10 Breakthrough Lessons from Over $1 Billion in Black Friday Ecommerce & Cyber Monday Sales

10 Breakthrough Lessons from Over $1 Billion in Black Friday Ecommerce & Cyber Monday Sales

The writing was on the wall …

Then, it was in the headlines, the tweets, the Facebook posts, the emails, SMS messages, and push notifications.

2017’s Black Friday ecommerce and Cyber Monday sales demolished all records to date.
  • $1 billion in online revenue for each of the first 22 days in November
  • $1.52 billion on Thanksgiving before 5 p.m. EST
  • $5 billion during Black Friday’s frenzied 24 hours
  • $6.6 billion on Cyber Monday
  • All adding up to an expected $107 billion in online holiday sales this year

And here at Shopify, we did a bit of record breaking ourselves … to the tune of $1 billion gross merchandise volume over the last four days.

At BFCM’s peak, Shopify merchants were processing $1,138,574.17 per minute in sales — over twice as much as 2016’s $555,716 per minute.

For a more detailed look at BFCM, check out our Holiday Online Shopping Infographic: Data & Insights from Black Friday, Cyber Monday for This Year and Beyond

Of course, record-breaking sales are one thing. Learning directly from the world’s biggest brands breaking those records is another.

That’s why we’ve assembled 10 breakthrough lessons direct from some of ecommerce’s heaviest holiday hitters. Not just as inspiration for the future of BFCM, but to carry you the whole year through.

  1. Stay on Brand, Even When It Gets Cold, Promotional & Punny: Chubbies
  2. Sell Out in a Flash by Leveraging Exclusivity: Kylie Cosmetics
  3. Make Buying Easy, Urgent, and Relevant: Pura Vida Bracelets
  4. Set Delivery Expectations at Every Step of the Purchase: Dormify
  5. Seek Simplicity on the Front End and Reliability on the Back: SweetLegs
  6. Increase Average Order Value through Spending Thresholds: Brooklinen
  7. Unlock Deals for Instant Rewards: 100% Pure
  8. Sleep Well by Automating Your BFCM Event: Frankies Bikinis & Shelfies
  9. Go Native with Shopping on Instagram: ORO Los Angeles
  10. Give Back During the Season of Giving: Thursday Boot Company

Billions are still to be had …

Whether you had a record-breaking Black Friday, Cyber Monday or not, now is the time to make sure the rest of your holiday season is your most profitable ever.

To help you do that, we’ve created the Black Friday, Cyber Monday Health Check.

Inside, you’ll find a detailed checklist to guide you through the rest of December and beyond.

Download your holiday guide today

1. Stay on Brand (Even When It Gets Cold, Promotional, and Punny): Chubbies

For most brands, seasonality is a blessing. In fashion, changing styles and temperatures mean one thing: fresh opportunities for sales. Unfortunately, when you sell shorts famous for their 5.5” inseam, winter isn’t a natural revenue booster.

Enter #ThighberMonday.

ThighberMonday is Chubbies Shorts’ fourth annual gift-giving extravaganza. In true Chubbies style, the event dates back to a “normal brainstorm about what to call Cyber Monday”:

They pre-gamed on Facebook, to the tune of nearly 150,000 views:



Posted by Chubbies on Thursday, November 16, 2017


They shared the news on Instagram (without a product image or promotion code), and they kept the momentum going all through Cyber Monday:

Plenty of lessons stand out, but one in particular shines. In a social-media world where branded content is self-centered and self-serving, Chubbies manages to do the impossible: promote an off-season sale without coming off like sell-outs.

How? By staying true to their irreverent, content-driven, relentlessly audience-focused brand.

But … what if selling out is exactly what you’re known for?

2. Sell Out in a Flash by Leveraging Exclusivity: Kylie Cosmetics

In the realm of product drops, release parties, and flash sales, reality TV darling-turned-entrepreneurial mogul Kylie Jenner has few equals. In fact, when Kylie Cosmetics first debuted, the event “pushed hard against Shopify’s limits and crushed traffic records.”

“We launched at like 3 o'clock and I refreshed the page and it was gone. It was under a minute. It had to be like 20 seconds and it all sold out. I was just in shock. I never imagined it would become as big as it has.”

Kylie Jenner, Founder of Kylie Cosmetics

The question is: how do you keep selling out without succumbing to the two greatest dangers flash sales present: (1) cutting into your margins and (2) burning out your audience?

Answer: you give your fans exactly what they want … while always holding a little something back.

To do that, Kylie Cosmetics launched their Holiday Collection two days before Black Friday ecommerce hit:

Then, they kicked off the real festivities Thanksgiving night:

On Cyber Monday — after selling out their Black Friday ecommerce stock — they announced a comeback:

Back in stock, Naughty and Nice palettes and the Holiday Wet Set! KylieCosmetics.com ❄️

A post shared by Kylie Cosmetics (@kyliecosmetics) on

And rather than delist products as they continued to sell out, Kylie Cosmetics left a host of products live and unpurchasable everywhere, including on their homepage:

Kylie Cosmetics leaned on scarcity and urgency in their Black Friday ecommerce and Cyber Monday flash sales

Why not automatically unpublish out-of-stock items?

Because not being able to get what you want — scarcity and urgency — can be a powerful tool of persuasion.

That’s even true when drop-dead easy is your number one BFCM goal …

3. Make Black Friday Ecommerce Easy, Urgent, and Relevant: Pura Vida Bracelets

For two twenty-somethings whose business grew out of a college-graduation trip to Costa Rica, Pura Vida Bracelets may have one of the most advanced ecommerce tool stacks online.

In addition to pulling back the curtain on the nine tools that help them grow at 50% year-over-year — as well as generate conversion rates 5-10x the industry average — Pura Vida’s co-founder Griffin Thall recently hosted a live AMA with Shopify Plus to go even deeper.

Expectations were high for Pura Vida’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday event … and they did not disappoint.

First, instead of coupons, Pura Vida offered a site-wide 50% discount:

Pura Vida Bracelets offered 50% off sitewide for Black Friday ecommerce

Second, they leaned hard on urgency and scarcity through not one but two countdown clocks on their checkout page:

Third, rather than rely exclusively on abandon-cart emails, Pura Vida sent abandon-cart direct messages to customers who had previously linked up their Facebook accounts:

This last ingredient is perhaps most savvy. Rather than rely on personalization that tops out at <FName>, Pura Vida’s Facebook Messenger is …

  • Easy: Clicking “Checkout Now” sent visitors directly to their full carts, with no need to re-add items nor re-enter information
  • Urgent: From the initial overlay to the dual countdown clocks to the “Last chance to get 50% off,” every step reminded customers that now is the time to buy
  • Relevant: Rather than a generic “You left something behind” email, or — worse — unrelated product blasts, Pura Vida’s cart rescue only included what someone had already shown interest in

4. Set Delivery Expectations at Every Step of the Purchase: Dormify

The origin story behind the millennial-minded and space-styling powerhouse Dormify couldn’t be more different than Pura Vida’s. Instead of two male friends on a post-college vacation, Dormify began when mother-daughter team Amanda Zuckerman and Karen Zuckerman went shopping for Amanda’s freshman dorm room.

Frustrated by the lack of options, in 2012 the two launched Dormify, a website offering style-minded college students an easier way to decorate their new spaces.

Since then, Dormify has appeared everywhere, from Forbes to Cosmopolitan to HGTV to the TODAY Show. Their most recent stop was on an episode of VaynerMedia and Shopify Plus’ six-part podcast miniseries, Hacking the Holidays, where Chief Operating Officer Nicole Gardner shared advice on an often-overlooked but vital element of online holiday shopping:

“Early in the season, customers are a lot more concerned about free shipping and return policies. But then once you get later in the season, the time to ship is really, really critical. For us, it’s about framing and setting expectations up front as much as possible through the shopping experience.”

“We recently implemented a split cart functionality. So in our cart, if products are eligible to ship within that quick timeframe, it clearly says that, and anything else says it ships separately.”

Nicole Gardner, COO of Dormify

5. Seek Simplicity on the Front End and Reliability on the Back: SweetLegs

Last week, we shared the story of Gymshark’s 2015 brush with near Black Friday death. Little did we know that SweetLegs — another multi-million dollar fashion brand — had gone through an almost identical experience in 2016. As Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director Chris Pafiolis shared with the Shopify Plus Facebook Community over the weekend:

“Last year our website crashed over Black Friday costing me hundreds of thousands. We tried everything to keep our prized WooCommerce store up and running including $5,000 in monthly hosting and advanced cluster servers to mitigate the issues. When the $100,000 quotes came in to hopefully fix the issues, I decided I was done stressing over uptime and updates.”

The truth was, for three years Chris had a been a self-described “skeptic” of Shopify Plus. But with the holidays bearing down on SweetLegs, and the thought of another disaster looming, they decided to make a change …

Two weeks before November.

“On October 16th, we picked a standard template, paid a firm to migrate our data, and were up and running by November 1st.”

“With our craziest month to date — $2 million in sales, over 10,000 transactions, and insane amounts of traffic — we no longer worry about sending marketing emails in batches or crashing the site. We can truly focus on growing our business!”

Chris Pafiolis, CEO of SweetLegs Clothing

SweetLegs featured deep discounts for their Black Friday ecommerce weekend sale

The lesson here is two-fold. One, never underestimate the power and pull of simplicity on the front end. Rather than go the way of a $100,000 build, SweetLegs instead chose to focus on migrating their data and customers. Two, never — emphasis on never — underestimate reliability on the backend.

6. Increase AOV through Black Friday Ecommerce Thresholds: Brooklinen

As strange as it may sound, bedding is a cutthroat online industry. Differentiating yourself takes innovative products, unique branding, and click-seducing offers.

Those three ingredients, which Brooklinen has in spades, are all the more necessary during an overcrowded event like BFCM. On the first two fronts — product and branding — Brooklinen’s press reads more like a celebrity fashion designer than it does a bedding manufacturer:

What about the third must-have ingredient: click-seducing offers?

On Cyber Monday, Brooklinen created a tiered strategy to not only drive onsite conversions … but increase average order value through spending thresholds:

As soon as a customer’s cart exceeded the first threshold of $150, an overlay appeared giving them a free gift choice:

Luxury fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff took a similar approach, by automating the addition of various free gifts throughout BFCM also using spending thresholds:

It’s a strategy called “optimizing closest to the money”: utilizing Shopify Scripts, merchants can customize their checkout experience to (1) reduce shopping-cart abandonment and (2) increase average order value.

In the case of Brooklinen, however, the free gift was only the start. In addition, they also set up three discount “thresholds”:

  1. Spend $250 amount and get $50 off
  2. Spend $500 amount and get $100 off
  3. Spend $800 amount and get $200 off

With Scripts, all this takes place at the cart level automatically:

For more on deploying Shopify Scripts, check out:

7. Unlock Deals for Instant Rewards: 100% Pure

Because optimizing closest to the money is so valuable, let’s take a look at what might be its most creative application …

BFCM product collections are nothing new. Plenty of merchants — both online and off — set aside “doorbuster deals” to lure in customers with the hope that deeply-discounted merchandise will lead to bigger-ticket purchases.

So, what if you did the opposite? That was 100% Pure’s approach.

After an accidental chemical spill led Susie Wang to co-found the all-natural cosmetics company, 100% Pure quickly grew into a $50 million-plus business with a dozen retail locations and ecommerce stores in twelve countries.

No strangers to upending expectations, the brand created a locked collection of discounted products featured prominently under Cyber Monday on their homepage:

While visitors could browse the products and even see the discounts (some as low as one-third their original price) ...

100% Pure reversed expectations for their Black Friday ecommerce discounts

What they couldn’t do was buy them at a discount, until they’d crossed the threshold.

Similar to the last lesson, 100% Pure did this at the cart level. Once a customer had exceeded the $45 threshold, a link to their “20 Gifts @ $10 Each” page was automatically unlocked:

Only then could items from that special collection be accessed at a discount:

Counterintuitive? Sure. But counterintuitive sometimes leads to breakthroughs.

8. Sleep Well by Automating Your Black Friday Ecommerce Event: Frankies Bikinis and Shelfies

Sleep isn’t something you’re used to during BFCM. Not because of the midnight in-store rush, but because of the behind-the-scenes chaos that seems an inevitable part of any major online event.

That’s where two ecommerce automation tools exclusive to Shopify Plus come in …

First is Launchpad.

Think of Launchpad as your commerce events command center: the place where customer-facing automation, backend time-saving, and real-time reporting meet. With Launchpad, you can pre-plan everything on your to-do list and instantly roll it all back once the sale or event is over:

  • Change product prices for a predetermined time frame
  • Auto-publish select products to your online store and across multiple sales channels
  • Increase inventory levels at the start of an event
  • Lock a store before a sales event to build hype and anticipation
  • Schedule creative changes and theme customization — including Shopify Scripts — to highlight what customers should see

“This is why Launchpad is our savior. We schedule everything during normal business hours and Launchpad does all of the work for us automatically.”

Brittney Bowles, Director of Marketing and Ecommerce at Frankies

Second is Shopify Flow.

Using a simple, three-step visual builder, you can specify “triggers, conditions, and actions,” which are stored and executed automatically without any coding.

Shopify Flow lets you offload manual tasks, reduce redundancies, and free up resources by automatically …

  • Preloading new products and publishing them to your store, social media, apps, and sales channels simultaneously
  • Tagging high-value customers to create valuable segments and notify customer service to send personalized welcome messages
  • Unpublishing out-of-stock products and sending a Slack message or email to your marketing team so they can pause advertising
  • Flagging and notifying internal security teams of high-risk orders instantly

“Flow is really powerful because it allows me to focus on growing the business I love and doing more of the things that are going to have a long-term impact.”

Nicholas Montgomery, Founder of Shelfies

And even if you decide not to use your newfound freedom and peace of mind to sleep well over the holidays, you can always enjoy that other pastime …

9. Go Native with Shopping on Instagram: ORO Los Angeles

In just two years, ORO Los Angeles went from an idea to a multi-million dollar fashion brand. At the heart of their growth lies co-founder and CEO/Chief Creative Officer Kevin Dao’s love of style, Instagram, and imagination.

“In everything we do, we’re helping the customer imagine. We want them to imagine being the man in every picture. To imagine us being their stylist. To imagine, ‘That could be me wearing those clothes.’”

“We’re not so much curating content as curating imagination.”

“Fashion, our boots and clothes in particular, are supposed to make you feel good. When they see a picture it has to capture euphoria. Not just, ‘I’m going to look this way,’ but, ‘That’s going to make me feel this way.’”

Kevin Dao, Co-founder and CEO/CCO at ORO Los Angeles

Naturally, ORO LA’s BFCM posts on Instagram featured that same commitment to imagination, as evidenced in their account’s Story that recreated an unboxing experience:

But ORO LA’s breakthrough lesson is really about going native. Alongside other notable Shopify Plus brands — like MVMT, Gymshark, and Diff Eyewear — ORO LA uses Shopping on Instagram to make discovering, tracking, and purchasing native.

After launching Shopping on Instagram, ORO LA saw a 29.3% lift in month-over-month revenue directly attributable to Instagram … and that was before BFCM even hit.

10. Give Back During the Season of Giving: Thursday Boot Company

Our last lesson may be the most surprising of all.

“Since launch,” Nolan Walsh, co-founder of Thursday Boots Company, told Hacking the Holidays co-hosts Mac King and Sabir Semerkant, “we’ve never done a sale or discount.”

Even in the best of ecommerce times, that sounds crazy. During BFCM … it’s downright sacrilegious.

Why this aversion to sales?

“We really believe in the idea of just building a product and brand we’re proud of. Part of that, for me personally, is integrity. I really didn’t like how so many brands play ridiculous games with their pricing strategy — although I know it works. We want to just offer good, consistent, clean pricing. So, our products are priced as if they’re always on sale.”

Nolan Walsh, Co-founder of Thursday Boots Company

What do you do during BFCM if sales are off the table? You give back.

In lieu of discounts, coupons, and slashed prices, Thursday Boot Company partnered with the USO, the American Red Cross, K9s for Warriors, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation to donate $20 for every pair purchased.

Instead of coupons for a sale, Thursday Boot Company partnered with charities for Black Friday ecommerce

Black Friday Ecommerce and Beyond the Billion-Dollar Record

Crossing the $1 billion mark is a milestone that can’t be overstated.

But our ultimate objective at Shopify Plus isn’t simply to process more sales and transactions than our legacy competitors. Our true goal is to become the heart of our merchant’s business — to help them simplify the costly patchwork of tools and processes many of them feel overwhelmed by.

We’re grateful to be a part of so many companies growing bigger, faster.

Breaking $1 billion though? That’s just the start of what’s coming.

Billions are still to be had …

Whether you had a record-breaking Black Friday, Cyber Monday or not, now is the time to make sure the rest of your holiday season is your most profitable ever.

To help you do that, we’ve created the BFCM Health Check.

Inside, you’ll find a detailed checklist to guide you through the rest of December and beyond.

Download your holiday guide today

About the Author

Aaron Orendorff is the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus as well as a regular contributor to sites like Mashable, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, The Huffington Post and more. You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.