Holiday Ideas & Strategies

The Black Friday 2019 Rush: How Your Ecommerce Store Can Survive (And Thrive!)

Victoria Fryer / 11 min read

The Black Friday 2019 Rush: How Your Ecommerce Store Can Survive (And Thrive!)

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Black Friday sales are no longer a one-day deal. Major retailers are offering deep discounts beginning as early as the Wednesday or Thursday prior with extended store hours to give shoppers a jumpstart on their holiday shopping.

The end-of-year sale event has sparked a backlash among those who want the Thanksgiving Weekend to remain focused on quality time with family, including a few large retailer campaigns like #optoutside from REI, encouraging families to spend the holiday weekend enjoying outdoor activities instead.

Source: REI

But retailers like these are the minority in a sea of businesses looking to capitalize on the holiday rush.

In 2018, Thanksgiving Day brought in $3.7 billion in online sales, and for Black Friday, $6.2 billion.

In 2018, brick-and-mortar traffic on Thanksgiving and Black Friday fell as much as 9% over 2017. But overall sales continue to rise — with online shopping owning the largest piece of the pie. Ecommerce sales soared 16.7% over performance in 2017.

Online retailers are beginning to recognize that shoppers no longer wait until Cyber Monday to scour the internet for the best deals, so they’re spending their efforts establishing their place in the Black Friday game.

Here’s what you need to know to prepare for holiday shopping season success:

  • Data and statistics.
  • Market trends.
  • How to prepare for an onslaught of shoppers headed your way.

Black Friday Pro Tip: Consider the Omnichannel Experience

In an effort to create a seamless omnichannel experience, brands will use innovations that help customers connect their online and offline shopping experience. One Guidance client uses location-based services to help customers locate their nearest brick-and-mortar store to enhance their online experience of the brand. Using a widget, customers can interact with their personal expert consultant and select the product that best suits their needs. Customers are encouraged to ask questions, set appointments and ultimately visit the store to discover their perfect, customized product.

—Sarah Toth; VP, Marketing; Guidance

The History of Black Friday

Where and when did all this frenzied shopping begin, anyway? It’s a story of Turkey Day, mixed with a little football, and — of course — a love for holiday deals.

The popular myth is that the phrase “Black Friday” described how retail stores spent most of the year “in the red” on their balance sheets.

The holiday shopping season, beginning on the Friday after Thanksgiving, put them back into the black. Hence, Black Friday.

As it turns out, that popular story is designed to cast the term “Black Friday” in a positive light.

Let’s look at the true reasons for the rise of Black Friday in a few different countries:

United States.

According to History.com, Philadelphia police started using the term “Black Friday” to describe the post-Thanksgiving chaos that came from a rush of shoppers and tourists.

It wasn’t only that these tourists were in town for Thanksgiving — they were also there to watch the traditional Army–Navy football game.

With Black Friday sandwiched in between a national holiday on Thursday and the popular college football game on Saturday, it became a favorite day for tourists to shop — often to the point of excess (and even looting).

Because shopping back then could get just as intense as it is today, the term “Black Friday” proved hard to shake. Even as local Philadelphia businesses tried to change it to “Big Friday,” the gloomier term held sway.

By 2003, Black Friday became the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States — and has yet to give up that status.

While Thanksgiving is a decidedly North American holiday, the UK and Australia have gotten in on the action in their own ways, also. Let’s take a look at how our international friends celebrate Black Friday.

United Kingdom.

As in the United States, the UK term “Black Friday” came from local police.

The difference here: “Black Friday” traditionally referred to the Friday before Christmas.

Both police and hospitals noticed a spike in demand for emergency services thanks to partiers enjoying the last weekend before the holiday.

Oftentimes, that meant the first day away from work to begin a long holiday weekend.

But the UK is also familiar with the “Black Friday” event as known in the United States, with the Financial Times calling the season “the most important” in Britain’s retail sector.

The final quarter of the year makes up more than its share of revenue at 30%.

Australia.

Australia and New Zealand are not immune to the online shopping opportunities centered in the U.S.

As recently as 2015, major New Zealand retailers like The Warehouse started noting the retail holiday’s importance by offering their own deals.

Apple expanded its own offerings to Australia in 2013 under the Black Friday promotion, suggesting that Black Friday may have a bigger future as an overseas holiday than the Thanksgiving holiday, which is traditionally limited to North America.

Why Black Friday Is a Big Deal For Businesses

In 2018, Black Friday was still the most popular shopping day of Thanksgiving Weekend (Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday) — with 14.8 million online sales processed that day.

On the special holiday sale weekend, consumers are presented with many different ways to shop and last year — 89 million people choose to do so, both in-store and online, raising the bar from 2017 by more than 40%.

As shown below, online revenue has increased steadily over the past 10 years, and in 2017 jumped to $2.36 billion — up from $1.97 billion in 2016.

black friday statistics

Source: Statista

BlackFriday.com predicts that 2019 Black Friday online spending will surpass $12 billion this year. Of the shoppers they surveyed, 61% plan to do most of their holiday shopping online.

Online shopping makes up a substantial portion of Black Friday shopping. Whether you’re a major retailer or a small business, you’ll need to focus on digital execution to drive sales and create excitement for the holiday shopping season.

Black Friday Pro Tip: Start Pushing Your Deals Early

Deliver promotional messages early and often. When it comes to holiday email marketing and paid advertising, we recommend launching initial campaigns roughly 3 weeks prior to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This approach helps your brand gain momentum as it approaches the holidays and can re-acquaint your audiences with your products. With inboxes becoming more crowded each holiday season, it’s important to get ahead of the competition by planting teasers and incentives. 

— Ethan Giffin, Founder & CEO of Groove Commerce

The Top Discounts and Products Available on Black Friday

What will be some of the hot deals on discounted products this year? BlackFriday.com predicts that smart home tech prices will hit new Black Friday lows.

They also anticipate the first real discounts on the Nintendo Switch, as well as deals in virtual reality gaming systems. Some of the deepest discounts could include tables and e-readers.

And as for the top toys? Check Target, Walmart, and Amazon’s lists as soon as possible — they could be sold out by the Black Friday rush.

As for what customers want, the top deals they sought last year included:

  • Clothing,
  • Tech,
  • Toys,
  • Smart-home gadgets,
  • Gift cards, and
  • Travel.

Black Friday Pro Tip: Tell People What Deals You’re Offering

Be aggressive, and be clear. A lot of brands try and play coy with what promotions they’re offering throughout BFCMCW and just lose sales a result. People want to buy and they want to be decisive. Take away their decisiveness and they’ll buy elsewhere.

— Jordan Brannon, President, Coalition Technologies

Getting Your Site Ready for Black Friday

With all the online shopping for Black Friday deals, one thing is almost guaranteed: your site will experience a spike in traffic. Unfortunately, that spike can quickly lead to poor site performance — even for some of the biggest retailers in the country.

According to Catchpoint, some of the leading causes of website slowdowns include:

  • Third-party website components/apps,
  • Overburdened APIs,
  • Servers with lack of scalability unequipped for peak traffic, and
  • Web pages with slow loading times resulting from too many graphic components.

Here are some messages no shopper wants to see while attempting to visit an online merchant:

  • “We’re sorry.”
  • “We’re very popular right now!”
  • “We’re really sorry.”
  • “Hang on a sec…”
  • “We’re currently experiencing a very high volume of visitors to our website.”
  • “Sorry, we need a moment.”

Given the increasing performance of Black Friday sales, it’s vital for businesses to have their site prepared for the inevitable Black Friday rush. Bonus: It’s also not a bad idea to make sure your site’s error page reflects your brand and doesn’t harm your customer relationship any further.

Here are a few tips to ensure your site is ready for increased traffic on Black Friday.

1. Plan early.

Why? Because your customers will.

According to eMarketer, many customers begin their holiday shopping (or researching) as early as October.

Increased web traffic isn’t necessarily going to wait for Black Friday. When the shopping bug hits, it hits — and they’ll be searching for the best Black Friday deals early.

You should be going into the holiday season with:

  • an intuitive user interface,
  • a seamless checkout experience offering multiple payment methods,
  • and a high level of mobile functionality.

Mobile functionality is increasingly important all year round, not just for the holiday season.

Mobile devices accounted for 67% of all digital traffic on Black Friday 2018, up from 61% the previous year.

black friday mobile statistics

Source: Statista

You should also prepare for an increase in customer service requests, and have several ways — clearly identified on your ecommerce site — for shoppers to reach you for customer support.

2. Check your site speed.

The holiday season is busy enough as it is — shoppers don’t want to spend time waiting for their favorite ecommerce sites to load. If your online store’s pages are taking too much time, shoppers are very likely to go elsewhere.

46% of shoppers have said they’ll never return to a slow website.

And the same goes for mobile, where 53% of visits are abandoned if the site takes more than three seconds to load.

BigCommerce has introduced Akamai to help optimize images across your site and keep it fast. Akamai automatically optimizes images for device size, no matter the browser’s origin. BigCommerce merchants using Akamai Image Manager saw as much as 70% improvement in site load times.

For more, check out the Guide to Site Speed in the BigCommerce Knowledge Base.

3. Keep your site up.

Downtime is an unwanted enemy for both businesses and customers.

You can test the server load capacity of your store with tools like LoadImpact.com or Blitz.io.

Black Friday Pro Tip: Prepare for Volume!

The one thing everyone overlooks is the readiness of their people and systems to cope with holiday volumes. Get your operations and scalability in order early or you’ll have disappointed customers at the end of that transaction. 

— Jason Greenwood, Founder, https://www.greenwoodconsulting.net

10 Black Friday Marketing Tips

1. Get ahead of the curve.

Shoppers aren’t waiting until Black Friday to get started, and with some planning, you can make that work to your advantage.

45% of people start shopping before Black Friday.

Promote your site’s newsletter to drive subscriptions, so you can send out an effective email blast when the big holiday comes.

Capture their excitement by promoting deals and giveaways in the month leading up to Thanksgiving. Include some sneak peaks so shoppers know what they can expect and keep you in mind when they’re ready to spend.

Black Friday Pro Tip: Build in Advance

Plan and build assets for campaigns in advance so they are ready to go prior to the holidays. Use the purchase intent of customers to drive LTV with customers currently in the sales funnel. 

— Keith Karlick, Principal and Head of Strategy, Mercutio

2. Put your retargeting strategies into place.

Some shoppers may browse your site and choose not to purchase anything — but that doesn’t mean you’ve lost them.

With the right retargeting strategies, you can follow up with people who never checked out online.

If you use BigCommerce, there are even specific apps you can employ just for this purpose. With the right marketing automation tool, you can set up email sequences targeted to shoppers who abandoned their carts on your site.

3. Curate gift guides.

Sometimes, people need ideas to get them started. Shoppers often use gift guides, curated by influencers or retailers, to inspire their holiday shopping list.

Getting your products into those gift guides will keep you top of mind with holiday shoppers. Here’s how to use gift guides to boost holiday sales:

  • Focus on your most popular products to avoid spreading yourself too thin. Quality is more important than quantity.
  • Find targeted guides where these popular products fit in, and pitch to them. Influencers are a great source for finding relevant guides.
  • Remember that the first hurdle is getting past gift guide editors — make sure you can clearly communicate to them the value of including your business.

You can also create your own gift guides as part of your email marketing strategy.

Black Friday Pro Tip: Get in the Guides

Content like gifting guides or holiday-shopping guides are especially popular during the holidays. Leverage these to reach your audience and give them what they want.

— Shane Barker, Founder, https://shanebarker.com/

4. Take advantage of limited-time windows.

Holiday shoppers getting a head start are likely to want to shop around.

94% of shoppers will take the time to find the cheapest product.

To increase conversions, create a sense of urgency in your Black Friday ads with temporary sales and shopping codes.

While not specifically for Black Friday, BigCommerce merchant Pink Lily did a great job of inspiring action with their time-bound offer for a shipping upgrade.

Pink Lily Shipping Example

You can also use a tool like Beeketing to create a countdown to remind people that your sales aren’t going to last!

5. Get ready to track your success.

If you haven’t already implemented Google Analytics and heatmaps from sites like Hotjar, now is the time. This will give you the chance to monitor site performance and gather new insights.

Armed with those insights — you’ll be even better prepared for next year.

If you already have these analytics tools, look back at data from the previous year. Have you tweaked your site based on those insights into how your holiday traffic behaves?

Analyze what worked for you in the past — and what didn’t. Which of your products were most popular? Were most of your visits from email marketing, or did visitors find your site organically? What were they searching for?

You can take those insights and tweak your site — and your holiday marketing strategy — based on how your holiday traffic behaves. (Hint: it’s likely very different compared to the rest of the year!)

6. Optimize your email strategy in advance.

Timing emails for Black Friday requires some prep. You won’t be pushing your highest quality campaigns if you don’t start in advance.

Custora reports that over 25% of Black Friday sales start with holiday email marketing.

Remember how we talked about starting early and giving customers an idea of what sales you’ll be offering? You can begin sending emails about a month before your best sale of the year, so shoppers keep you top of mind. Then, send deal alerts as the big day approaches.

Email inboxes are especially noisy during the holiday season, so try to come up with unique, interesting subject lines that will pop in your subscribers’ inboxes.

Remember — this is a great place to put personalization to use and tailor your messages specifically to what each customer group wants and responds to.

And don’t forget to optimize your abandoned cart email series. In all the hustle and bustle of Black Friday shopping, shoppers might leave products in their carts — either to browse for better deals or because they simply forgot.

You don’t have to recreate the wheel here — check out mailcharts.com to get some inspiration and track what your competitors are doing, from email designs to audience segmenting and discounts.

8. Personalize.

Sending tailored, personalized marketing messages to the right people at the right time will increase your odds of conversions and sales.

As much as 89% of marketers reported that using personalization resulted in increased revenue — and shoppers look for it.

63% of shoppers expect their purchase history to guide personalized experiences from brands.

Here are a few different ways you can offer a personalized experience:

  • Offer different deals to different customer groups (new customers versus VIP customers, for example) to more specifically tailor your messages based on buying behaviors.
  • On product pages, include recommendations based on what other customers bought in addition to the product the shopper is viewing.

You can also create a special holiday experience for your shoppers with a Black Friday landing page featuring your top-selling products, services, and specials.

9. Omnichannel experience.

Customers are really taking advantage of the omnichannel experience, so if you have a brick-and-mortar store, make it work for you.

In 2018, shopping over Thanksgiving weekend showed a 50% year-over-year increase in Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPIS).

Holiday pop-up shops are common during the Christmas shopping season. If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar, this could be a way for you to get your products physically in front of shoppers.

Don’t forget about marketplaces, too. Amazon took more than 50% of all Black Friday transactions in 2018, so it can be advantageous to have your products there as well.

Black Friday Pro Tip: Create a Seamless Experience

In an effort to create a seamless omnichannel experience, brands will use innovations that help customers connect their online and offline shopping experience. One Guidance client uses location-based services to help customers locate their nearest brick-and-mortar store to enhance their online experience of the brand. Using a widget, customers can interact with their personal expert consultant and select the product that best suits their needs. Customers are encouraged to ask questions, set appointments and ultimately visit the store to discover their perfect, customized product.

—Sarah Toth; VP, Marketing; Guidance

10. Go beyond Black Friday.

Black Friday is just one piece of a long holiday shopping weekend, so it’s important to consider your approach during all five days (from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday) and beyond.

Have an engagement plan to turn your shoppers into loyal customers — especially if they’re first-timers.

Help them take advantage of not just your best Black Friday deals, but all their opportunities to shop online with you. To do this, you can leverage continued email marketing, engage on social media, and send abandoned cart notifications.

Black Friday Pro Tip: Don’t Forget About Cyber Monday

Differentiate between Black Friday and Cyber Monday with a new deal and advertise before and during Black Friday so your customers know something big is coming. 

— Michelle Rooker, Content Specialist, 5874

Summary

Black Friday is considered the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. It’s even made its way around the world, influencing shopping habits in other countries around the world. It’s never too early to get your business ready for Black Friday.

With the right preparations prior to the holiday shopping season, you can benefit from increased conversions and even earn a new base of loyal customers:

  • Make sure your site is ready for the Black Friday rush.
  • Get your marketing strategy and materials in place well in advance — including how you’ll promote your business and your best Black Friday deals through third parties like influencers.
  • Take advantage of ecommerce trends like omnichannel shopping and personalization.

Want more insights like this?

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    Victoria Fryer

    Victoria Fryer

    Victoria is a content marketing writer, researcher, and content project manager at BigCommerce. Specializing in writing and web content strategy, she previously spent eight years in public relations and marketing for Tier I research universities. She holds a B.A. in English Writing and Rhetoric from St. Edward’s University and a Master of Liberal Arts from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania.

    View all posts by Victoria Fryer

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