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On Friday, November 29th, 2013 and Monday, December 2nd, 2013, millions of consumers will get ready to reach into their pockets and shop till they drop - or can’t stand the glare from the screens of their electronic devices any longer - whichever comes first.

As the countdown to two of the biggest grossing holiday dates begins, Black Friday and Cyber Monday respectively, you’re going to want to get your online store ready and get prepared for the online blitz.

Just how big of a deal is it? Well, let’s put it in perspective.

In 2012, Black Friday online sales surpassed $1 billion in the first time in history, with 57.3 million Americans visiting at minimum one online store that day. Not be outdone, it’s not-so-distant cousin Cyber Monday 2012 shattered previous online shopping records by a landslide with roughly $1.5 billion in online sales.

Shopify merchants were especially busy those days selling nearly 200,000 products on Black Friday and doubled that with 420,000 products on Cyber Monday where we were processing 124 sales per second as a platform, with near 100 percent uptime thanks to our performance and operation team.

Here’s a nifty little graph from Deepfield that shows how our Shopify merchants put up a good fight last year and held their own with the best of them, including the likes of Amazon, eBay, and Zappos.

Excited yet? Okay, here are some tips to have your store optimized for the upcoming holidays.

1. Offer Black Friday & Cyber Monday Discounts

This should probably be on the top of your holiday store optimization checklist. Consumers flock to shopping online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday specifically for the actual or perceived discounts that they’re told to expect on those days.

So, if you want to take advantage of shoppers with their eyes on bargain, you’ll have to provide discounts that rival top retailers to draw their attention. It’s also a precursor to taking advantage of all the other tips in the post.



2. Have a Countdown To Signal Anticipation and Scarcity

Holiday seasons and countdowns go together like peanut butter and jelly. Have you ever celebrated New Years without one?

Well, the same should go for every other major holiday, especially those on which the general consumer market tends to splurge on online purchases.

There’s also something about missing out on something that is a proven and potent trigger behind the psychological influence of creating scarcity in the minds of consumers. So get people excited about what you have to offer.

Amazon definitely knows the magic behind having a countdown ticker and prominently one on their site. You can add your own with the Product Discount app from the Shopify App Store.



3. Learn From Last Year’s Analytics

The closest you can get to anticipating the future is taking a look back and using last year’s numbers as benchmarks you can add or subtract from. Take advantage of both your ecommerce and web analytics to have a sound idea of everything from what deals and discounts worked last year to how much inventory you should have in stock this year.

Fortune favors the bold, but it also rewards folks who are prepared.


4. Own Your Email Marketing Strategy

Want to know how shoppers heard about all those awesome discounts and deals you’re planning on offering? According to research by Monetate, email clearly comes out as the winner.


However, why stop at just your holiday deals. You should also keep in mind the importance of other transactional emails that alert your prospective or current customers about everything from shopping cart abandonment to order confirmations.  

5. Take Advantage of the Increased Traffic by Collecting Emails

Let’s face it, the holiday season is great, but you’re going to want to keep the momentum going after things start to die down. One surefire way to do just that is to collect your email addresses from your visitors to build both a responsive and profitable ecommerce mailing list. Once you have a list going, think about leveraging it to your utmost advantage.

Some ideas to get you started are following up with first time customers to get feedback on your website and products, asking them to share their purchase on social media in the order confirmation or receipt email. You can also ask them to connect with you on all the social channels in which you’re active to keep the conversation going well after the holiday craze ends.




6. Offer Free Shipping

What if I were to tell you that consumers preferred free shipping worth $6.99 in savings over a $10 product discount? Sounds bizarre, but that’s exactly what a professor at the Wharton School of Business found in a study.

Here’s a look at Target’s free shipping offer:




You can experiment with the total threshold a consumer reaches before qualifying for free shipping, but some data crunching from comScore found that when Amazon had it’s threshold set at $49, the average purchase quantity was 3.31, however, when they lowered it $25, the average purchase quantity was only 2.53. Which means you’ll want to offer shoppers a sweet deal, but make them stretch enough to make sure it's profitable for you.

Amazon recently changed it’s online shipping to be free over $35, which might be a good starting point to consider.

7. Add Live Chat

With so many eager shoppers dying to get their hands on your products and take advantage of your Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals, you can bet they’ll be overly antsy and have tons of questions to ask. Which is why even if you don’t have live support year round as a smaller online merchant, you should certainly consider it for the busy holiday season.

Vielle+Frances does a fantastic job with a live support window that you can pop up throughout their site. Want to add your own? The Shopify App Store has multiple live chat integration options, including Olark, LiveChat, and UserPulse.


Bonus: Offer Gift Cards to Spread the Holiday Love

According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, 81% of Americans will buy at least one gift card during the holidays. In fact, roughly 70% of customers who are on the receiving end of gift cards and use them, will spend more than the value on the card. Talk about a win-win situation.

Giving visitors to your online store the option to purchase a gift card for their loved ones is a sure fire way to take part in the season of giving and to give your sales a boost at the same time. 

With these tips in mind you can be sure that you’ll be making the most of the upcoming holiday season.  If you have others tips you’d like to share for how to optimize an ecommerce store for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, please let us know by commenting below.