As May comes to close, there’s one topic in the world of ecommerce that many experts start to talk about - Black Friday/Cyber Monday. While it may seem early, now is the perfect time to plan your strategy for BFCM. Especially given the massive success seen across Shopify merchants in 2020, many will be wondering what they can do to carry that momentum through to this year also.
To get your Shopify store ready well in advance, we’ve compiled this article full of advice on everything from email marketing to customer service to automations and more. We’ve included not only our own advice, but we’ve also asked some of our partners from ReCharge, Gorgias, and Brightpearl to contribute their own recommendations for their areas of expertise.
Store Design & Functionality
The closer we get to Black Friday, the more difficult it becomes to make any changes to the way your store looks or functions. Therefore, while you have the time you should use this opportunity to review your store’s design and functionality, and work with your development team to implement new features and changes well in advance of BFCM. Working on this now also means you’ll have some time between when the changes are finalized and BFCM to both see what impact they have on your customer experience, and to make any final tweaks to ensure everything is running smoothly.
Review the journey from your customers’ perspective
Everything starts with reviewing the customer journey from start to finish. Look at your key landing pages both overall and throughout last year’s BFCM. Start on these pages, and follow the journey to checkout. Make note of any friction points that come as a result of poor design or functionality. It might be that your call-to-action is poorly placed or designed, there are no recommended products, or you don’t offer quick view options on catalog pages. Be sure to review both your desktop and mobile experiences, looking for points that are unique to both such as how your mobile menu looks and functions.
Decide which apps and integrations will best serve your customer experience
Over the years of running your Shopify store, chances are you’ll have tried and tested different apps and integrations. Maybe you’ve had a free trial then never used it again, or perhaps an integration was no longer fit for purpose and so you moved on to something else. It may even be that you’ve had an app for a while, but there could be a better option for your growth ambitions. Therefore before you look at new apps, you should review any you currently have installed. Remove any that you aren’t actively using or that serve little purpose, as these can slow your store down. Then look into alternatives for any you feel could be functioning better, or are lacking features you think would improve your customer experience. From there you can start reviewing new apps and integrations that will best fit with your plans for your store and will boost the customer experience.
After your research, it’s time to get to work. Working with experienced Shopify designers and developers will allow you to work out a timeline for changes to be made, taking into account other factors such as other key sales periods during which you may want to avoid making any major changes. It’ll also help you to see what changes are feasible, and get suggestions for design or functionality changes you may not have considered.
Subscriptions & Recurring Payments
Chase Alderton, Growth Marketing Manager - ReCharge Payments
The explosive growth of subscriptions in 2020 should have come as no surprise with D2C brands taking full advantage of home bound customers all over the world. The surge in ecommerce was like rocket fuel to the global subscriptions ecommerce market which is expected to grow 70% year over year until it reaches $500B in 2025. Though the lockdowns may be easing across the world, this consumer shift to the ease and convenience of subscriptions is just the beginning.
If you’re adding subscriptions for the first time, the best advice we can offer is to start the scoping process now. Customers often join subscription programs not just for the convenience factor, but to also be a part of a community. Taking advantage of this community feeling is of paramount importance - the checkout flow, onboarding process, and Customer Portal education all play significant roles in customer lifetime value and retention.
With ReCharge’s API you can build incredible experiences which means there is no single right answer. This allows you to optimize in places that make the most sense through the holidays, popularly free shipping, discounted purchases, or surprise gifts.
Finally, be ready with retention strategies when customers start to churn post-holidays. While there is a massive opportunity to grow a subscriber base through the holidays, oftentimes subscribers tend to spend less money after January 1 resulting in subscription cancellations. Make sure you’re ready with ways to maintain those subscribers even after the holidays.
Email Marketing & SMS
Email and SMS are big parts of any Shopify merchant’s BFCM marketing toolkit. When you’re competing in customers’ inboxes for attention, you need to ensure that your emails stand out and the best way to do this is by using your store data to segment audiences and tailor content.
Utilizing segmentation to capture attention
Segmentation can be a powerful tool for BFCM marketing. Start by analyzing the performance of different segments from last year - which had the highest open rates, conversion rates, and engagement? Which campaigns were the most effective? You can then look at what segments you want to create and grow so that when Black Friday rolls around, you can tailor the content and frequency to suit that audience. Some segments you may want to consider include
- Previous BFCM customers
- Customers who have only ordered during sale periods
- Customers with high Lifetime Value (LTV)
- Customers with high or low Average Order Value (AOV)
- Loyal returning customers
You may also want to consider international segmentation if you haven’t already, and how you’d use the suggestions above to further develop your international marketing plan for BFCM. Use the time between now and BFCM to experiment with different styles of content, different offers and discounts, and more to see what each segment responds best to.
Experiment with SMS marketing
SMS marketing is a great way to bolster your owned marketing strategy in general, but especially around Black Friday/Cyber Monday. If you’re already using SMS as part of your strategy, then now is a good time to review previous performance, look at your existing strategy, and consider how you’ll make use of it during BFCM. If you haven’t yet experimented with SMS, now is the time to start testing ways your store could best use it for BFCM. Whether your team is experienced with or new to SMS, you can use smaller sales in the months before Black Friday to test out different audiences and messaging to see what grabs their attention. It also gives you the opportunity to get your customers used to seeing SMS communication from your brand, so when it comes time for BFCM promotion they won’t be surprised or confused by it.
Nicole Baqai, East Coast Partner Manager - Gorgias
Customer support can be tough during the best times, but it’s even harder during BFCM. With the undoubtable surge in traffic to your site, it’s important to make sure your customer support team is prepared and ready.
First, make sure you’re using an integrated helpdesk that funnels all of your customer communications into one place. During BFCM, your customers and potential customers will have questions for you across all channels, so use a helpdesk to save time flipping between different platforms. If you use a helpdesk that integrates directly with your ecommerce platform, it can also help you quickly see a customers order history, so you’ll quickly be able to recognize previous customers and adapt their orders as needed.
You can also start preparing now by creating or updating your macros (AKA canned responses) to ensure they’re informative and match your brand tone. Over the next 6 months, watch how people respond to your replies and see which canned responses yield the most positive responses, so that you can use those on BFCM and know it will leave a positive impression.
Set goals for your average response and resolution times for customer support tickets, and encourage your team to shorten those times each month up until BFCM. You can help your team hit those goals by setting up automations. For example, in Gorgias you can use machine learning to detect the intent of a message such as “Where can I find more details about shipping?” and use rules and macros to automatically reply to that customer with a link to a page with that information. Just because BFCM means you’ll have an increase in customer tickets, try to keep your response and resolution times down to really wow your customers.
Lastly, start utilizing live chat on your site by:
- Setting up self-serve to help empower customers to find answers to common questions
- Letting customers know that your agents are available through email and social media
- Having your live chat pop up in the corner when the customer is looking at the checkout
When it comes to Search Engine Optimization, time is your store’s best friend. It can take a while for a page to build up trust and authority with Google and other search engines and then in turn for those pages to start climbing up SERP rankings. Therefore by starting your SEO plans early, you’ll see the rewards come Black Friday/Cyber Monday.
Research your keywords now, and start planning how you’ll incorporate them into your store’s content. Look at key landing pages from the previous year’s BFCM, and what search terms led customers to those pages. What terms did users search for that led to the highest conversions? What were your target keywords last year, and could they be repurposed for this year? What BFCM specific keywords did your competitors rank for?
Decide on your target landing pages and develop these early with the keywords and target audiences you’ve identified. You’ll want to look at top performing pages from previous years, as well as current high traffic landing pages. If you had a BFCM specific landing page last year, repurpose it for this year as that page will have been building authority over time. If you did not have a specific landing page last year, create a new one that incorporates BFCM keywords you’ve identified. While not in use, you can simply say that Black Friday sales for this year haven’t yet started, and offer product recommendations and current offers.
Start planning and developing content you want to use to attract customers during BFCM. Try to aim for evergreen content so that it doesn’t look out of place being published months ahead, as well as planning what gift and sale guides you’ll publish closer to Black Friday. Content should focus on user search intent around BFCM and the holidays; by answering search intent instead of focussing only on keywords, you’ll create more high quality content that will attract the attention of search engines over the coming months.
Sara Sousa, Product Marketing Manager - Brightpearl
BFCM is often a time when merchants are discounting heavily, and therefore are likely to be attracting consumers who are buying from that brand for the first time. If operational issues lead to that first experience being negative, it is a missed opportunity to retain a cohort of new customers, who could otherwise have been turned into loyal brand advocates. And because everything that happens after the buy button is the consumer’s last experience with the brand, it’s vital to nail that.
Because of the increased activity and orders that a lot of merchants see during BFCM, the post purchase journey is put under immense pressure. If a merchant does not invest time up front in making sure that any kinks in the operational mix are ironed out, then any issues in the back office are likely to be highlighted and exasperated. And lots can go wrong, such as errors from mis-picking or packing in the warehouse, the wrong information being entered into systems, manual processes with more room for human error, and generally having disparate information that isn’t easily accessible.
If you can automate back office processes through a scalable and reliable system, and in turn eliminate areas of high human contact with orders, you can reduce the amount of errors that occur in the back office. Our research shows that 77% of negative reviews are directly related to service issues that occur after the “buy” button, rather than product issues. Minimizing errors through automation, and having systems in place to deal with regular, repetitive tasks, allows efforts to be steered towards more complex orders. It also frees up time and money to invest more resources into marketing and acquisition efforts to grow the business.
Black Friday/Cyber Monday is one of the biggest sales opportunities of the year for many ecommerce merchants. Strategizing early will give your Shopify store the edge, allowing your team to experiment with new marketing strategies, implement new functionality, and develop a truly exceptional customer experience come BFCM.
Many thanks to our contributors for their collaboration on this article - Chase Alderton from ReCharge, Sara Sousa from Brightpearl, and Nicole Baqai from Gorgias.