Holiday Ecommerce: 10 Marketing Strategies from +$1.5B in Online Sales

Holiday Ecommerce: 10 Marketing Strategies from +$1.5B in Online Sales

The writing was on the wall. Then, the headlines. 2018’s holiday ecommerce sales demolished all records to date.

  • $3.7 billion on Thanksgiving
  • $6.2 billion on Black Friday
  • $7.9 billion on Cyber Monday

Not to be outdone, businesses on Shopify did a bit of record-breaking as well: over $1.5 billion in GMV (total sales) during the four-day holiday. At their peak, that meant 10,978 orders per minute and $37 million sales per hour — 60.9% more than 2017’s $23 million sales per hour.

Shopify’s 2018 Black Friday Cyber Monday big picture

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) …

10 of the best holiday ecommerce strategies from 2018’s heaviest holiday hitters:
  1. Launch Flash After Flash After Flash: Fashion Nova
  2. Simplify Your Channels and Checkout: Pura Vida
  3. Increase Conversions with Free Gifts: Muscle Nation
  4. Jumpstart Sales with Exclusive Deals: inkbox
  5. Unlock Special Offers Based on Spend: 100% Pure
  6. Put Customers First, At All Costs: Planet of the Vapes
  7. Test Spend Thresholds to Maximize ROI: Brooklinen
  8. Harness Customer FOMO for Releases: Kylie Cosmetics
  9. Go Big or Go O2O and Hyper-Local: UNTUCKit
  10. Email, Email, Email (But Customize): Sand Cloud

Keep reading to discover the best holiday ecommerce strategies of 2018. But if you’d like to go behind-the-scenes for comprehensive data collected from over 50 high-growth brands …

1. Launch Flash After Flash After Flash: Fashion Nova

Last year, Fashion Nova was the fourth most Googled fashion brand in the world, beating out household names like Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Christian Dior.

But that honor pales in comparison to being the world’s fastest-growing fashion brand in history.

What do you do for the holidays when you’re already at the top of the game? You kick things off with the biggest online flash sale in history:

On Nov. 15, Fashion Nova dropped its latest collection with rapper and social-media powerhouse Cardi B … to the tune of $10.8 million in just three hours.

In true Fashion Nova style, the event was accompanied by an IRL fashion show broadcast on social:

Fashion Nova x Cardi B Is Now LIVE! | FASHION NOVA


Posted by Fashion Nova on Wednesday, November 14, 2018

But that wasn’t all the brand had planned.

In the week after Cardi B’s drop, Fashion Nova pre-gamed its epic Black Friday sale with relentless consistency. On Instagram, it posted what was essentially the same announcement seven times in different formats from the 21st to the 23rd and multiple times thereafter:

Fashion Nova Black Friday on Instagram

Once it went live, every link, click, and swipe lead to the same shimmering deal:

On Cyber Monday, Fashion Nova took the same approach, blanketing social media with a single refrain: up to 90% off all with a single discount code:

Fashion Nova Cyber Monday on Instagram

That same bigger-and-better offer was driven home onsite:

Two lessons stand out:

  1. Major sales are not for the faint of heart. Fashion Nova’s enduring success comes from its commitment to being over-the-top in every sense of the phrase.
  2. At the risk of being self-serving — if you were wondering about Shopify Plus’ ability to scale … wonder no more. All three flash sales went off without a hitch.

2. Simplify Your Channels and Checkout: Pura Vida

Pura Vida Bracelets is no stranger to top 10 lists. With one of the most advanced tech stacks in ecommerce and founders on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, the company’s growth has exploded since it launched in 2011 and replatformed to Shopify Plus shortly thereafter:

  • 200% YoY growth rate in 2017
  • 210% YoY growth rate in 2018
  • 1,447% growth rate over the past five years

For the holidays, they kept their strategy deceptively simple starting with their email marketing:

Pura Vida holiday ecommerce emails

That same simplicity was retained onsite. Pura Vida stripped its layout down to roughly half its usual size:

Pura Vida simplified its holiday ecommerce homepage

However, what makes Pura Vida’s holiday ecommerce strategy stand out is its simplified approach to multi-channel marketing.

To start, they kicked off the sale not only through email but through Messenger and SMS as well:

Pura Vida’s Black Friday Cyber Monday sales via SMS

On top of their over 110,000 Instagram micro-influencers, a handful of mega-influencer campaigns also launched throughout the week:

Pura Vida’s Black Friday Cyber Monday influencer campaigns

The Charly Jordan Pack (middle panels above and full image below) sold out in large part due to Jordan’s “Swipe Up to Shop” Instagram Stories — created in conjunction with Pura Vida — that led directly to the product

Swipe up to product to purchase to sold out. Again, simplicity at work.

Still, all that pales in comparison to their cart’s simplicity. Notice four things in particular:

  1. Three separate countdown timers
  2. Two in-cart upsells for “Mystery” items
  3. Automatic discounts for price and shipping
  4. Accelerated checkout options for PayPal and AmazonPay

Here’s what that checkout and cart flow looked like:

Pura Vida generated 350,000 orders during its BFCM event, a third of which included a “Mystery” item as in-cart upsell.

“Last week has been our biggest ever,” says Griffin Thall, Pura Vida Bracelets’ CEO. “By the time we turned off the sale at 6 a.m. Wednesday, all our marketing and optimization efforts added up to 120% year-over-year growth compared to Black Friday Cyber Monday in 2017.”

That increase in sales was powered by holiday conversion rates that were up to 3X better than the 2018 BFMC industry average:
  • Desktop: 20.18% or 3.2X the industry average
  • Tablet: 11.63% or 1.9X the industry average
  • Mobile: 6.5% or 2X the industry average
(Note: averages take from Adobe Analytics)

    3. Increase Conversions with Free Gifts: Muscle Nation

    For its “only sale of the year, Black Friday,” Muscle Nation — an Australian-based fitness clothing and accessories — created two Black Friday deals based on spending thresholds:

    • Add $150 to your cart = 15% off total cart value + Free Jug ($30 Value) + Free Shipping
    • Add $250 to your cart = 30% off total cart value + Free Bag ($70 Value) + Free Jug ($30 Value) + Free Shipping

    That might sound like a complicated deal-structure, but Muscle Nation’s partner, Stead Lane, helped the company integrate everything into its cart so customers could get the discounts and free gifts just by clicking and following the prompts.

    Customers were able to select from six different Smart Jug colors and two different styles of bags each with three color variations:

    Here’s the most interesting element: Muscle Nation’s best performing day wasn’t Black Friday nor Cyber Monday. The sale kicked off at 7 a.m. on Nov. 22, and as Nathaniel Anthony, co-owner of Muscle Nation, explains:

    “Not only did we have a 12.11% overall conversion rate for the day but during the first hour, the conversion rate was at 40.84%. People had to spend over $250 to get the best deal. At 30% off, that would have been $175. Instead, our average order value was $209, so most people actually spent more than the threshold.”

    Before Black Friday hit, Muscle Nation had done 5,000 orders within 12 hours — 90% of which came through in the first hour — and over $1.1 million AUD in sales.

    The other crazy stat was that they had 3,100 people live on their website at one time. “Shopify Plus,” says Anthony, “handled the traffic with ease and made it simple for users to check out.”

    4. Jumpstart Sales with Exclusive Deals: inkbox

    As a whole, 2018 has been a banner year for inkbox — inventors of the inkbox tattoo, “a temporary tattoo that actually looks authentic.”

    Before Black Friday Cyber Monday, the company had already notched year-over-year wins like:

    • 599.6% increase in its Instagram followers
    • 412% organic UGC reach on Instagram
    • 28% lift in repeat purchases

    At the center of its growth, lies inkfam: the community inkbox has built up around their brand across social as well as an ecommerce loyalty program with 889K rewards members and $297K in additional revenue.

    So, when the holiday hit, that’s where they started: with an early sale exclusively for inkfam members:

    inbox’s “EARLY ACCESS” posts on Instagram included native product tagging with the onsite discount (shown below) included

    On Black Friday, inkbox let lose via email, organic social, paid social, and Facebook Messenger:

    inkbox’s Black Friday sale announcement on Instagram (above) and on Messenger (below) discounted the entire site 30% with no need for coupon codes

    Then, on Cyber Monday, they kicked up the discount to 35%:

    The results? Over the holiday weekend, the company generated over $500K in sales, 1.8X what it did the previous year.

    Even more impressive, in 2018 inkbox crossed into eight-figures territory: growing 104% YoY from $5 million to over $10 million in annual sales.

    5. Unlock Special Offers Based on Spend: 100% Pure

    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.

    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 onsite as well as through their paid and organic promotions:

    Sampling of 100% Pure’s organic posts (above) and paid ads (below) all promoting their “$10 Beauty Deals”

    The real holiday magic, however — as you might have picked up from some of the earlier holiday ecommerce strategies — lay in the cart.

    Once a customer had exceeded the $45 threshold, a link to its “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 also did 12 days of giving last year and had a new offer every day. This kept things exciting and our customers coming back daily.”

    6. Put Customers First, At All Costs: Planet of the Vapes

    One week before Black Friday, Planet of the Vapes did something even more counter-intuitive than the last strategy. It launched a Black Friday & Cyber Monday Vaporizer Sale Roundup 2018.

    Right alongside its own offers …

    Which also included special “Bundle Deals” to increase AOV …

    The page contained an exhaustive list of its competitors’ offers and links to their sites …

    Why share and link to nearly 50 competitors? Because for Planet of the Vapes owner Patrick Bissen, customer service is central to everything the business does.

    As Bissen highlighted in a recent webinar with Trustpilot, the roundup is really nothing more than an extension of how they put customers first. In fact, the company’s entire user journey is permeated with their ratings and reviews to differentiate the brand on the basis of trust and quality — instead of price.

    In 2017, that approach led to:

    • 112% year-over-year growth
    • 562% increase in sales on Black Friday
    • 243% increase over Black Friday Cyber Monday

    7. Test Spend Thresholds to Maximize ROI: Brooklinen

    It’s well known that traffic, clickthrough rates, and price-per-click all peak during holiday ecommerce. Acquisition soars, but so do acquisition costs.

    What matters isn’t just getting visitors onsite and converting them, but 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 was a tiered strategy to increase average order value through spending thresholds:

    With every add-to-cart, visitors were automatically notified how far they were from the first free gift:

    In addition, the cart contained personalized upsells to nudge them toward each threshold:

    On top of all that, Brooklinen also created an interactive, three-step product selector, which it drove traffic to via paid ads and culminated in the same automatic calculation on mobile:

    8. Harness Customer FOMO for Releases: Kylie Cosmetics

    The online cosmetics industry is fierce.

    But — 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 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.

    Over the holiday ecommerce weekend, Kylie Cosmetics changed its homepage to match each new offer and release:

    On Twitter, a barrage of order screenshots followed each announcement, serving only to ramp up scarcity and fear of missing out.

    On Instagram, “Last call” posts were followed by “Back in Stock” alerts:

    And on site, rather than delist products as they continued to sell out, Kylie Cosmetics left them live and unpurchasable everywhere, from its homepage to its Holiday 2018 collection (where less than a third of the listed products were in stock):

    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. 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.

    9. Go Big or Go O2O and Hyper-Local: UNTUCKit

    As one of the fast-growing, digitally native vertical brands (DNVB) as well as commanding a full-scale omni-channel strategy that runs from online ecommerce to brick-and-mortar retail …

    UNTUCKit’s Black Friday offer wasn’t anywhere near the discounts other businesses offered. Then again, it didn’t need to be:

    In lieu of deep discounts, UNTUCKit did three things.

    One, they created an onsite Holiday Guide and embedded easy-to-shop categories for those gifts into its navigation:

    Two, it drove online shoppers in-store and in-store shoppers online by prominently displaying their store locator on their homepage as well as including a Zip Code (and other segmentation questions) in their email opt-in:

    Three — and this is perhaps the savviest O2O tactic of all — their retargeting ads not only promoted the sale in various online forms …

    It also included geographically specific ads for local stores (as one of Shopify’s token non-Canadians, this meant retargeting me in the very city where I live):

    10. Email, Email, Email (But Customize): Sand Cloud

    Given that email marketing was the number one source of high-converting traffic both in 2017 and in 2018, that’s what our last example will cover.

    Similar to others, Sand Cloud went big with their Black Friday discounts and even bigger on Cyber Monday:

    Sand Cloud’s banners bring together a host of holiday ecommerce musts: (1) a countdown timer, (2) free-shipping thresholds, and (3) subtle international touches — like a currency selector

    Here’s what made them stand out from the crowd. From Nov. 20 to Nov. 24, I received 12 separate emails, none of which contained a single piece of duplicate content:

    Even better, the emails mixed discount announcements, new products, and even personalized messages based on my onsite behavior and account activity:

    Holiday Ecommerce: Beyond the Records

    Crossing the $1 billion mark last year was a Shopify merchant milestone that can’t be overstated. Generating +50% more in GMV (revenue) this year … breathtaking.

    However, our ultimate objective at Shopify Plus isn’t simply to process more sales and transactions than our competitors or dramatically outgrow the industry. Our ultimate goal is to become the heart of a merchant’s business — to help them simplify the costly patchwork of tools and processes that cause many to feel overwhelmed.

    We’re grateful to help so many companies grow bigger, faster. Breaking $1.5 billion though? That’s just the start of even bigger records to smash in 2019.

    About the author

    Aaron Orendorff

    Previously the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus, Aaron Orendorff is the VP of Marketing at Common Thread Collective. Named by Forbes as one of the top 10 B2B content marketers, his work has appeared on Mashable, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, Inc., Success Magazine, The Next Web, Content Marketing Institute, and more.

    Check out Aaron Orendorff’s work