Last updated: September 29, 2020 at 11:50 am EST
This year’s Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) will be unlike any other. Fears around COVID-19 and subsequent retail closures have shifted consumer spending online and away from brick-and-mortar—a shift we believe will continue well into the holiday season and beyond.
As more shoppers rush online to make their BFCM purchases, inventory and shipping constraints will present challenges for retailers of all sizes, but especially for independent businesses.
If you want to make the most of this year’s biggest shopping event, it’s critical that you start planning as early as possible. Despite an atypical climate, BFCM is still a tremendous opportunity for your business to end the year strong, whatever that looks like for you.
A checklist to prepare for Black Friday Cyber Monday
With an unsettled economic climate, supply chain shortages, and shifting consumer behavior, navigating Black Friday Cyber Monday may feel particularly stressful this year.
During this and every BFCM, Shopify is here to help your business achieve whatever results represent your personal best. There are always new milestones to reach regardless of where you are on your business journey. To help you achieve yours, we’re overhauling our annual BFCM Toolbox and checklist—resources built to address the biggest opportunities and thorniest issues you’ll encounter this year.
Following this checklist can help you hit the ground running and avoid last-minute scrambles. And throughout the rest of the year, we’ll ship new products and features and share advice on how to make this holiday shopping season your best yet.
Here’s our recommended checklist for getting your store ready for Black Friday Cyber Monday.
⏳ Planning: Start early and prepare for a longer season
1. Prepare for a busier Cyber Monday
Unsurprisingly, this year’s biggest shopping weekend will be dominated by online shopping.
With fewer door-buster deals on the horizon, it’s likely that online sales will start early and extend beyond the weekend. In a survey by Shopkick, 34% of U.S. shoppers indicated that they would make their holiday purchases before Thanksgiving.
What’s more, over two dozen major retailers have signed on for a brand new holiday shopping event—10.10, happening October 10—that pulls holiday shopping into October to lighten the burden on retailers come November.
34% of U.S. shoppers indicated they would make their holiday purchases before Thanksgiving.
With shoppers trading time spent standing in line for time spent researching deals online, make sure you’re communicating your offers as early as possible—and extending them beyond BFCM if financially (and operationally) feasible.
2. Test and ensure your website can handle a surge in traffic
Surges in web traffic sometimes come bundled with a stressful downside: they can cause your website to crash. But if your store is on Shopify, you’re in luck: we’ve invested a lot of time to ensure our servers can handle huge spikes in sessions and sales, specifically for events like BFCM.
You also can test the server load capacity of your store with tools like k6 Cloud, or check and fine tune your store with Shopify’s online store speed report. We run speed tests for your home page and highest-traffic collection and product pages, then combine each page’s Google Lighthouse speed score into an overall score. Plus, you’ll get a sense of how your store’s speed compares to similar businesses.
3. Double-down on your top sales channels
Every business is becoming an online business, so this is the year you’ll want to reap the benefits of multichannel selling. If you’re already selling on multiple channels, identify which have been most lucrative for your business and double-down during the holiday season. If you’re new to multi-channel selling, then explore some of the following online sales channels:
All sales channels connect with the core of your Shopify business, so you can easily keep track of orders, products, and customers across all platforms.
💡TIP: Some sales channels have a longer lead time for optimal performance. For example, if you’re exploring the Google channel, we recommend installing and setting it up as early as possible. Google's algorithm takes about 15 days to learn about your online store, and to optimize performance so that your products are shown to the right shoppers.
4. Keep an eye on the competition
Paying attention to your competition’s marketing efforts can help you gather ideas for your own Black Friday Cyber Monday deals. The easiest way to keep tabs on your competitors is to subscribe to their email list and to study the campaigns they're testing. But remember, don’t be “too inspired.”
Additionally, keep tabs on competitors on social media and set up Google Alerts to see which websites are talking about them.
5. Create contingency plans
Being prepared means routinely asking yourself uncomfortable questions and preparing for the worst. Do you have the proper backups in place in case anything goes awry? What happens if the shipping company you work with becomes too busy? Or if your inventory doesn’t arrive when it’s supposed to? How quickly can you adjust your product plan?
We're not looking to stir up unfounded fears, but it's important to prepare for tough situations. And considering the well-documented shipping delays experienced during the pandemic, along with the announcements already made by shipping providers, preparing for delays is necessary.
Think about the worst-case scenarios for your business and create contingency plans wherever possible. It’s much easier to handle the planning now, versus troubleshooting in the midst of the biggest sales weekend of the year.
📦 Products: Prepare for an uptick in demand
6. Make inventory decisions early
Picking the products you want to promote for BFCM should be done as early as possible, especially if you rely on suppliers to source or manufacture that inventory. Suppliers have been operating above capacity since the pandemic started and need plenty of leeway to get your products ready.
In terms of choosing which products to order, there are many different ways to forecast demand and identify what merchandise you’ll want to re-up for BFCM. If you’re on Shopify, one place to start is with Shopify Reports. Use the Sales by Product report, filtered by last year’s BFCM dates, to see which products typically sell well during the BFCM season in particular.
ABC analysis can also help you identify your best and worst performing products. A-grade products are your money makers and represent the specific products that make up 80% of your revenue, whereas C-grade products are your dead stock and represent the specific products that make up only 5% of your revenue. BFCM presents a great opportunity to drive revenue by featuring A-grade products in your campaign with modest discounts, as well as an opportunity to sell off dead stock and free up shelf space.
7. Consider pandemic product trends
You always want to highlight your best-sellers during BFCM, but this year, it’d be wise to also consider products that have seen an uptick in demand since the pandemic. In one of our surveys, we found that 38% of Shopify merchants are introducing new products this BFCM.
That doesn’t mean you have to pivot your business last-minute, but if you’re already selling some of this merchandise, it’s worth considering upping your inventory. According to our internal Shopify data, the top trending product categories since lockdown in March are:
- Indoor and outdoor furniture
- Home office equipment and accessories
- Board games and puzzles
- Exercise equipment
- Self-care and beauty products
- Leisure wear
Shopify research shows 38% of business owners are introducing new products this BFCM.
8. Sell gift cards
Since you need to commit to inventory in advance, check in with your suppliers early and ensure they’re prepared to handle your projected sales for the holiday season. One of the worst things that can happen during a sale is selling out faster than you wanted to and not meeting the demand of your customers.
A great solution? Gift cards. They capture sales that would otherwise be lost to sold-out items, while giving you time (and money) to restock before the cards are redeemed after the holiday season.
9. Organize your upcoming sales
Look at all of your products and plan your deals and discounts ahead of time instead of putting on a sale last minute. Review your margins and inventory to find suitable discounts, and learn how to set up different discounts on Shopify.
One idea is to create a “planned sales map” in Google Sheets or Excel, giving you a simple outline of all your upcoming sales. Here’s a pre-made Google Sheets template you can use to plan your sales this year. Just go to File > Make a copy to save it to your Drive, or File > Download if you want to use desktop spreadsheet software like Excel.
Choose the products you want to run a holiday sale on and schedule their start dates and sale prices. This way, when the holiday sale rolls around, you can refer to your plans instead of scrambling at the last minute. You can find help in the Shopify App Store to make scheduling sales easy.
When you’re ready to implement your sales, make sure to leverage Shareable Discount Links to make redeeming your offer codes even easier for your customers—and boost your conversions while you’re at it. Learn more about all of the different types of discounts you can set up in Shopify.
And while it’s relatively simple to announce a Black Friday Cyber Monday sale, building suspense and buzz is often what turns a campaign into an outsized success.
Entice your customers with emails of what’s to come, post sneak peeks of upcoming sales on social media, and start piquing the curiosity of your customers. The sooner you begin doing this, the more momentum you'll have during Black Friday Cyber Monday when you finally announce the sale.
10. Optimize your order and fulfillment workflows
A high volume of sales in a short period of time can make it more difficult to fulfill and get orders to customers quickly. Here are some ways you can optimize your fulfillment workflows for BFCM:
Organize your fulfillment area. Whether you are using a warehouse or your basement to fulfill orders, you want to make sure your most popular products are accessible for quicker picking and packing.
Hire additional fulfillment staff. You will likely get an influx of orders over the BFCM period, so it might be worth getting some friends or hiring additional staff to help you fulfill and ship orders to customers more quickly.
Over-communicate. Communicating clearly and regularly with your fulfillment and local delivery staff can help avoid errors and save you time in the long run. If you’re a Shopify merchant, use Orders Timeline in your admin with specific instructions to your staff.
Prioritize and organize your orders. Plan in advance how you want to prioritize your orders and group orders by a common need, so they can be processed more quickly. Some common ways to organize and group orders, include:
- Customer Priority. Organize orders by customer priority and fulfill these orders first, so you can show appreciation to your most loyal customers.
- Shipping requirements. Organize orders by shipping priority, so customers who paid for expedited shipping get their orders first. You can also organize by delivery method, so products fulfilled by local delivery or a given shipping provider are grouped and fulfilled all at once.
- Product Type. Different products require different picking and packaging requirements. Group your orders by product type, so you can optimize the time it takes to pick and pack and order.
📣 Marketing: Ready your campaigns and creative
11. Craft an irresistible BFCM offer
A strategy many retailers use is to run a “jaw-dropping” sale on a popular item to attract customers to their store. Once customers are there for the deep discount, there’s a chance they’ll pick up other items on their way to the checkout. Occasionally, this product serves as a loss leader, with the difference being made up by customers adding more to their cart than they would have without the flagship product’s deep discount.
What can’t-miss sale will draw people to your store? If you’re sending an email to your subscribers, consider focusing on the one sale product you feel is the most enticing, instead of promoting all of your Black Friday Cyber Monday sales at the same time.
Promotional messages flood everyone's inbox during BFCM. With all of this noise, finding ways to stand out is crucial.
Alternatively, if loss leader pricing doesn’t make sense for you, you can try out a number of other promotional ideas, such as:
- Offering a product bundle
- Gamifying your offers (e.g. spin-to-win discounts)
- Creating daily deals that are available for a limited time
Once you’ve attracted new visitors to your store, employ a few proven approaches to boost your average order value, like offering free shipping on all orders 5-10% greater than your average order amount, or offering seasonal bundles. That way, you’ll nudge people to add more to their cart beyond just the initial offer that convinced them to visit your store.
12. Create banners and hero images to advertise holiday sales
What better way to promote your holiday sales than with gorgeous graphics and visuals? Whether you’re planning to use banner ads to promote your holiday sales or changing the header/hero image on your homepage for Black Friday Cyber Monday, you don’t need to be a graphic designer to get things done.
13. Retarget past visitors and customers
If you’ve already set up a Facebook Pixel on your store, now’s the time to use it. When you retarget previous visitors, you’ll reach people who may have forgotten about your store and wouldn’t have checked out your sale otherwise.
Exclusive to Shopify merchants, Kit is a free virtual assistant app that helps you run Facebook and Instagram ads—including retargeting. If you’ve not had a chance to meet Kit, now is a great time to try it to take some marketing work off your plate.
You can also retarget customers that have purchased from your store. With existing customers being generally easier to reach and market to than brand new customers, shoppers you’ve already sold to in the past should be especially receptive to your latest Black Friday Cyber Monday sales.
14. Start your email marketing campaigns early
During last year’s BFCM, Shopify merchants saw their highest conversion rates from email marketing.
Every business owner should have a few email marketing campaigns planned to bring customers back to your website so they can act on your holiday sale offers. And since Shopify Email lives alongside all your other marketing campaigns within Shopify Marketing in the admin, it’s easy to manage your efforts across channels from a single place. The kicker? With Shopify Email, you can schedule your emails and campaigns in advance, saving you much-needed time.
Begin planning, creating, and scheduling emails long before Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales start. Here are some tips for a winning BFCM email marketing strategy:
- Build suspense and buzz around your upcoming sale. Place email collection fields and sign-up popups in various pages on your store to ensure you can email shoppers that visit your site but aren’t ready to purchase. Make sure the emails you collect are high quality and that you have consent from customers to send promotional emails.
- Send “warm-up” emails in the weeks leading up to BFCM with hints and teasers. Whether your BFCM offer is a discount, an exclusive product, free shipping, donations to charity, or a totally-unique-to-you promotion, start teasing it early to your subscribers so they’re on the lookout for the announcement. This includes sending exclusive offers to various customer segments, like your VIP customers. By sending emails early, service providers are less likely to treat your email as spam.
- Thank your customers when your sale ends. A follow up email to keep your subscribers warm and to thank them for shopping is always a nice touch. Keep in mind, purchasers will be getting order-related emails in the days following BFCM, so don’t over-communicate. Aim to have an automated thank you email set up 5-7 days after BFCM is over.
- Create abandoned cart emails. Before BFCM, ensure you are emailing visitors who abandon their carts. This will happen at a higher volume on BFCM, and an automatically triggered email will help capture some of those abandoned conversions. Find out how to get this set up.
To that last point, data from Barilliance indicates that the average cart abandonment rate on Black Friday 2019 in the US was 82%. Of course, you’ll want to try and keep that number as low as possible. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by setting up targeted abandoned cart emails. This way, when a customer adds a product to their cart but leaves your store, you can use a compelling email to bring them back to complete their purchase.
15. Leverage your best advertising channels
Crafting a brilliant promotion is half the battle; the other half is making sure potential buyers hear about it. That means announcing it across all of your channels to reach your target audience and paying for advertising to maximize your reach.
82% of Shopify merchants are planning to market their BFCM promotion through Facebook and Instagram this year.
What channels you decide to use will depend on your business, but according to a Shopify survey, 82% of our merchants are planning to market their BFCM promotion through Facebook and Instagram this year.
Just remember that bids can get more expensive during the competitive holiday season depending on your niche. You may need to increase your bid price on specific keywords or for certain audiences to increase the visibility of your ads during big holiday sales. If you plan to do paid advertising, it’s a good idea to prepare your holiday sale ad budgets as well.
If you need help planning your ads, here are some resources from our blog:
- The Beginner's Guide to Advertising on Instagram
- Facebook Ads: The Beginner's Guide to the Facebook Pixel
- The Google Ads Playbook: 13 Effective Campaign Types
💌 Customers: Drive repeat purchases and lasting loyalty
16. Reward loyal customers
Black Friday Cyber Monday is an opportune time to build relationships with your previous customers and get them to come back.
Customer marketing is an opportunity to email and retarget your previous customers with your best deals. Give existing customers the chance to access a sale earlier or offer exclusive sales just for being a subscriber on your email list. Exclusive deals also act as an incentive for shoppers to leave their email before potentially leaving your site.
17. Integrate live chat
It should be easy for your customers (and potential customers) to reach you during Black Friday Cyber Monday. The last thing you want is to lose a sale because a potential customer couldn’t get an answer quickly enough. Check out Shopify Chat, our first native live chat function or visit our app store for more options.
If you’re not ready or able to commit to having live chat staffed and monitored at all times, there are still ways to use live chat strategically as a small business. To get the most out of live chat during rush hour, consider enabling it:
- Right after sending emails or launching promotions, and make sure you’re available when you know there will be people clicking through from their inbox
- On product pages you feature in your BFCM deals, to address any questions customers have before they buy
- During key purchasing moments, like when someone is viewing their shopping cart
Customers who chat with a brand convert three times more often and have a 10%-15% higher average cart value.
Your live chat tool should be able to give you the control you need to make sure you’re displaying the chat window to the right people, at the times that work best for you. If you already use another app or social media tool to engage and support customers, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, Shopify now offers an easy way to create and share cart links with those customers at the right time.
18. Ensure you provide prompt and personal support
The holidays are a potentially hectic time for customer support, whether it’s managed by you or your team. Part of providing a fantastic experience is having a quick response time—the other part is being courteous and respectful of all of your customers.
Having a few standard phrases and replies already prepared will enable you to deliver more consistent, helpful service with minimal upfront effort. In particular, prepare for these common points of frustration:
- A customer's order is lost or delayed
- A customer in unsatisfied with their purchase
- A customer's package or product arrives damaged
It’s also worth brushing up on how to handle upset customers effectively and empathetically, and what makes for genuinely delightful customer service—getting this information out of your head and written down somewhere makes it easy to share it with your team or any extra help you’ve hired for the holiday rush.
Be memorable this year and customers will remember to come back next year.
19. Offer easy and hassle-free returns
The holidays aren’t just stressful for business owners; they’re also a frantic time for shoppers. Be the business that cares and goes above and beyond the call of duty for their customers.
Make sure your return policy is clear, fair, and well-communicated on your store, and offer refunds where feasible. It might just convince on-the-fence customers to pull the trigger, since you're showing confidence in your product and removing potential risk.
💡TIP:If you’re a Shopify merchant use order editing to accommodate customer requests or changes prior to shipping the order. Enabling order editing will help you avoid unnecessary returns and additional shipping costs.
📊 Performance: Track everything and optimize for speed
20. Think mobile first
Last year, Shopify stores saw more mobile purchases than desktop purchases across all of BFCM for the third year in a row. We should expect this trend to continue. What this means for you as a store owner is that thinking mobile first is essential.
What's your store’s user experience like on mobile? Is it easy and intuitive to make purchases on your store? Is your website mobile responsive? All of Shopify’s themes are responsive and mobile-friendly, but if you’re not using Shopify, test how your store looks on a mobile device.
In 2019, 69% of sales on Shopify were made on phones or tablets, while just 31% occurred on desktops.
21. Assess your checkout experience
While you’re looking at your store on mobile, make sure to examine your checkout process as well. Especially on mobile, filling in every field required to check out can be a conversion killer, which is why options like Shop Pay and Google Pay can provide an added boost to your mobile conversions this year if you’re using Shopify Payments. They let customers autofill saved information, reducing the keystrokes or clicks required to make a purchase.
💡TIP: Shop Pay increases conversion and checkout speeds. Our survey found that Shop Pay increases checkout speed by 4x, and that’s not all. Checkouts going through Shop Pay have an average checkout-to-order rate of 1.72x times higher than those going through regular checkouts.
22. Test your site and get feedback
What if you could mirror the experience of a potential customer as they navigate your store for the first time? There could be issues you don't notice or areas of your store where you can make simple improvements—a fresh pair of eyes is the perfect way to surface these otherwise hidden opportunities.
There are many ways to get someone to go through your store and give you feedback, but one great option is UserTesting. UserTesting lets you set parameters about who you’d like to test your store. Then you can watch a random user fitting that description browse your website so you can listen to their feedback. If you're a Shopify merchant, consider hiring an Expert to give you feedback.
Knowledge is power and understanding how your customers shop in your online store is crucial knowledge.
It's important to note that while feedback is valuable, you shouldn’t make unconsidered changes to your store based on a single source of negative feedback. Instead, look for common snags or areas where visitors are frequently confused or frustrated, and brainstorm solutions to make things easier or more explicit, or ways to remove the hurdle altogether.
23. Set up Google Analytics
Knowledge is power and understanding how your customers shop in your online store is crucial knowledge. Using Google Analytics, a powerful and free traffic tracking tool will allow you to understand your shoppers even more. If you’re not set up with Google Analytics on your store, or you just want to ensure you’re using it correctly, check out our guide to Google Analytics. If this is still too overwhelming, consider hiring a Shopify Expert to help get you set up.
24. Get familiar with your Shopify Reports
There’s a lot you can learn from your Shopify analytics, including tracking how your marketing efforts are converting to visits and sales. Since marketing is such a fundamental part of BFCM, make sure to brush up on how you can track, measure, and improve your marketing campaigns directly in Shopify with Marketing Analytics.
25. Set up heatmaps and other tools to understand user behavior
Where are visitors clicking? How do customers read your product pages? While Shopify’s Analytics tools are powerful enough for most businesses, you might want to consider using additional user-tracking tools to gather detailed data during Black Friday Cyber Monday.
💡 Post BFCM: Retention and reflection
26. Turn seasonal shoppers into year-round customers
Why does your relationship with holiday shoppers need to end after the holidays? Instead, take steps to maintain and nurture your relationship with new customers you acquired during Black Friday Cyber Monday.
Keep your customers engaged year-round by staying active on social media and sending out post-sale emails to your subscribers. If those seasonal, one-time shoppers didn’t sign up to your email list or follow your social media accounts, then retargeting might be your next best option.
If you set up retargeting pixels, one-time shoppers can become customers you advertise to year-round. Bring them back to your website with enticing ad copy, and continue to expose them to your latest or most-relevant products.
27. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t
BFCM and the holiday season is an excellent time for your business to learn from its mistakes as well as its successes. The lessons you learn have their own distinct value outside of revenue earned. That’s why it’s important to track everything and reflect on what worked and what didn’t.
As you implement new strategies and tactics this year, make sure to take notes (and screenshots) to document your decisions and the outcomes. These records will give you a benchmark for next year’s holiday season, while also allowing you to see what’s working for your business so you can do more of it.
Here's to a successful Black Friday Cyber Monday
Preparation, planning, and starting earlier rather than later are the keys to a successful Black Friday Cyber Monday. This checklist should cover most of what you need to know for this year’s upcoming sale events. Hopefully, it puts you in a better position to succeed during this holiday season.
If this is your first Black Friday Cyber Monday, treat it as a learning experience. Stay motivated and ambitious, set realistic expectations, and remember to enjoy the ride.
Thank you to Corey Ferreira, Desirae Odjick, Shuang Esther Shan, and Emily Manley for their contributions to this post!
Illustrations by Isabella Fassler
Get a copy of our 27-point BFCM checklist
Print it out or keep this checklist handy as you prepare for BFCM 2020. It's filled with tips, tools, and resources to help you sell your best this year.