According to the Office for National Statistics, there was a 1.5% decline in volume of UK sales last December (month-on-month) following a particularly strong November. 

The drop was seemingly due to consumers buying earlier in order to take advantage of Black Friday sales.

This proves what an opportunity the event presents for retailers, with consumers more eager than ever to spend during this period. And as retailers typically plan for Christmas in July, it certainly makes sense to do the same for the behemoth that is Black Friday.

With this in mind, here’s a run-down of how retailers should be preparing and why.

(N.B. For more on this topic, subscribers can download Econsultancy’s ‘Lessons from Black Friday’ Best Practice Guide)

Define your goals

Many brands make the mistake of lazily jumping on the Black Friday bandwagon resulting, at best, in last-minute discounts on unsold stock. At worst, it could mean promoting deals under the banner of Black Friday which turn out to be the same throughout the year.

A 2016 Which? study – involving the analysis of a year of pricing data for 35 popular products on sale over Black Friday – found that 60% were sold for the same price or cheaper at other times.

However, thanks to studies like this (and the accompanying media coverage), consumers are now cottoning on to the tactics, meaning that retailers run more than just the risk of falling flat during the event itself – it could also lead to a dent in their long-term reputation.

In contrast then, retailers who decide on a clear and valuable strategy early on are far likelier to succeed, both in terms of customer perception and revenue. This means defining what the aim of the campaign should be, and setting a budget and clear KPIs from the start.

The aim might vary depending on what different retailers value, and so these are good questions to ask when defining metrics.

For example, do you want to use Black Friday to acquire new customers, clear old stock, or simply boost sales? By defining this early on, retailers will then be able to plan campaign strategy based on appropriate investment.

Check tech stability

Black Friday doesn’t just test a brand’s marketing capabilities – it also presents a huge challenge for IT infrastructures. This tends to come in two areas, the first being the stability of a website in the face of big traffic surges.

We’ve seen many retailers fall foul of this in previous years, with Lowes and Debenhams being among the most high-profile to crash last year.

Retailers can help to prevent this by performance testing. The first step is to look at traffic from last year, as this can help to determine expected user load, and other more complex user scenarios.

From there, it’s important to run a number of thorough tests, including things like stress tests (to understand capacity limits), and soak tests (to determine ability to handle continuous load).

If bugs and issues are found, retailers should turn to scalable hosting solutions to deal with traffic surges – Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud are two of the most popular.

As well as peace of mind, temporarily increasing infrastructure also allows retailers to focus resources elsewhere during the period, safe(r) in the knowledge that consumers won’t be disappointed.

Meanwhile, the other area of concern for IT teams is the increased threat of cyber-attacks, with October to December typically seeing an increase in scams on both businesses and consumers.

An early assessment of cyber security defences is key to prevention, mainly to ensure that suspicious activity can be identified and dealt with immediately. It’s also important to have a crisis management strategy in place so that teams know how to respond if an attack occurs.

Lastly, authentication protocols like DMARC (which prevents email impersonation) can prevent customers from being misled.

Sort your segments

Retailers tend to ramp up email efforts in the run up to Black Friday, with previous years involving an over-abundance of communication before and during the event. The arrival of GDPR means that this is likely to lessen in 2018, however, it’s still going to be a key way for brands to target those who have remained on subscriber lists.

So, how to do it? The most effective email strategies rely on clever segmentation, based on how customers interact with the channel throughout the year, coupled with information on past purchasing behaviour.

From this, retailers can match the level or personalisation within emails as well as other forms of messaging, such as urgency or rewards. For example, exclusive discounts or bigger rewards should be reserved for regular and high-spend customers.

Similarly, customers that have shopped on Black Friday before (but aren’t engaged at other times of the year) could benefit from reminder emails based on what they might be able to save this time around.

It could even be beneficial to design creative specifically for those unlikely to be interested in the hoopla, just like the below example from Casper.

Casper black friday email

(Image via Really Good Emails)

Ultimately, with Black Friday emails more likely to be ignored or deleted (due to negative perception of the event, or too many emails sent) it’s more important than ever for marketers to draw on data to build something as relevant and personal as possible.

As well as email segmentation, the same goes for paid media too, with now being the ideal time to figure out segments for display and social media ads.

Create custom content

One strategy commonly adopted by retailers is to keep Black Friday landing pages alive throughout the year. This is done to build on search authority as time goes on, rather than start from scratch each time.

But while this is a good idea, it can also lead to lazy marketing, with retailers leaving old meta descriptions live until the last minute, and generally failing to update or refresh content.

Argos meta description

Instead, retailers should think early on about how they can make Black Friday campaigns – in terms of site pages and off-site content – both fresh and creative, as well as how to incorporate key messaging based on things like speed, delivery, exclusives, and so on.

This type of custom content can help differentiate a brand from the masses offering similar discounts and products.

Of course, another way to do is to take an unexpected stance against the event. Patagonia has donated all sales to environmental causes in the past, while Asda staged a mannequin challenge to highlight the fact that it offers low prices every day of the year.

The point is – Black Friday presents a marketing opportunity for all retailers, even regardless of whether they choose to partake. The key is to plan an approach and create related content that resonates with a target audience.

For more on this topic, subscribers can download Econsultancy’s ‘Lessons from Black Friday‘ Best Practice Guide

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