The writing was on the wall. Then, the headlines.
2017’s holiday ecommerce demolished all records to date.
- $1 billion every day Nov. 1-22
- $1.52 billion on Thanksgiving
- $5 billion on Black Friday
- $6.6 billion on Cyber Monday
- $108.15 billion overall
Not to be outdone, businesses on Shopify did a bit of record-breaking as well: over $1 billion in GMV during the four-day holiday and, at their peak, $1,138,574.17 in sales per minute — 105% more than 2016’s $555,716 sales per minute.
Of course, record-breaking is one thing. Learning from the brands breaking those holiday marketing records is another.
That’s why we’ve assembled, with direct and original contributions (not to mention data) …
15 of the best holiday ecommerce marketing strategies from 2017 and 2018’s heaviest holiday hitters:
- Sell Out with Exclusivity: Kylie Cosmetics
- Segment Holiday Offers: Blenders Eyewear
- Be Bold, Take Risks, and Learn: Koala
- Blackout on Black Friday: Gymshark
- Stay On Brand, Even Off Season: Chubbies
- Launch More Campaigns, Faster: Velour Lashes
- Make Buying Easy and Urgent: Pura Vida
- Enlist Your Most-Loyal Fans: iHeartRaves
- Set Delivery Expectations Upfront: Dormify
- Unite Simplicity and Speed: SweetLegs
- Increase AOV with Spending Thresholds: Brooklinen
- Unlock Deals for Instant Rewards: 100% Pure
- Vary Holiday Sales, Rapidly: Frankies Bikinis
- Go Native on Instagram: ORO Los Angeles
- Give, Give, Give: Thursday Boot
Keep reading to discover holiday ecommerce’s best strategies
But if you’d like to find out the secret weapon thousands of high-growth brands are using to launch more campaigns this Black Friday, download our exclusive ebook for a behind-the-scenes look …
1. Sell Out with 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. When Kylie Cosmetics first debuted, the event “pushed hard against Shopify’s limits and crushed traffic records.”
“We launched at like 3 o’clock,” said Jenner, “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.”
That was 2014. Since then, Jenner has built — what she revealed to Forbes — is a $900 million dollar brand.
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 hit.
Then, they kicked off the real festivities Thanksgiving night:
On Cyber Monday — after selling out their Black Friday stock — they announced a comeback:
However, rather than delist products as they continued to sell out, Kylie Cosmetics left a host of products live and unpurchasable everywhere, including their homepage.
Why not unpublish and remove out-of-stock items?
Because not being able to get what you want creates exclusivity.
This isn’t about mismanaging inventory. Even less is it about truncating scarcity and FOMO. In fact, this is the precise opposite.
The power of brands like Kylie Cosmetics may start with celebrity shine, but that shine pales in comparison to honest customer relationships and a must-have product. The build-up to its holiday releases and the very real possibility of missing out if a product sells out reinforce both of those values.
2. Segment Holiday Offers: Blenders Eyewear
Chase Fisher, founder of Blenders Eyewear, is a “ballsy” dude (his word, not mine). When you enter an industry 80% of which is controlled by a single conglomerate, you have to be.
What’s more, “ballsy” is exactly how he describes his approach to ecommerce holidays: “We’re stocking up. We’re going to be ballsy on our inventory. We’re going into it confident.”
Fisher’s confidence, however, doesn’t come from arrogance, but results.
Last year, Blenders increased its Black Friday Cyber Monday sales by 10 times compared to 2016. Then, in the first quarter of 2018, the company continued to grow revenue 900% year-over-year.
It did so through two ecommerce holiday strategies.
First, their offer.
“You can’t go into Black Friday and put 15% off, 20% off and expect to do well,” Fisher says. “Everything comes down to your offer – it’s the one time out of the year you can lower your prices without feeling like you’re losing brand integrity. Make sure your offer’s compelling, no matter what.”
Second, they segmented their campaign across social — through a Facebook targeting strategy that you can read about here — and via email.
In total, Blenders sent seven holiday emails for Black Friday Cyber Monday. At a time of year when inbox fatigue is already high, the company used Shopify Plus Partners Klaviyo as its email service provider and Email Aptitude to develop a tailored strategy.
As Fisher put it in a recent AMA on their 10X holiday sales, “As you grow, and your audience grows, they shouldn’t be getting the same messages as everybody else.”
3. Be Bold, Take Risks, and Learn: Koala
When you operate in an industry heavily aimed towards sales and year-round markdowns, fortune — as the saying goes — favors the bold.
Australian mattress and home furnishing retailer, Koala, embodies that truth. Case in point, the brand recently bought the two biggest billboards outside of IKEA in Sydney for the rest of the year:
Their holiday marketing tip is no exception …
“During our sales periods,” Lead Designer, Matt Peters, explains, “we take the opportunity to make it a holistic event, we rebrand the company across all channels to create a sense of occasion. We went a step further for our Halloween 2017 campaign and hid spooky easter eggs throughout the site. We even ran a social competition to find all the hidden elements.”
Of course, when you go bold, you also have to be quick to learn: “We try to push boundaries with our content and the majority of the time it pays off. During this campaign, we probably got too excited with one particular piece of content.”
The concept shown above went from a photo in the office to a live asset within hours. “As you can imagine,” says Peters, “it backfired and needed to be pulled not long into the sale. But those are creative risks you need to take to make an impact.”
Are those kinds of creative risks worth it? Absolutely. Koala is Australia’s fastest-growing furniture company with a rapidly expanding international strategy.
Launched in Nov. 2015, Koala went from zero to $13 million their first year and have grown more than 180% YoY since.
4. Blackout on Black Friday: Gymshark
Speaking of risks, the content Gymshark normally splashes across its on and off-site properties are famously bright and inviting.
That aesthetic is an expression of the brand itself and has helped them develop into a $128 million global brand:
On Black Friday, all that changes.
“Everything turns dark and black,” says Noel Mack, Gymshark’s Brand Director. “Models wear black on black clothing and we’ll even post completely blank black images on Instagram with no caption to intrigue our consumer. It’s a real departure from our usual content.”
More than just an aesthetic departure, the campaign’s creative process is also a departure. Rather than start with a single hero image and build outward, the team first decides which platforms and formats would best tell the story. Only then do they engineer content specifically designed to fit.
“We consider ourselves a real forward-thinking brand and want to continually push the boundaries of what’s possible,” Mack says. “We often toss out the rulebook with stuff like this and it can really pay off.”
Pay off it did …
That campaign generated a 9.3X ROI and helped Gymshark grow its YoY holiday revenue 197%.
5. Stay On Brand, Even Off Season: 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.
ThighberMonday is Chubbies Shorts’ annual gift-giving extravaganza. In true Chubbies style, the event dates back to a “normal brainstorm about what to call Cyber Monday.”
Last year, they pre-gamed on Facebook, to the tune of over 150,000 views:
They shared the news on Instagram (without a product image or promotion code), and they kept the momentum going all through Cyber Monday:
You: Man, I wish there was some kind of #ThighberMonday sherpa to help guide me through the greatest free gifting day of the year, retweet all my funny Thighber tweets, and just generally make me laugh throughout the day.— Chubbies (@Chubbies) November 27, 2017
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.
6. Launch More Campaigns, Faster: Velour Lashes
In 2017, Velour Lashes kicked off an epic “12 Days of Christmas” campaign that mixed and matched limited-edition products, BOGO offers, special discounts, and reward-program incentives.
Each day — at midnight — their site and holiday marketing were updated to reflect a different offering.
Best of all, they did all of that while eliminating the 90 or so hours the Velour Lashes team estimates they normally would have spent on a campaign that size. And without staying up until midnight once.
With Launchpad, Fuel Made preloaded each of the 12 sales events to automatically:
- Launch storefront theme changes
- Unpublish the previous day’s campaign
- Immediately update with a new theme for the next
- Publish Scripts for discounts and free gifts for each event
- Unleash discount codes when required and deactivate them
The agency managed the theme set-up and pre-scheduling work, but Velour Lashes could go into Launchpad to preview and edit the promotional text before sales events:
Since Launchpad is so easy to use, the Velour Lashes team is comfortable with re-purposing the best of last year’s themes to pre-schedule sales events on their own for the 2018 holiday season.
“Creating and pre-scheduling all of the themes ahead of time to be published via Launchpad saves us a lot of time, stress, and setup costs. The themes for each event can also be reviewed by the client before the day’s sale launches to ensure everything looks and functions as it should,” says Rick Murt, Web Developer at Fuel Made.
7. Make It Easy, Urgent & Relevant: Pura Vida
As such, expectations were high for Pura Vida’s Black Friday Cyber Monday event … and they did not disappoint.
“Black Friday Cyber Monday is the craziest time of the year for ecommerce brands,” says Griffin Thall, CEO at Pura Vida. “Our goal is to offer the best deal on the internet to convert our traffic as high as possible.
“We offer 50% off sitewide + free shipping on all orders, with no minimum purchase. All of our messaging on site mentions the deal in multiple locations: homepage, header, footer, PDP, collection, cart, checkout, etc. How can you pass up a deal that good?”
On top of that, they leaned hard on urgency and scarcity through not one but two countdown clocks on their checkout page:
Next, 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
“Also, it’s super important to make sure that your reps and brand ambassadors are promoting your deal. We get our top influencers to advertise our deal to their followers to even further our reach.”
This tactic is so crucial, it deserves its own holiday ecommerce strategy …
8. Enlist Your Most-Loyal Fans: iHeartRaves
From a $100 personal investment, Brian Lim grew a single, category-creating idea into a Shark-Tank-backed, multi-brand phenomenon. His company, The Emazing Group, hosts three storefronts on Shopify Plus: EmazingLights, iHeartRaves, and INTO THE AM.
Central to its success has always been each brand’s deep connection to the culture it serves. “I feel I’m actually making a difference in the world,” Lim says. “To effect this many lives so positively, I can’t imagine doing anything I’m more passionate about.”
At iHeartRaves, part of that connection is built around what they call the Unicorn Crew, who attend festivals together, wear matching iHeartRaves outfits, and give “our customers the opportunity to make an impact by spreading the positivity behind our lifestyle.”
During the holidays, that normally on-the-ground army … goes digital.
“We emailed our previous Unicorn Crew members, people who have applied, as well as top customers and asked them to post about our Black Friday sale on Wednesday when we launched,” Lim told me.
“If they sent us a screenshot of an Insta Story or feed post, we sent them a coupon code they could use anytime in 2018 for one-time 20% off.
“Since they are also our customers, most of them posted and bought something for themselves since it was a way to get them personally involved with the sale. Win-win.”
Of the over 4,000 dedicated customers iHeartRaves reached out to, about 1,000 emailed back and participated by sharing the message organically.
It’s the kind of by-your-audience, to-your-audience, for-your-audience marketing that money just can’t buy.
‼️‼️ There’s still a couple of hours left to take advantage of the biggest sale of the year!! ‼️‼️➡️➡️ iHeartRaves is having an epic Cyber Monday sale. Their Blowout Markdown section has hundreds of items up to 90% plus an additional 30% off everything with the code CYBER30 at checkout. 😱😱And they're giving away $10 gift cards for every $100 you spend. Head to iHeartRaves.com to check it out!! 😍😍😱🦄🌈🔥😭🙏🏻😈 . . . #ihrstyled #iheartraves #iheartravesunicorns #festivalfashion #cybermonday #sale #huge #savings #rave #ravebabe #ravebooty #edmbabe #edmgirl #hottestofedm #edmstyle #ravestyle #sparkles #ladyravepool #goldrushfestival #dontmissout
“We also doubled our regular number of social posts during the sale,” Lim says, “and used viral content to promote our sales so the posts didn’t get buried.”
9. Set Delivery Expectations Upfront: Dormify
Frustrated by lack of decor options, in 2012 mother-daughter team Amanda Zuckerman and Karen Zuckerman 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.
One of their stops last year was on an episode of the Shopify Plus podcast miniseries, Hacking the Holidays, where former 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.
To do that, Dormify implemented a split cart functionality that clearly shows products eligible for 24-48 hour shipping versus anything else that ships separately.
Equally important, Dormify also uses Shopify Scripts to set free-shipping spending thresholds to increase AOV while maintaining margins: “You’re $55 away from Free Shipping.”
For more on Dormify’s use of automation during high-volume seasons, take a look at their case study on back-to-school marketing.
10. Unite Simplicity and Speed: SweetLegs
Earlier this week, we shared the story of Gymshark’s 2015 brush with near Black Friday death. Another multi-million dollar fashion brand, SweetLegs, went through an almost identical experience in 2016, costing it an estimated six-figures in lost sales.
“We tried everything,” explains CEO and Creative Director Chris Pafiolis explains: “to keep our prized WooCommerce store up and running, including $6,000 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.”
For three years Pafiolis had been a self-described “skeptic” of Shopify Plus. But with holiday ecommerce bearing down, and the thought of another disaster looming …
SweetLegs decided to replatform a mere 21 days before Black Friday.
“On October 16th,” says Pafiolis, “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!”
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.
11. Increase AOV via Spending Thresholds: Brooklinen
It’s well known that traffic, clickthrough rates, and cost-per-click all peak during holiday ecommerce. Acquisition soars, but so do acquisition costs.
What matters isn’t just getting visitors onsite … but converting them and maximizing each purchase.
“We did some extensive testing on our Black Friday deal structure,” says Rich Fulop, CEO of Brooklinen, “in order to optimize AOV and CVR to ensure we ended up on target. This meant testing dollar-based deals vs %-based deals at different levels in order to find the winning combination to maximize ROI.
The outcome of that testing, last Cyber Monday, was a tiered strategy to drive conversions to 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 its holiday event also using spending thresholds:
It’s a strategy called “optimizing closest to the money.”
In the case of Brooklinen, that free gift was only the start. They also set up three discount “thresholds”:
- Spend $250 amount and get $50 off
- Spend $500 amount and get $100 off
- Spend $800 amount and get $200 off
With Shopify Scripts, all this takes place at the cart level automatically:
12. 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 …
Holiday ecommerce product collections are nothing new. Plenty of businesses 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:
Visitors could browse the products and even see the discounts (some as low as one-third their original price). 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:
Ric Kostick, CEO of 100% Pure explains:
“The threshold is a very important factor in giving access to the discounted offers page. This helps you offset the shipping and handling for the offers, assuming you aren’t charging for those or are subsidizing them.
“Having something unlock on a daily basis also can help drive incremental sales. So for example, we did 12 days of giving and had a new offer every day. This kept things exciting and our customers coming back daily.”
On that note …
13. Vary Holiday Sales, Rapidly: Frankies Bikinis
Amidst all the frenzy of holiday ecommerce, the last thing an audience is willing to put up with is being bored. The antidote?
“Don’t rely on just one sale,” says Brittney Bowles, Director of Marketing and Ecommerce at Frankies Bikinis. And of all the companies on our list, Frankies should know.
“We reinvent our sales multiple times during our two week Black Friday Cyber Monday promotion to encourage customers to come back every day. We also make sure they’re well informed about the sale well before it even starts with website banners, email blasts, and social promotions all generating hype.”
Some of the sales strategies Bowles recommends are:
- VIP only
- Early access
- Dropping new styles
- Remerchandising collections
- Ramping up from 40% off to 60% off
It’s an approach Frankies Bikinis takes year-round and has fueled the company’s 400% YoY growth.
That kind of rapid variation can be taxing unless you’re wielding a secret advantage …
“This is why Launchpad is our savior,” Bowles explains. “It’s able to help us organize multiple campaigns easily. We schedule everything during normal business hours, and Launchpad does all of the work for us automatically.”
Also critical is customer support. “Go big on support,” stresses Bowles. “While most people are on vacation for Thanksgiving we ramped up our support teams making sure there were chat agents available 8 am to midnight every day. We also made sure all inquiries on social channels were responded to within the hour.”
Automation frees you and your team to focus on high-value tasks like support. Or, you could always go enjoy the festivities yourself:
🎩 Hats off to the @ShopifyPlus team. LaunchPad, Flow, and Scripts made our early Black Friday Launch completely automated so my #ecommerce clients and I can go back to our family and shopping instead of panicking last minute! @ShopifyPartners @tobi— Joseph Hsieh (@webjoe) November 24, 2017
14. Go Native 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 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 … [is] 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.’”
Naturally, ORO LA’s holiday 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 as native as possible.
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 the holiday season even hit.
15. Give, Give, Give: Thursday Boot
Our last lesson may be the most surprising of all.
“Since launch,” Nolan Walsh, co-founder of Thursday Boots Company, told Hacking the Holidays, “we’ve never done a sale or discount.”
Even in the best of ecommerce times, that sounds crazy. During the holidays … 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.”
What do you do during Black Friday Cyber Monday 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.
Holiday Ecommerce: 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 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 feel overwhelmed by.
We’re grateful to be a part of so many companies grow bigger, faster.
Breaking $1 billion though? That’s just the start of what’s coming.