Your Strategic Guide To Black Friday

Anna-Louise McDougall
September 7, 2023
5 min read

Black Friday: The strategies to start implementing now

Black Friday is nothing short of a modern shopping phenomenon. A cross-country, multi-day discount-fest designed to reward retailers and shoppers alike by giving each other exactly what they want: a healthy markdown for a healthy holiday season profit. 

It’s all fun and games for customers, but for fashion retailers and e-tailers, no reward comes without some serious planning. Whether you’re in merchandising or e-commerce, you only get one shot at the sales Olympics this year, so you’ll want to get it right. And you’ll want to start right now.

Here’s how you can start getting ahead now on Black Friday Cyber Monday with the essential strategies to plan markdowns, on-site merchandising, and e-commerce. 

Hot takes from BFCM 2022

The reason BFCM has gained such remarkable traction over the past couple of years is down to two simple things; the ease of online shopping and the ease of saving money, at arguably the most expensive time of year. These are the results that will inform what’s at stake this year:

  • Shopify’s peak sales per minute was recorded at $3.5 million USD on Black Friday at 12:01 PM EST
  • Wunderkind found the median AOV during Cyber Week increased by 26% from 2018 to 2022, reaching $144 USD
  • For our local users -  total online sales during the BFCM period in Australia surpassed AUD 2.8 billion in 2022, a 53% increase YoY
  • For our global users - From the start of Black Friday in New Zealand through the end of Black Friday in California, the millions of merchants on Shopify generated a record-setting $3.36 billion globally. That’s a 17% increase in sales versus Black Friday in 2021. 

To see everything that went down last year, take a look here

Quick predictions for BCFM 2023

Even though it’s all feeling a little doom and gloom where the economy is concerned, it would be unwise to assume any buying habits in relation to costs of living and inflation woes. In 2022 US retail sales for the year increased by 8.1% even as inflation rose 6.5%. So, here’s our top predictions for how we think it will play out this year:

#1 Market conditions won’t stop shoppers. Customers will be waiting for your discount, but they will still be willing to spend without your brand having to go too deep on your markdowns. Just don’t be surprised if your competitors repeat what they did last year to appease price-sensitive shoppers. 

#2 BNPL will be rinsed by discount shoppers. Buy Now Pay Later is (still) the new credit card. More ways to pay means more ways to purchase, so ensure your alternative payment options are firing.  

#3 Sales will creep forward even earlier. According to Deloitte, more than half of American shoppers started buying before BFCM 2022 officially began. We predict Black Friday sales will begin around a week early for major retailers.

#4 Mobile transactions will get a workout. Wunderkind reported 53% of conversions were made on mobile devices last year, which was 8% higher than desktop purchases. Retailers should focus on SMS, mobile push notifications and optimizing mobile for a speedy, frictionless checkout during promotional period. 

#5 Gen Z will rage the hardest. 78% of Gen Z won’t reduce discretionary spending despite the rising cost of living, and have an estimated $360 billion in spending power.

#6 Email will reign supreme. Brand-owned channels like email and text will be most effective at gaining the attention of your target audience—however, brands need to double-down on first-party data acquisition in the months leading up to the sale event. 

#7 Generative AI may add to the customer journey. This will generally impact how they search for products. For example, shoppers who have no idea where to begin may ask Chat GPT, “What online stores do discounts on sneakers on Black Friday?”. Eek. 

E-commerce: Pre and post-planning for the win

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to executing a seamless sale marathon, however, you can’t make your targets if you don’t have the customers. So, we asked Style Arcade’s Head of Brand and Community, and seasoned e-commerce expert, Brogan Hembrow to give us her top recommendations for kicking customer goals this BFCM. 

“Nothing sends shivers down a digital marketer’s spine than surprise markdowns announced in Monday trade. What do you mean I have three days to prepare for a major markdown

The good news with sale events like Black Friday is that we have time to lay the groundwork well in advance. Gone are the days of turning on your sale and relying on your existing mailing list to clear the stock. For these key moments in the retail calendar, acquisition must begin months beforehand, and the retention continues for months following.”

Acquisition: Start building your BOF audiences now by investing in TOF

Acquiring cheaper traffic in the months leading up to Black Friday through top-of-funnel (TOF) brand marketing will feed into your retargeting campaigns over BFCM, resulting in cheaper CPA. 

With an increase in traffic comes a larger pool of audiences you can retarget within bottom-of-funnel campaigns, and with one-to-one messaging during the promotional window – we’re talking:

  • Price drop email flows
  • Wishlist notifications
  • Low-in-stock notifications
  • Browse abandonment
  • Cart abandonments
  • Push notifications

“We are seeing brands shift paid budget allocation into the hype stage prior to the sale event from the actual sale days - particularly around lead generation and first-party data capture.”

Giving customers the heads up that your sale is coming, as well as creating exclusivity and hype around it will only fuel results when the markdowns are live. However, be sure to get your timing right and budget revenue targets accordingly, as you may see a drop-off in trade during the hype phase.

Retention: Double down on your post-purchase strategy

There is a huge misconception that sale shoppers are low-value customers. Once they fall into this bucket they are assumed to only shop on discount and marketed to accordingly. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Turn first-time sale shoppers into loyal customers with a robust retention strategy that is aimed at nurture and engagement, exposing them to full-price product over time. For example, following the sale event be sure to lean on your data by personalizing the customer’s experience with suggested full-price products and categories they are most likely to buy into based on what they purchased in the sale. 

During the frenzy of a sale event, it’s very unlikely your first-time sale customer signed up to your loyalty program in the process of checking out. Remind them of their outstanding points in a post-purchase email, and outline to them the benefits of the program to encourage them to return. If they need a little nudge to make that second purchase, get creative with a small incentive or free shipping offer, but make it exclusive to your new arrivals category. 

Markdowns: Managing the madness

Considering a site-wide discount, new-to-sale, permanent markdown, or tiered discounting? Perfecting your offering comes down to a multitude of factors: stock holding, revenue targets and market activity to name a few. Bonus points if you strategically buy, produce or re-cut stock with Black Friday in mind, however, for those who are not able to plan that far in advance, here’s how to plan your markdowns for BFCM, and make sure it’s the right strategy for your business. 

  1. Be intentional with purpose-driven discounts - do not get caught up in the hype and start aimlessly halving prices, or it’s going to hurt once the high is over. Think about what incentives you can realistically offer without hurting your margins and always refer back to the goal of the sale event. If you are sitting on a mountain of aged stock and need to clear inventory fast, narrow the offering and provide a further discount on sale items. Offering a site-wide discount and then hoping customers will gravitate toward the product you need to clear, is not going to yield the results you are hoping for. 

You know what to do… image via @thismerchlife

  1. Think about the long game - Don’t let your markdowns influence your customers to think this is the be-all and end-all of your brand. This is just one day of the entire retail year. If you are offering a site-wide discount on new arrivals you can expect to drive some serious revenue, but consider the consequences of such an early discount to the rest of the product lifecycle after the sale event is over. 

  1. Offer discounts to your most loyal customers first - Make VIP access truly VIP as these are the ones you want to keep coming back. Private sales have increased in popularity over the years, but be sure to execute this well to make sure your most valued customers truly feel rewarded with exclusivity. Providing them with only a few additional hours before the general public isn’t as compelling as it used to be.

  2. Offer price adjustments - You can use this strategy to reassure your shoppers that they’ll get the best deal on your product, even if it’s stocked on other platforms. This will enable customers to know that they can confidently shop on your site, without waiting for prices to drop elsewhere. 

  1. Get creative - If you are not in a position to start slashing prices, there are other ways you can remain competitive during sale season without hurting your business or brand. A compelling gift with purchase or bundle offer may actually help you stand out in a sea of percentages. Getting zero-party data from your customers will tell you exactly what will spark their interest.

  1. Don’t follow the crowd - Keep your brand integrity in mind; if it makes more sense to not partake in Black Friday, then don’t. You may reap the rewards in other ways.

    For example, Sam Moore, founder of outdoor apparel brand PYRA, opted out of BFCM in the brand’s first year. “I didn’t want to cheapen the brand with a massive sale in our first year,” Moore said.

“It was important to keep a high margin and not train our customers to only buy on sale. I also took the stance that there was enough “consumerism” and that we did not want to encourage unnecessary spending on goods you do not need. As an outdoor brand at the time, it made sense to take that stand from a sustainability standpoint. It actually drove a tone of sales the week after as it kind of had a slingshot effect - and it made us stand out from the crowd.”

On-site merchandising: The art vs science of sale 

On any other given calendar day, 46% of shoppers start with a product search on Google, which means the purchase intent is high. On BFCM, the purchase intent will be peaking! So, now that your SEO has got them right where you want them - don’t let them down. With every subsequent click and scroll, your store has a chance to influence conversion - and this is supercharged at sale time. 

Use data to enrich the experience when a customer lands on your website for your sale: 

  • Historical consumer behavior: to dictate color choices, clickable layouts and easy navigation
  • A heat map: to indicate where to position images for maximum impact
  • Media engagement: to know when and where to include video, banners, dynamic and static images
  • Geolocational data: to suggest where you should use different campaigns, images, and product placements for different hemispheres, countries or local cities. 

Consider the following ways to sort a healthy, pretty, data-driven sales mix when merchandising your online store for BFCM:

By color story: This is a proven way to start optimizing the customer sale experience, as color blocking actually encourages shoppers to notice products that would otherwise be ignored. Start with the degree of newness, the story and outfitting of each piece, and the season - anchor with darker or lighter colors depending on what season it is when BCFM hits for you.

By price: Though many customers may jump straight to sort by price, you’ve still got to start with something - and this is your chance to stop them in their tracks. Have a mix of your top, middle, and bottom-tiered prices close to each other, to give you the best chance of offering something to every level of customer right away. 

By size availability: Don’t rely on overall stock availability alone. To improve conversion and customer satisfaction, include rules around size availability to automate the sorting and arrangement in the sale category. Incorporating weighted size availability into your merchandising will ensure products aren’t being prioritized with all their availability sitting in a fringe size. 

By KPI: Promote high-margin items or high inventory items to help deliver on business goals. You could boost certain product attributes based on your targets, have more popular product images in more prominently viewed places, and promote items that are back in stock, or high-margin items down to the final pieces. Utilize Style Arcade in this process and push through Shopify tags to products based on the metrics that matter most to your business.

By trend, collection or outfitting: Group products together that sell well and display products that convey the head-to-toe perspective (clothing, accessories, shoes) so the shopper sees the full outfit and can’t possibly have one without the other (right?). As for trends, when it’s hot it’s hot - make sure your trend-driven customers can see that product before it starts to age.

By category: Filtering by category is a great way to send your users in the right direction if you’ve got a large range. Consider Reformation’s sale categories. The brand has clearly devised these categories based on their customer history and preferences - not many retailers will segment by ‘Bra-Friendly’. Also, New to Sale and Sale Almost Gone do very different things for different people.

Take it one step further and include shop-by-size categories in the sale navigation so that customers can quickly shop products with the assurance that it is available in their chosen size. 

Finally, while you’re laying the foundations for the perfect sale weekender, make sure you make the most of it. 

There will be increased spending - Upsell high-priced items with personalized experiences and messaging - through email, text, or onsite ads. Use personal product recommendations, place pop-ups at the check-out, and bundle products to move inventory where possible. 

There will be increased traffic - If consumers are coming to you with their wallets open, make their time on your site a breeze. Dial up your servers, make sure your site speed is up to standard, and perform a site audit to catch any issues that could be your undoing. 

There will be increased insights - While you’re busy watching the orders clock in, don’t forget that this period is one big learning curve about your customers, and your products. For example, if that one sale product that sells out immediately should have originally been priced lower? Does your offer and marketing work with your international customer base? Did you customers shop your sale once, or come back on Cyber Monday?

Remember, Black Friday is big, but it’s not bigger than your business's long-term goals. So start implementing your plan early, stick to your strategy, and enjoy moving that inventory.  

Want to find out how Style Arcade can help your customers have the most seamless sale day experience yet? Chat to one of the team today. 

Fashion Merchandising
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