September 19th, 2022 | 13 MIN READ

Black Friday Checklist: How to Prep Your eCommerce Store

Written by author_profile_images Emily Kathi

Emily Kathi is a Senior Content Marketing Writer at Elastic Path. She writes about product, trends, and all things related to digital commerce.

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Black Friday Checklist: How to Prep your eCommerce Store

Black Friday is the official kickoff of the chaotic holiday season. And with heavier traffic in recent years to a digital experience, it’s key for you to prep your eCommerce store for the spike - just as any physical store preps their floor and staff for the holiday wave. Before we dive in on how to best prepare your site, let’s look at a few stats regarding the busiest shopping day of the year.

What the Numbers Tell Us

After pandemic restrictions were lifted and in-person shopping was greenlit for most of the world, the predictions gravitated towards a shift back to the physical store. However, that’s not exactly how it all played out. eCommerce shopping behavior studies show the needle would not sway dramatically back to the in-store experience. Across global markets, there are accelerated patterns towards post-pandemic shopping behaviors towards the following trends:

  • Buying online for home delivery
  • More time in research/discovery online BEFORE going to a store
  • Buying online for store pickup

Black Friday Deals Trend Earlier

Retailers are choosing to offer deals ahead of Black Friday, as shopping behavior trends shift to starting the process earlier to “beat the rush,” or perhaps get an exclusive deal. A recent poll tells us as many as 22% of shoppers start as early as October to cross items off their list, with early bird shoppers spending on average $460 more than those who wait until after Thanksgiving. If you offer the deals, your shoppers will come.

Follow the data and the demands of your customers. If the data tells you customers are looking for Black Friday deals in October, then set up a plan to have special promotions and marketing campaigns in place to support an early start. This may look like a deeply discounted 3-day early bird sale, or perhaps a special Black Friday sneak peek for loyalty customers with special pricing.

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Here is a checklist to keep top-of-mind as we enter the busiest shopping season all year long:

1. Set the Course for an Easy Checkout Process

2. Draft & Review Cart Abandonment Emails

3. Check Your Site Performance

4. Be Mobile Friendly

5. Be Promo Ready

6. Glean from Data Analytics

7. Beef up your Social Commerce Strategy

8. Cater to Loyal Customers

9. Beef up your Holiday Merchandising

10. Determine On Call Schedules for Support Teams

 

Black Friday Prep: A Digital To Do List

1. Set the Course for an Easy Checkout Process. The less friction from discovery to checkout the better.

Don’t require shoppers to create an account to checkout. Allow for a guest checkout option. While some shoppers prefer having payment methods or loyalty rewards at a glance available to them at checkout, there are significant numbers of shoppers who want speed and convenience.

Meet your shoppers where they are and allow for both. Keep the cart icon front and center at every click through your site. Even better, have a constant numeric reminder of what is currently in cart. It’s important to have a visual cue to the shopper whether it’s empty, full of “maybes” or items that are a sure thing.

Allow customers to pay in the way they prefer. That means well beyond traditional credit/debit cards. Offer a range of payment methods to include PayPal, Venmo, digital wallets (Google, Samsung, ApplePay), and an increasingly popular BNPL (Buy Now Pay Later) option like Klarna or Afterpay. Some European markets allow for bank drafts as a method of payment, but this largely depends on what the demand is of your consumer in your geographic locale.

2. Draft & Review Cart Abandonment Emails. As shopping cart abandonment statistics for 2022 reveal, the average cart abandonment rate ranges from 59.2% to 79.8%. Clearly too much revenue left on the table to ignore as a retailer. Here is where personalization becomes your ally. Using auto-generated, targeted emails to customers with abandoned carts is a proven strategy for conversion. Examples include offering a customer additional reward for purchasing such as a percentage, or flat amount with a cutoff date. Some shoppers change their mind about items. Offer alternatives based on their shopping history; sometimes offering a different style or brand, or perhaps accessories to support the category they were shopping such as camping or gaming.

3. Check Your Site Performance. If your site isn’t performing at peak speed, you stand to lose everything you’ve worked hard for as a brand. What is the importance of site performance? You have as little as 50 milliseconds (or .05 seconds), to make an impression on your site visitors. If pages take too long to load, or there is a delay in the checkout process, that is a customer gone for good.

Fifty milliseconds sounds daunting, but there are web performance and speed testing tools at your disposal to gauge this critical metric your customers’ experience relies so heavily upon. Let’s take a look at some of the criteria for site speed/performance:

  • How to Test Your Site’s Performance. Programs such as Pingdom Speed Test, GTmetrix, and Google PageSpeed Insights (see a Top 10 list here) help you diagnose problem areas you may not have known existed so you can fix the issue quickly. You’ll be able to see how your site is measuring up across devices, and also geographic locations. Also key to performance is how well your site is ranking in user experience. Does your site load quickly? But also is your site easily navigated? Can your customer find what they’re looking for quickly through your menu or search function?

 

  • Dynamic vs. Static Content Management. The difference between the two is dynamic content is anything subject to change based on user input such as product, pricing, or descriptions. This content is stored in a database and is fetched when the user engages with it, otherwise known as async communication. Static content on the other hand is anything remaining the same in the experience such as the navigation menu. Both types of content have distinct yet crucial functions on a site but are managed differently. Load speed is generally case by case so we recommend an API-first/ best-of-breed approach that gives you the flexibility to deliver quick speeds and dynamic content. As you edit dynamic content you want to avoid editing the HTML code as this will cause breaks in your site. Additionally when managing dynamic content, use proper caching and Content Delivery Networks (CDN) to bridge the gaps between dynamic and static content.

 

  • Image Optimization. No surprise that visual content engages users. However, high quality imagery means larger files that eat up load time. Using resized and compressed files is a lighter lift for the server to load the image. Within imagery you’ll want to pay attention to the file format. There are four file types: PNG, JPEG, GIF, WebP, and SVG. A general rule of thumb is to avoid GIFs since they do drag on site speed. When choosing between PNGs and JPEGs, PNGs work well for graphics and screenshots, while JPEGs are ideal for photographs. The newcomer is the SVG file format, or scalable vector graphic that renders well in web applications and across other use cases. Lazy load plugins are also useful to only render photos where the user is browsing.

 

  • Reduce HTTP Requests. HTTP requests occur when the browser sends a request to the server for information. The fewer requests a website must make the faster the site can load. The amount and the size of the requested files affects load times, however most engaging sites have both multiple and larger files. The best way to address this issue is to run a full report on your site and assess what images are taking the longest to load and if in fact you need them. After you assess what’s needed, you can reduce the file size.

 

4. Be Mobile Friendly. Having a site optimized for mobile is mission-critical to your site’s performance. If a customer doesn’t have the same flawless experience from laptop, to tablet, to smartphone, you stand to lose. Consider this: 70% of web traffic comes from mobile phones, and 80% of the top-ranked websites are mobile-friendly. The great news is that site performance tools help identify mobile optimization deficits and fixes. As you gear up for the holiday shopping season, it’s an opportunity for cross-collaboration between business and IT teams to address the issue head on given how much it affects user experience and bounce rates. As much as 60% of shoppers won’t return to a site that is not mobile-friendly. Nearly 43% of Black Friday sales in 2021 happened through mobile phones.

You’ll want to lean into your developer team to fully optimize your site for mobile. The end goal is to have the exact , flawless experience from desktop to tablet to smartphone. This involves a few tactics such as image optimization as I’ve mentioned above, ensuring your site has a responsive design, and optimizing the above-the-fold content to engage shoppers quicker and for a longer period of time. Additionally, avoid intrusive ads that will hinder your shopper from engaging with your site, especially if they are on a mobile device.

Recent studies have found that 96% of eCommerce businesses in North America and 94% in Europe have at least five basic errors in their checkouts. Watch the Webinar to make sure your business is not making them.

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5. Be Promo Ready. Are you prepared to manage the deep deals the holiday season brings? As I mentioned above, if the data shows your customers want the deals and they want them early, are you set up to provide them? Is your site prepped for sales banners front and center on your site driving shoppers to the deals you’ve carefully curated?

Is your Order Management System (OMS) prepped with a clear view of inventory and a plan for backorders or pre orders for items that sell out quickly? An OMS can help automate these functions which gives your operations teams more flexibility to handle holiday shopping issues while still satisfying the customer with clear communication and a timeline as to when to expect delivery.

6. Glean from Data Analytics. In the same vein as Always Be Testing, take a look at data from the year before. What drove revenue and what might have fallen flat? What can you tweak from last year’s holiday season? You have customer gold in the numbers. Take a look at what product categories and pages saw the highest volume of traffic. What days of the week saw a spike in traffic? If you had an early bird special or flash sale, analytics and your OMS will tell you how many eyes were on it, and how well it performed revenue-wise.

7. Beef up your Social Commerce Strategy. Selling products through social media channels is currently estimated at $45 billion and expected to triple in the next few years. This figure equates to more than half of U.S. adults alone purchasing through social media.

Platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram allow brands to create another channel through curated content and influencer marketing. Perhaps the biggest advantage to social commerce is its power within the discovery phase of the buying journey.

Instagram reports 60% of its users discover new products on their platform. When paired with word-of-mouth reviews from people you trust, (or at least share similar tastes) and the ability to tag and highlight products in both Story and Feed, you've got a highly versatile, perpetual sales engine. The path to purchase is expertly laid out from discovery, research, review, one-click purchase, and delivery.

As you dive into this holiday season, it’s critical to use social media to your advantage. You’ll be missing out on a significant shopper segment, many of whom will be looking for new products to fit the people on their list. You may consider using live shopping feeds to fully tell your brand’s story and what’s new in your product line, and always make sure products can be purchased within the app using personal information already stored within a profile. In app links easily navigate shoppers to products and one click checkout.

Additionally you may consider the power of social proof. As you market your products through a social media shop, offer your shoppers a way to interact with products and share them across the platform. Through the use of hashtags you create, empower your customers to use the hashtag and create their own posts. A two-fold benefit is that your customers peer review your products and have a voice, while enabling customer confidence for the shoppers new to your brand. On the flip side if a shopper is dissatisfied, you as a brand have the opportunity to address the issue.

Prior to Black Friday, you may consider having a campaign for your loyal shoppers to share product reviews with a coupon reward or offer like a free gift. Peer reviews increase both customer confidence and conversion.

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8. Cater to Loyal Customers. The unicorn of customer personas! Here are a few eye-opening stats on what Lifetime Customer Value (LTCV) or what is often referred to as Customer Acquisition vs. Retention:

  • The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, while the probability of selling to a new prospect is only 5% to 20%.
  • It costs up to 7x more to acquire a new customer than to retain an old one.
  • Sixty-five percent of a company’s business comes from existing customers.

What does that mean? You have a treasure trove of information on your loyal customers; you know their shopping habits, their product preferences, and even their payment preferences. Take full advantage of these habits by giving them an exceptional customer experience. In the realm of holiday shopping, what can you offer? Plenty.

  • Double the points or rewards on all holiday shopping.
  • Free gifts for loyalty members.
  • A Black Friday “sneak peek” sale exclusive to loyalty members with special pricing.
  • Free holiday wrapping and gift options.
  • A portion of holiday proceeds goes to charity.

9. Beef up your Holiday Merchandising. You have more shoppers now than any other time of year. How will you stand out among the competition? Convenience. Many holiday shoppers find themselves frustrated with what to buy for the loved one/receiver who has everything. Enter gift sets or bundles. If you can afford the cost to offer this type of merchandise, it’s a solution for many harried shoppers trying to check off people on their list. Think of spa baskets, grooming products for men, kids’ items like themed candy and holiday stockings, wine and cheese assortments, or teacher gifts.

Additionally for the shopper who is looking for a gift for themselves, you may see dynamic bundling as an offering. This allows the shopper to pick and choose from a selection within the bundle. An example is for the gamers or sports enthusiasts in your customer base. For the gamers, maybe you offer a choice between a headset or an additional monitor, or maybe for the skier, your options include goggles or a choice of gloves. An all-in-one gift option with more selection and control on the user experience side, but with the convenience of a single price point.

10. Determine On Call Schedules for Support Teams. Determine on call schedule for each department. It's not just IT, for example a promo may be broken, or products not published to the catalog. Elastic Path similarly has a plan and schedule in place to offer support for our customers during peak holiday traffic.

In Closing

Food for thought as you think about future holiday shopping experiences that drive revenue and are meaningful to your customer while optimizing your team’s time. Gartner tells us to look for a trend in how brands interact with products. According to the analyst, companies should invest in more robust product experience management (PXM) solutions. Gartner outlines this shift in their 2022 Strategic Roadmap for Digital Commerce in Direct (D2C) and Indirect Channel report.

What does that mean? Brands will fare well who broaden their geographic and channel reach, and do more on the customer experience side. How will they do it? As you think about each of these strategies and tactics to optimize the holiday shopping experience, there are options to streamline it and empower people to solve customer pain points, especially in the role of merchandiser who is pulled in several directions as it is.

Eager to talk about what’s next for your eCommerce strategy and how we can help? Reach out to us.

 

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