A 12-week Black Friday checklist: Be prepared!

September 17, 2018

bold-blog-12-black-friday-checklist

Like it or not, Black Friday 2018 is coming up fast!

To help you prepare, we've created a 12-week Black Friday checklist that will tell you exactly what to do each week leading up to the biggest sales holiday of the year so nothing gets forgotten.

But first; when should you start planning? Let's take a look:

When should you start planning for Black Friday?

Guess what? People start looking for Black Friday deals as early as October.

So if you're wondering when you should start, the answer is now!

Here's an overview of the 12-week checklist:

  1. Begin planning for Black Friday - now.
  2. Research trending products.
  3. Optimize your website.
  4. Ensure your customer service is top-notch.
  5. Figure out if you can handle the demand. 
  6. Use social media to gain new customers.
  7. Update product descriptions using buzz keywords.
  8. Create your ads and banners.
  9. Begin marketing efforts.
  10. Heavily track everything on your website.
  11. Build anticipation.
  12. Focus on your sales.

Ready? Let's do this!

Week 1: Begin planning for Black Friday now

In the study provided above, we established that customers start looking/planning for Black Friday as early as October.

To make sure your store doesn’t go unnoticed, there are a few things you can do to get ready for Black Friday, including...

Planning your sales

This can be as simple as creating a Google Sheet with a list of top-selling products. A few things you should enter are:

  • Your product inventory for each top-selling product.
  • The original price of each product.
  • Your Black Friday sales price for each product.
  • How you’re going to promote each product.
  • The hour you’re starting this sale.

It’ll look something like this when you’re done…

Black Friday Sales Sheet
 
Not only does this organize you for Black Friday, it allows you to easily view your top-selling products and the ones that haven't been doing well lately.
 
As the saying goes, this kills two birds with one stone!
 
Download your free Black Friday checklist
 

Creating a foolproof contingency plan

Not to scare you or anything, but accidents and surprises happen. To counteract this, you’ll need contingency (or backup) plans just in case. Here are some potential scenarios:

  • Your website crashes on Black Friday.
  • Your dropshippers don’t have enough inventory (we’ll talk about this in week five).
  • Your sale prices aren’t working and your customers feel cheated.
  • Your customer service team is overwhelmed.

Make a list of everything that could go wrong, then write what your backup plan or solution would be in that scenario. You can't prepare for everything, but if you do this, it severely reduces the chance of a catastrophic events!

Week 2: Research trending products

Every year, popular websites like Forbes publish an article on what the top-selling products will be on Black Friday.

Reading these blog posts will help you understand what people are currently in the market for and, if you do it ahead of time, you can try to get these products into your store to market them, too!

How do you find out what the top-trending products are? We’ve got you covered!

Research what people are currently buying

Certain websites offer a “Hot Products” or “Top-Trending” product list that’s 100% free to look at, such as Amazon's Best Sellers list and eBay's Watch Count:

 

With Amazon, you’re able to see the top three products on their “Best Sellers” page. This is a cool feature, but listen to this...

Let’s say you sell home and garden products. With Amazon, you’re able to click the 'Home & Kitchen' or 'Patio, Lawn & Garden' department to see if you offer any products on your website that are currently top-selling products.

eBay does this too, just a little differently.

Instead of showcasing three top-selling products, they show one image that relates to the section you may be looking for.

You could also look at Etsy and Alibaba to see their top sellers.

Now the question is...

What sells best on your store?

If your website has been around for a while, take a trip down memory lane with Google Analytics to see what sold best in the years prior (assuming you've had your eCommerce analytics set up properly).

The data you find will not only help you see what sold best last year, it’ll also show you which products need a little more TLC to be uncovered this year.

Week 3: Optimize your website

Having an optimized website is important at every time of year, not just Black Friday. You could reduce your abandoned cart rates  or increase your product page conversions and more, with just a few tweaks.

The first step?

Make sure your website is mobile-friendly

At 10 a.m. in 2017, 61% of shoppers visited websites that were participating in Black Friday - using their mobile devices instead of their desktop computers.

Considering that some people have to work on Black Friday, you’d think that it would be quite apparent that most visitors would come from mobile. Yet there are still website owners who don’t optimize their pages for mobile.

If you’re one of the guilty store owners who aren’t reaping the benefits from mobile users, you’re missing out on a lot of sales.

Image Via: rocketspark.com

If you don’t already have a mobile-friendly website, stop what you’re doing and make that happen.

To see what your website looks like on mobile, use mobiReady. They'll give you a list of what’s wrong with your website (and how to fix it).

While some things can be fixed on your own, unless you're a developer, there are probably a lot of things you won't know how to do. If that's the case, don't be afraid to hire a developer to help you optimize your site for mobile. 

You can also grab a new mobile-friendly Shopify theme if you have more time than money.

Set up cart abandonment emails

In 2017, Barilliance found that 74.5% of people abandoned their carts on Black Friday. That’s a pretty shocking number, right? Want to know what’s even more shocking?

That’s the highest cart abandonment rate the United States has ever had.

This should stir up some motivation to create those emails, especially considering that in 2014, the cart abandonment rate was only 65%.

What can you do to prevent this from happening to you this year?

Compelling emails and “Wait! Don’t leave me in this cart all alone!” messages might be your new best friend around Black Friday (and all holidays) to avoid some cart abandonments, but not all.

Check out this email sent from Huckberry:

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 3.26.41 PM

 

Using words and phrases like “limited inventory” and “unable to guarantee the products will be here at a later date” will more often than not bring a customer back to the cart to purchase an item (if they really like it or if they don’t want to miss out).

So make sure you have great abandoned cart emails set up before Black Friday!

Week 4: Ensure your customer service is top-notch

Having your customer service team let you down on a good day is awful to deal with. Having your customer service team let you down on a holiday like Black Friday? A true nightmare.

If you don’t work with a customer service team and you handle questions or returns by yourself, it may be a good idea to look into live chat robots (or hire a small team to help you for the holiday).

Here are two quick things you can do to ensure your customer service is top-notch this holiday season:

1. Implement live chat

Regardless of how in-depth your product descriptions are, new (and old) customers will still think of questions you haven’t answered. Same goes for your FAQ page - you may think you have all the answers, but you probably haven’t even scratched the surface.

With live chat, you’re able to quickly answer customers' questions, resolve issues, and keep customers interested in the product they’re questioning.

Unless you want to be a one-man operation, I suggest getting an AI chat bot to handle customer interactions at first (to handle the greeting, discover what the problem is, and to redirect customers to the right person such as a virtual assistant).

I’d recommend a chat bot like BotEngine, mainly because you’re able to integrate apps and services into your responses to help customers get on the right track.

To see if it's the right solution for your store, take a look at our post on how to know if your store needs live chat this Black Friday.

Related reading:

A Bold Guide to Hiring for eCommerce Professionals
- How to Build a Chat Bot in 15 Minutes                                                                                                                   

2. Offer quick (and hassle-free) returns

While I’m sure you aren’t hoping anyone will return an item, you have to be prepared for it.

When creating your ads and banners for your Black Friday sales, be sure to add your return policy to the mix. Answer customer questions, such as…

  • Who pays for the return?
  • How long will the returns process take?
  • Is there a specific time frame when returns are (and aren’t) allowed?
  • If a customer backs out and decides they no longer want/need your product, do you have a refund policy?

By answering customer questions ahead of time, you save yourself a headache in the long run. 
 

Week 5: Can you handle the demand?

The answer you’re probably thinking: Hell yes!

Which is great! You’re confident, have never had a problem with demand, and you’ve been preparing for a while now.

The questions I have for you though, are:

  1. Does your supplier have enough inventory? Do they deal with other business owners, too? What happens if they run out of stock and you’re unable to fulfill your customers orders?
  2. Can your website handle heavy amounts of traffic? Has it ever crashed? If not, has it ever been close to crashing?

By the end of this section, you’ll have the answers to these two questions and you’ll know how to handle those tricky situations, too!

Make sure you (or your suppliers) have enough inventory

There are few worse feelings than having a huge surge in sales on Black Friday, only to realize you didn't buy enough inventory.

Sure, you can backorder things. But people are looking for good deals and they want them now. If you're out, you'll probably miss sales entirely.

If you're using a dropshipper, you're not in the clear, either. In that case, you'll have to make sure your supplier has enough inventory. Call them up or send them an email and let them know your demand forecast.

Make sure your website can handle heavy amounts of traffic

If this is your first Black Friday event, you’re going to need to beef up your website to handle a large amount of traffic. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting at your house like…

 
How do you make sure your website won't crash?
 
There's no guaranteed way, but the first step is to make sure you have great hosting.
 
Shopify and BigCommerce can typically handle huge traffic spikes with no issues, but if you have a site on WordPress or another content management system, the best practice is to reach out to your hosting provider and ask them how much traffic your plan can handle and see if you need to upgrade.
 

Week 6: Use social media to gain new customers

Nearly 80% of the world’s population uses social media.

You read that right. Eighty percent!

Which is why it blows my mind to think that not all business owners are reaping the benefits from multiple social media platforms.

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and (a more recent, highly-popular social platform) Facebook Messenger, allow you to get more eyeballs to your online store.

Today, I want to talk about Facebook Messenger. With 2.23 billion monthly active users, Facebook is a goldmine for new customers around the holidays.

Implement Facebook Messenger for order tracking

Not using Facebook Messenger for your business yet? You should be.

A Nielsen survey showed that messenger is the second most popular form of communication when customers want to reach out to business owners.

Imagine being able to send your customers their shipping (and delivery) status through their Facebook Messenger, automatically.

 
Cool, right? But it gets better.

You can send automated product promotions, discounts, and marketing messages to your customers using a chatbot. Customers can even respond to your bot, and your bot can answer them!
 
If your messenger bot doesn't have an answer to their question, you (or your customer service team) can respond directly, so there's no downside.
 
Ready to tackle messenger bots? Check out this guide
 

Schedule your posts in advance

Once you have a messenger bot set up, it's time to automate your social posts so you don't miss a beat.

Using a service like Buffer, HootSuite, or MeetEdgar, you can schedule ALL of your Black Friday promotions in advance. This means all of your discounts, any product launches, and even any random, fun/funny posts to liven up your feed.

Note: You may have to come back to this in week eight once you've created your Black Friday promotion banners.

Week 7: Update product descriptions using power words

Look...

Words like "best" and "one-of-a-kind" might sound silly. In fact, it might sound like a cheap sales tactic to manipulate people, or it might even sound like people won't buy it.

But the reality is that these words actually get people to buy.

I call them "power words," and I love using them at every opportunity I can. (The writer in me just loves playing with words.)

Putting power words in product descriptions

First, find a list of power words. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Best
  • Unique
  • Durable
  • Extraordinary
  • Gorgeous
  • Breathtaking
  • Luxurious
  • Profound

And the biggest power word of all: SALE!

Next, head over to your descriptions.

Let's use an example we can rewrite...

"These sterling silver rings are made with love and sent with care. They include a beautiful Sapphire and fit perfectly."

WEAK! Let's spice things up...

"Are you looking for the ultimate in fashion?

These gorgeous Sterling Silver rings are made with love and packaged with care. The handcrafted Sapphire is absolutely breathtaking.

Best of all, they're durable and built to dazzle for a lifetime.

Get yours today; on SALE for a limited time!"

Which would you buy? You get the idea.

Week 8: Create your ads and banners

Black Friday is only four weeks away! It's time to get creative and make your content speak.                   

Create banners to showcase special Black Friday sales

First up, we have banners.

These will go on your website, in your marketing emails, and on social media.

You can easily create high-quality banners FOR FREE using Canva. They have dozens of built-in templates to choose from.

Black Friday Banners via Canva

The program is super easy to use. Just pick a template and layout, then drag and drop the graphics and create your text.

Make ad promotions ahead of time

Once you've created your banners, the next step is to create your ads. Luckily, you can also do this with Canva!

Just use the "Facebook Ads" template (or whichever social media platforms you'll be using) and start crafting.

Don't forget to create your promotion codes ahead of time, unless you'll just be reducing the display price right on your products.

Note: Remember to go back and add these new banners to your social media scheduling software!

Week 9: Begin marketing efforts

Three weeks to go! Time to build anticipation.

First step: Email.                                                                                                                                                        

Start an email marketing campaign

Just like with social media, you should schedule your email campaign ahead of time so nothing is accidentally missed.

Using a tool like MailChimp, ConvertKit, Klaviyo, or whichever tool you're already using, schedule 4-8 emails to go out around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

Not sure what to send? Here's a guide to help you out.          

Contact bloggers and create gift guides

Now that your email campaign is set up, the next step is free marketing: Collaboration and gift guides.

Reach out to any bloggers in your niche who may be willing to partner with you. Simply send them an email or even hop on the phone if you can find their number. This step may be easier if you have an affiliate program you can promote to them.

Additionally, creating gift guides can help give customers inspiration regarding which gifts to buy and for whom. These should be a part of your content marketing and SEO efforts anyway, so now is as good a time as any to get started.

Black Friday gift guide

Not sure how to write a gift guide? Check out this post.

Retarget previous customers

Finally, we have retargeting. Retargeting ads are those ads which are shown to your previous customers and website visitors. They're perfect to get Black Friday shoppers coming to your store.

Not sure how? Check out our guide to Facebook retargeting.

Week 10: Heavily track everything on your website

If you're not tracking what your visitors are doing, you won't be able to improve your conversions or know where you're losing people.

Luckily, there's an easy fix to that!

Keep an eye on Google Analytics

Google Analytics is your friend. You can learn which pages your customers visit before they make a purchase, how much time they're spending on each page, and more.

Google Analytics-1

If you don't already have it set up, follow the directions in this guide.

Continue learning: 19 Google Analytics segments every Shopify store owner should be using.

Set up heat maps and advanced user tracking services

Google Analytics is amazing, but you'll also want some more advanced user tracking to see how far people are scrolling on your pages, what they're clicking on, and more.

For this advanced tracking, you'll need to purchase a service such as Sumo, CrazyEgg, or Hotjar.

Week 11: Build anticipation

We're now one week from Black Friday, and that means it's time to build anticipation for your sweet holiday deals.

Tease customers with upcoming sales

It's all about the tease!

If you didn't already schedule emails to go out this week with teasers for your upcoming sales, do so now. Same goes for social media.

Heck, you can even run some Facebook ads with pre-Black Friday deals or with an offer for people to sign up to be notified when a big deal goes live. Don't forget to mention that you have a limited supply, so it's first come, first serve!

Week 12: Focus on your sales

Black Friday week is here, and that means it's time to focus on sales, sales, and more sales.

What should you do? Easy!

Have at least two "limited time" products

While not completely required, having two "limited time only" products can encourage would-be buyers to take the plunge. Everyone has some fear of missing out (FOMO) in them, and limited time products play on that.

These could be uniquely designed items, or new items altogether. This is also a great time to test a product you're not sure would work well on your store. If it does well, you can even bring it back after the holidays!

Have a giant doorbuster sale item

There's a common strategy in eCommerce called a "loss leader."

A loss leader is an item where you just break even on, or even lose money on, in order to bring people into the store.

For example, big box stores often lose money on big ticket items like TVs and game systems in order to get people into their store, in the hopes that those people will buy other things from them since they're now there.

Hand out a delicious deal on something awesome, then promote the heck out of your other items while they're on your site in order to up that average order value.

Pro tip: You can use Bold's Product Upsell app to display complimentary products on that doorbuster item!

Create a loyalty program to create frequent customers

Black Friday is a bigger opportunity than just huge sales numbers for one day a year. You can capitalize on it to create loyal customers who will come back for more!

How? Just create a loyalty program.

And that's it! You've gotten through all 12 weeks. Good on you! But wait...

Want more? Do this.

If you're the kind of person that wants to capitalize on EVERY single opportunity, there are a few extra steps you can take to go above and beyond this Black Friday.

1. Partner with influencers

Influencers are people with large loyal followings - the perfect people to have advertising your Black Friday deals.

Ready to give it a shot? Read this guide

2. Steal your competitor's customers

Deal-shoppers aren't particularly loyal customers; with the right ads, you can snatch your competitor's customers right under their nose.

All you have to do is head over to your competitor's site, sign up for their email list, and follow them on social media. Check out what Black Friday deals they're running and match them on your own store.

Finally, create similar-but-better Black Friday banner ads and target their Facebook page with your own Facebook ads. Viola! You're now showing their customers better deals.

3. Improve your checkout page

We already talked about optimizing your online store. Part of that should have included improving your checkout page.

But in case it didn't, here's a 6-step guide to optimize your checkout page for max conversions.

That's all, folks!

If you've gotten this far, it means you have a bullet-proof plan for Black Friday. You won't miss a beat!

This simple 12-week Black Friday checklist will help you make the most of the world's biggest sales day. So don't wait; implement it today!

Download your free Black Friday checklist
Want to know more? Check out our best Black Friday sale ideas, conversion strategies, and optimization tips all in one place!

Topics: Black Friday

Bill Widmer

Written by Bill Widmer

Bill is an eCommerce content marketing and SEO consultant. He's run several stores and worked with many well-known brands including A Better Lemonade Stand, SaleHoo, and Lifehack.

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