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It’s only September, but for ecommerce merchants, Black Friday has already started.
We’ve seen search traffic on our Black Friday articles start to grow, and we know savvy marketers have started to research Black Friday tactics to stand out in a crowded marketplace. We’ve also been sending out Black Friday prep articles in our newsletters.
Black Friday 2021 promises to be an exciting time. Deloitte, Bain, and Mastercard - have predicted increased sales of between 7 to 11% this year. Most of this growth is expected to be online: Black Friday foot traffic in retail stores was down 44% in 2021.
On the other hand, ads are becoming less effective. According to performance marketing agency Merkle, ad spend rose 27% but clicks declined by 18% in Q2 2021.
We reached out to 30 marketing experts to suggest the best Black Friday marketing tactics to help you capture ecommerce sales while avoiding egregious ad spend. Here are 12 of the top strategies.
2021 Black Friday Marketing Tactics: The Best Advice From 30 Experts
Here are 12 marketing tactics to maximize sales for Black Friday 2021, grouped into 4 broad categories. None of the experts suggested increasing ad spend or optimizing performance marketing; they understand the importance of diversifying customer acquisition channels.
Instead, they offered some very exciting ideas:
- Don't compete on price - give value instead
- Start early, and spread the sales
- Cut through the noise with provocative word-of-mouth
- Build for the long term
Let’s dive in.
1. Don’t compete on price - instead, offer value, gifts, or deals
According to McKinsey, ‘consumers are eager and more willing to spend during Black Friday’ sales. Some will be out looking for bargains, but many consumers will be looking for a good deal - and that means getting more value for their dollar.
Instead of simply slashing prices, you can offer bundle deals with incredible savings, exclusive special holiday products, or even offer gifts and discounts once customers have reached a minimum spend.
Offer gifts to increase Average Order Value (AOV)
Aaron Orendorff from Common Thread Collective suggests offering tiered deal structures to push customers into a higher “bucket” of average order value.
Bambu Earth, one of Common Thread Collective’s brands, ran such an experiment last month to see if they could nudge customers into a higher spending bucket. They offered two tiers of rewards:
- Spend $50, Get a $28 gift
- Spend $200, Get a $160 gift
Each ‘minimum spend’ amount would tip customers into a higher spending tier. They ran the event for just 24 hours, using email marketing and remarketing ads only.
Sample of Bambu Earth’s ad
The results? Over $135K in sales on a random Friday in August — which turned out to be the single biggest revenue day in Bambu Earth’s history. Even better, that data can now be used to fuel the brand’s upcoming holiday deals.
An example of Brooklinen running a similar playbook
Here’s Aaron’s playbook for your Black Friday sales: Build your holiday offer around a tiered deal structure designed to increase AOV.
First, create an AOV histogram from last Black Friday, Cyber Monday to “bucket” your order values by purchase frequency. For example, you could plot the histogram to identify three major ‘buckets’: low, medium, and high.
Three distinct ‘buckets’. Screenshot provided by Common Thread Collective
From the example AOV histogram, you can identify the three buckets:
- Low value = $50
- Middle value = $125
- High value = $250
Next, test discount types in October, using a 24-hour promotional event, to see which is most effective for your audience. For example, a middle-value tier might look like this:
- Spend $125, Get $45 Off (flat cash discount)
- Spend $125, Get 30% Off (percentage off discount)
- Spend $125, Get A $45 Free Gift (free gift with purchase)
(You might be asking at this stage: hey, why are you offering a discount? Remember, our goal here isn’t just to mindlessly slash prices, but to incentivize customers to reach a higher average order value, and change their spending habits.)
As your final step, apply the winning promotional offer sitewide during Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Place the offer everywhere: homepage hero image, banner, cart checkout page.
Drive paid traffic and email traffic to a landing page, and make sure you have pre-built bundles — roughly two per tier threshold — to make it easy for customers to hit each spend level.
This tactic of offering a great deal with added value for customers - and not just giving deep discounts - was also mirrored by Peloton in 2018 and 2019.
Value stack to increase the value of the deals
Allen Burt from agency Blue Stout calls this tactic the “Value Stack”: instead of slashing prices and offering discounts, add additional perks to increase the overall value of the product.
It's a tactic that Peloton has used successfuly for 2 years. In 2018 and 2019, their BFCM offering was the gift of a free “The Works” accessory package (shoes, weights, etc) worth $249 with every full-price Peloton bike purchase.
Allen also commented: “As advertising costs skyrocket between increased demand and iOS14 updates), brands need to present more attractive offers -- without hurting profitability.”
Offer holiday-exclusive deals
Ebnu Sudarso of creative agency Milkwhale highlighted another ingenious tactic that allowed Barnes & Noble to retain their brand value: launching exclusive signed editions of books.
While consumers usually expect discounted items from Black Friday, Ebnu recommends going against the grain by increasing value for customers. This would allow you to retain your brand value (especially as a premium brand), but also stand out from the crowd.
Barnes & Noble did a great job by joining the Black Friday fun without compromising on its premium brand. Instead of putting their books on sale, they launched a bunch of autographed books from acclaimed authors as part of their Black Friday campaign.
This goes to show that Black Friday isn’t limited to just discounts and good deals. You can throw in something unique and offer additional value or do something nice for your consumers.
And Vineet Gupta of 5 Minute SEO offers a similar example of offering a great deal without compromising on prices. Beauty brands NARS and Kiehl’s created special bundles only available during holiday sales.
2. Start early, and spread the sales
Instead of focusing on Black Friday as a single day of sales, some retailers are taking the longer view. Some retailers are offering sales over the entire period of November, while others are starting sales earlier.
A simple tactic that works is just to send the offer a day earlier, on Thursday.
Start sales before anyone else
Adam Watson runs Hollywood Mirrors, an ecommerce store offering Hollywood-starlet style makeup mirrors. He shared his direct experience of running his own Black Friday campaign:
“My number one advice is to go early with your black Friday offer.
“Your audience only has so much money to spend. You can get more visibility in the inbox and beat the competition by getting your email and Black Friday advertising offers in, a few days early, before Black Friday. Last year, we sent our offer on the Thursday before Black Friday.
“This year, we’re planning to go a week early, to capture the pent-up demand. This will also make dispatch and fulfillment easier and spread over a week rather than over a few days.”
The trick is as simple as sending out the email a day early and stealing a march on competitors waiting for Black Friday sales.
Build hype by announcing your promotions now
Rather than keeping your Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday sales secret, Nicholas Brown of Accelerate Agency suggests starting promotions early, because we’ve all had enough uncertainty in our lives this past year. Rather than keeping your Black Friday and Cyber Monday plans super-secret, share them in advance with potential customers.
This might sound counterintuitive, as tipping off potential customers exactly when a sale will start could cause them to delay their purchase in hopes of a lower price.
But if a customer is searching for Black Friday deals early, Nicholas argues, you don’t want them clicking on other websites. You can take the opportunity to bring these eager bargain-hunters to your site now, and use the extra time to build brand loyalty before the sales.
One way to do so is to set up a special page on your website with information about your BFCM deals. With an established BFCM page, customers learn where to go exactly to get the most up-to-date information about your sales. This also keeps them on your site, rather than searching for deals elsewhere.
UK retailer Argos is an example of a retailer that does this well. Even during the summer, shoppers can find out what they need to do to get the most out of the upcoming Argos BFCM sales. When Black Friday comes, shoppers will come straight to Argos, ready to make a purchase.
Argos’ Black Friday landing page encourages customers to sign up for email alerts
Another example came from Gaurav Sharma of marketing agency Attrock. The beloved fashion brand & Other Stories allowed customers to pre-select their shopping bag ahead of time, giving their customers plenty of time to browse their catalog, before finally offering a 20% off discount on the day.
Ehud Basis from Outbrain suggested another tactic when building hype early: spark interest, drive traffic, and then use custom retargeting. He shared a story about the German fashion group CBR Fashion, which used Outbrain to target users interested in fashion content with content about their brands.
A month before Black Friday, CBR retargeted these audiences one more time with branded content. And finally, during Black Friday weekend, these users were hit with specific sales campaigns and discounts.
Outbrain served retargeted native ads to users who browsed fashion content
Spread sales out throughout the month
Another tactic is to spread sales out throughout the month, rather than concentrating on one particular day. This will probably help your fulfillment and operations team, and also help customers make better decisions.
Francesca Chong from Mention.com noted that while focusing promotions on one weekend would probably lead to increased sales, there were also drawbacks from this high-pressure time-limited approach on long-term audience satisfaction:
- You risk being drowned out: You're in competition with so many brands to get sales over one weekend; you risk being outcompeted by someone else with greater reach / a better discount.
- Higher risk of returns: Extra pressure to buy almost always leads to extra returns to deal with later. This cuts into your margins and is also bad for the environment.
- Customers feel stressed: Time pressure isn't good for the mental health of your consumers, it can make them feel stressed and lead to poor impulse buying decisions.
One in five consumers regretted their Black Friday purchases last year. Imagine a new customer who made an impulse buy on Black Friday: the product might go unused, or they have to go through the hassle of a return, and they now associate your brand with guilt, disappointment, and irritation.
Instead, Francesca points out an example of a brand that has done it better: Deciem. Since 2019, cult beauty skincare brand Deciem (parent company of The Ordinary) has offered a 23% discount off their entire product range for the month of November, to cut through the noise of Black Friday.
The ‘abnormal beauty company’ runs an abnormal Black Friday
The campaign was extremely well-received; 89% of the brand’s Instagram followers preferred the month-long sales, and the brand is repeating the sales for the third time this year.
Molly Demitrack of Eventige Media Group agrees.
“Ecommerce brands should treat the holiday timeframe as an entire season of caring for customers. To create the most value for customers brands should promote a BFCM Month rather than a week. “
She uses the example of Amazon, which keeps customers engaged throughout the month of November with "Lightning Deals," limited-time offers on certain featured products, deals of the day, and Amazon coupons.
BuzzFeed reporting on Amazon’s 2020 Black Friday lightning deals
Build anticipation with unfinished business
Valentin Radu of Omniconvert shared a tactic tapping on the Zeigarnik cognitive bias: people remember more easily the unfinished tasks than the finished ones.
For Black Friday, camera retailer F64 sent customers to a landing page to browse their deals in advance. During October, customers were served emails, retargeted ads, and SMSes to remind them to add items to their wishlist.
These customers then received their special offers 2 days before Black Friday, so they could complete their orders. And in case the items were still not purchased, F64 sent one final reminder of their shopping carts on Cyber Monday, prompting customers to check out their items.
3. Cut through the noise with provocative word-of-mouth
Valentin points out an important issue: every brand and every retailer will be engaging in Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals, and there is plenty of noise. How can retailers stand out against the cacophony of brands advertising?
They can do so by running campaigns that get people talking - for example, by resisting Black Friday sales.
Rejecting Black Friday sales
Once again, we return with Deciem’s example from Francesca Chong of Mention. On Black Friday itself, Deciem actually closed their website and retail shops for a "moment of nothingness", stating in a press release in 2019:
“We strongly believe that skincare decisions should be based on education rather than impulse and we want to give our audience the time for research, reflection, and consideration.
Encouraging rushed purchasing decisions is not a position that we align with. We hope that by offering a longer-term discount, we are creating a more comfortable and fair position for our audience.
Taking a stance against hyper-consumerism was sending an amazing message which challenged the status quo of how we view Black Friday.
In 2020, Deciem accompanied their Black Friday campaign with their audience education campaign: KNOWvember, in which they shared knowledge about skincare to help customers make the right choices. This resonated with customers and showed the brand’s integrity and values.
Run publicity stunts
Every year, instead of Black Friday Sales, the card game company runs a whimsical stunt. The brand never announces it ahead of time, but fans just know that the CAH team's cooking something up, and they’ve come to look forward to it.
One year, the card game company closed down their online store completely and let their fans just send them $5 in exchange for nothing. This generated $70,000 without a single product sale! Another year, they decided to dig up a hole and let their fans pay for this through donations. They raised $100,000.
In 2018, they ran a massive blowout sale of most random products at a 99% discount. Products were updated every 10 minutes, meaning their fans had to keep refreshing their site to get the best deal. One of the items was a $20 bill, sold for 20 cents:
Via @CAH Twitter
All of these publicity stunts generated headlines on publications like TechCrunch, Yahoo News, and USA Today.
4. Build for the long term
While many bargain-hunters will be looking out for Black Friday sales, experts recommend that it can also be an opportunity to build for the long term.
Start using SMS Marketing
Greg Zakowicz from Omnisend shared that Omnisend was on track to send three times as many SMS messages in 2021 compared to the previous year. He also shared some statistics from Omnisend about Black Friday 2020:
- During BFCM 2020, there was a noticeable uptick in brands using SMS marketing as well as consumers responding to them.
- Conversion rates for SMS were 9% higher during the holidays than the rest of the year.
- In November 2020, Black Friday orders were responsible for 19% of all SMS orders
During the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales season, brands know there is a seasonal rush of new holiday shoppers flooding their websites. The women’s clothing brand Black Halo chose to collect both email addresses and mobile numbers, to start using SMS messages with their new customers:
A sample Black Halo marketing SMS
By reaching customers via both an email and SMS welcome message (both opt-in channels) Black Halo’s offer stays in front of customers’ fingertips until they are ready to purchase.
And the strategy works! The text message in this welcome workflow produced an average earning per message of $7.46.
Optimize existing workflows
Corey Dubeau of Northern Commerce shared how they worked with Pulp & Press Juice Co to reach subscribers at every point during purchase. The secret was automated flows for abandoned cart messages. Klaviyo’s 2020 ecommerce benchmark report reported that the highest click rates and revenue per recipient, year over year, came from abandoned cart automation flows.
During Black Friday this year, Corey recommends that brands use tactics to stand out on saturated sale days, such as shorter delays during abandoned cart workflows or added SMS touchpoints. SMS has an average open rate of 98%, 5x that of email, and creates an omnichannel approach.
By optimizing their Klaviyo automation and SMS touchpoints, Pulp & Press was able to see a 492% increase in email revenue and a 255% increase in overall ecommerce revenue.
Build a connection with video messages
Natasha Rei at Explainerd noted that videos accounted for 82% of internet traffic - meaning that many people consume video content, which makes video marketing a great strategy for optimizing social share.
As an example, Sephora's video marketing strategies focused on building a connection with customers. The company encouraged existing customers to shoot testimonials and demo videos right before BFCM 2020 took place, to encourage customers to use
Make checkout easier
Bogdan Klopov of Visme shared that ecommerce brands lose up to $18 billion in sales due to shopping cart abandonment - which happens 18% of the time. And 34% of visitors avoid purchases or abandon their cart because they have to create an account.
According to SalesCycle, 34% of consumers would abandon their cart if they needed to create an account.
The simple way to resolve that? During the Black Friday period, you want to simplify checkout, reduce the number of steps, or even allowing guest checkouts during that weekend.
This will improve sales and eliminate cart abandonment to ensure smoother sales for your store, but remember - you’ll want to collect emails so you can re-market to these new customers during the slow seasons.
Black Friday & Cyber Monday tactics for 2021
Follow these twelve marketing tactics for Black Friday to stand out during this Black Friday sales season.
P.S. If you’re preparing for Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, you may want to sign up for our newsletter to follow along with our Black Friday prep series. Or check out our other Black Friday marketing posts:
- Black Friday SEO Guide To Boost Sales & Traffic
- 10-Point Checklist to Prepare for Black Friday / Cyber Monday
- 22 Black Friday Marketing Ideas to Drive Record Sales
Are there examples we missed? Let us know!