across the board. This will make it super easy for your customer.
-During COVID some businesses have been increasing human customer service for distraught, sometimes isolated and lonely customers. Continuing or commencing to do so heading up to BFCM would be wise as well as increasing customer service teams for more human contact coverage. If anything remains automated, it should be emailing customers to refer them onto the customer service phone number.
Look out for Supply not meeting Demand – When COVID first hit many businesses had to scale because supplies run out from panic buying and halts in manufacturing due to factory closures. With a massive influx in demand and not enough product make sure to review your Supply Strategy as soon as possible in time for BFCM, if you haven’t done so far.
-Look to increasing the adjustment of orders to changes in products that may have happened since March in time for BFCM. For example, there has been an influx in sales of certain products like sweatpants instead of jeans /chinos. If you are pivoting products to meet new demands make sure to communicate this to customers.
-Pivoting to pre-orders may be helpful and increasing customer friendly service messages such as - ‘even though we have your credit card details, if you find your product elsewhere, we can easily cancel your pre-order. No problem’. Increasing your level of positive customer support is the way to retain your loyal customers, even if they momentarily go elsewhere during harder times.
-For larger retail businesses thinking about moving manufacturing from one country to another may have to be a big move, but worth it at some stage. If you can’t quite hit the BFCM deadline don’t fret get on it anyway. Setting up a traceable supply chain can also help with this.
Marketing and storytelling ideas for BFCM – Use BFCM to speak out loud about the things your business is passionate about. For some more ethically-aligned businesses this could be offering a percentage of BFCM profits to a good cause. This is a win win for your business and customers because everyone is usually aligned in this realm and sale numbers shouldn’t be compromised. When in doubt always be authentic with your brand, this always stands on its own.
-COVID has seen some businesses make a big marketing shift from just selling a product to sensitive marketing and telling the story behind the brand and how the company has been surviving during the pandemic. For example, sharing photos and stories about all the team pitching in and showing up on weekends and so forth on social media. This kind of storytelling, particularly during hard times keeps customers engaged and feel part of the overall survival experience which in turn can increase sales conversion. Be more empathetic in your storytelling, that’s what people want, the ‘real’ people behind the brands. We’re all in this together during the pandemic. Change glam product photoshoots to real life photos of everyone pulling in together in the warehouse. Carrying this idea on or commencing this leading up to BFCM could be the go.
-Pivot storytelling on social media and in e-marketing, so that it’s not just about buying a product to wear on a night but rather how one feels when wearing a product, even if you are on a zoom call at home. Time is getting on now heading up to BFCM so consider doing away with the teaser campaigns on social media and stick with a concise and to the point first post message for major impact. First posts always stick.
-Look at your strategic marketing with regards to getting larger customers to buy certain quantities within the BFCM sales period that you set, as an incentive offer better shipping fees for larger quantities.
Keep flexible and be ready to move things around – In time for BFCM have a close look at which areas need more resources in your business. For example, you may need to move your marketing people into your supply and customer service areas to help out during the busy time. Refocussing resources has become important since the onset of COVID as some retailers are still trying to get on top of build-up from six months ago.
- Growing your team remotely – If you haven’t already, try streamlining remote team building heading up to BFCM. This will help morale and to communicate altered and new processes. Remote team huddling will also include everyone in your business not just head office.
Overall remember to keep nimble and keep present not just for BFCM but for the remainder of 2020 and moving forward. Best of luck all.
 Data taken from Shopify’s webinar – ‘Is Black Friday Dead?’ - Justin De Graaf, Global Head of Research & Insights, Ads Marketing at Google.
 Data taken from Shopify’s webinar – ‘Is Black Friday Dead?’ - Jamie Levy (Moderator) – Shopify Plus’ Lead Merchant Engagement Lead
 Prep ideas from Shopify’s webinar – ‘Is Black Friday Dead?’ from brands: Sassy Jones, Kot’n and Fringe Sport