Black Friday Checklist: How to Prepare in 2021

We’re here to give you a leg up in this critical time with a Black Friday checklist of 22 practical pointers to help you prepare for the BFCM 2021 shopping season. Let’s go!

 

Black Friday Checklist

We’re down to the last quarter of the year, and you know what that means — the biggest annual shopping season is right around the corner. And with the stress of the ongoing pandemic, people are really looking forward to celebrating the holidays and rewarding themselves with Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) deals that are hard to ignore. However, preparing to meet increased consumer demand and website traffic is no small feat. So if you don’t want to find your team scrambling during this critical time period, your business needs to start preparing now. That’s why we created this Black Friday Checklist.

The Pandemic’s Lasting Impact on BFCM

Vaccines may already be here, but the pandemic is far from over and it has significantly changed the way many people shop. According to Bazaarvoice, 49% of consumers shop online more now compared to before the pandemic. Meanwhile, Google reported that more than 75% of surveyed US shoppers said they would do more of their shopping online for the 2021 holidays. 

Because of endless competition during the BFCM rush, it pays for brands and retailers to start planning their Black Friday marketing strategies and promotions as early as possible. This will give you more time to analyze your inventory, observe user behavior, and come up with relevant promotions. It also allows you to tap into the growing group of shoppers who are preparing ahead. For example, according to Shopkick, 34% of shoppers plan to get their shopping done from October through Thanksgiving. According to Google, 59% of US shoppers are already expecting holiday deals from retailers in October. 

If potential customers are not aware of your brand and its sales before BFCM starts, then you are missing an opportunity to maximize your holiday profits. We’re here to give you a leg up in this critical time with a Black Friday checklist of 22 practical pointers to help you prepare for the BFCM 2021 shopping season. Let’s go!

Black Friday Checklist: Foundational Preparation Tips

You should be going into the holiday season with specific targets in mind — whether your top goal is reaching new shoppers or increasing AOV among your most loyal customers, you need to:

  • Choose the KPIs that matter most to your business 
  • Optimize for those goals above all else
  • And remember — a longer holiday shopping period means you have the time to analyze results and test new strategies on the go — agility is your friend this BFCM. 

With this as your guide, let’s take a look at the key tips for building a better BFCM strategy: 

1. Analyze inventory and research shopping behavior
A woman checks inventory in a warehouse ahead of Black Friday

Is your inventory ready for the upcoming influx of product demand? The surge you can expect for BFCM sales is unique — customers will readily snag enticing deals, and your catalogue needs to be able to accommodate this increased demand. Being unprepared will result in disappointed customers and lost profits. So, what can you do? 

Begin by reviewing your data from previous years as well as current trends. You can also check out our data-driven guide from BFCM 2020 to learn more about the revenue, sales, and consumer behavior data that defined the busiest weekend in eCommerce history last year. 

Use this information to predict which items in your inventory will be popular among BFCM shoppers. Then create a list anticipating what your upcoming sales might look like. Pick out the products you’ll need to stock for the season and identify the items you want to highlight for your marketing campaigns.

2. Check out what competing brands are doing

It’s easy to get overwhelmed preparing for BFCM. Not only do you have to analyze your own inventory and performance, but you also have to think about what competing brands are doing to stay relevant. We recommend you start by reviewing their successful campaigns from previous years and researching what they are doing now. In addition, be sure to visit their sites frequently, follow their social media channels, and subscribe to their email lists. By staying up-to-date on your competitors’ activities, you can make sure that your own strategy takes into account all the key elements to convert customers on your site instead of theirs. 

3. Create contingency plans for logistics and fulfillment 

Think of Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” You need to think of the worst-case scenarios now so that you can strategize in advance. Here are two common problems that you can plan for ahead of time:

Running out of stock. Talk to suppliers well in advance of BFCM to see if they are able to handle your projected sales goals and orders. In case your stock does run out, you should improve your on-site product recommendations to enable customers to find similar options that match their real-time context and preferences. You can also collect shoppers’ email addresses and extend your deals past BFCM to encourage them to place orders when items are back in stock. 

Delayed shipping. You don’t want to end up struggling to ship items even when you have the stock to send. Make sure you can fulfill orders by having alternative shipping efforts in place. For example, consider enlisting the services of an eCommerce fulfillment provider to help manage high order volumes during BFCM. These companies specialize in order processing and delivery, reducing your need to worry about delays during peak periods. Ultimately, you need to plan ahead of time, evaluate the process, and consider the costs.

4. Set up relevant tracking tools

BFCM kicks off an extended holiday shopping season, so it’s important to set up the right tracking tools to gauge how effectively your campaigns are performing. Take advantage of Google Analytics, heatmaps, A/B testing, and more, to track the pages, sections, and products on your website that receive the most engagement. The more data you collect, the more opportunities you have to make changes and optimize results to achieve your BFCM goals before the busiest season of the year comes to an end. 

UX and Website Navigation Tips

A positive user experience on Black Friday weekend is absolutely critical. It allows you to prevent shopper drop-off and turn first-time shoppers into repeat customers who are loyal to your brand. Here are eight Black Friday checklist items to tick off in order to improve UX on your site before the holidays:

5. Make sure your website is ready for a surge in traffic

The last thing you want during BFCM is a traffic surge that your hosting package isn’t equipped to handle. This could cause your site to load slowly or, worse, crash. According to Retail Dive, 90% of shoppers will leave a website if it loads too slowly for their liking. How slow is too slow? According to Google, any site that takes more than three seconds to load will result in 53% of visitors leaving for the competition. If your site is slow or unresponsive during BFCM — when there’s a general sense of urgency coupled with shoppers having high purchase intent — the losses can be staggering. 

To ensure your website can handle a surge in traffic, you need to check just how much traffic is allowed from your host. Depending on your limit, you might have to upgrade your plan or temporarily ask for an increase during BFCM. You can also test your site performance with speed test tools. You may also want to invest in a content delivery network (CDN) that reduces your page load time through data centers in different locations.

Lastly, you need to make sure your site is compatible with all devices, including desktops, mobile phones, and tablets. Determine where most of your traffic is coming from and optimize the experience for that platform. 

6. Optimize your site navigation for seamless shopping
Black Friday checklist: A couple shops online from home

Make it easy for customers to find what they are looking for on your website. With plenty of options during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shoppers can easily abandon their journey with your brand if they cannot instantly connect with a product they desire. You can’t count on them to go through every page until your site surfaces “the one,” especially when other competitors are vying for their attention. 

Giving visitors a great customer experience may just be the differentiator they are looking for when they start their online shopping journey. In fact, 86% of shoppers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. That’s why you should use this time to optimize your site experience for product discovery. Make sure to remove any friction between your products and your customers by designing a harmonious site that’s easy to navigate, as well as a journey that has no obstacles to purchase. 

7. Enable shoppers to easily see discounted products

When customers visit your site for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, they will be looking for discounted items they can add to their cart. You should make it easy for them to zero in on products that are going to be on sale by creating a special BFCM section on your homepage where you can advertise these deals. Another way to make BFCM shopping easier is to add a filtering system that clearly labels discounted products. For shoppers who are browsing without a specific item in mind, you can create photo galleries that quickly identify the sale items on different pages of your website. 

8. Highlight hassle-free returns

Since the pandemic began, the attitude towards online shopping has changed for the positive in general, but you still have shoppers who are cautious about purchasing items online. After all, you cannot assess quality through sight alone. Therefore, highlighting hassle-free returns is one way to remove doubts because it shows confidence in your products. 

The conditions of your return policy should not only be clear and prominent on your website but also fair. The policy should tackle the acceptable time frame for returns, the condition of the product, and what shoppers will get in return, be it credit or discounts. In doing so, you can win over the careful 67% of shoppers who check the returns page before making a purchase. What’s more, you can turn doubtful visitors into loyal customers—92% of surveyed shoppers said that an easy return process would urge them to buy from a brand again.

9. Check your site for dead ends
Two signs, one that says

Shoppers may encounter dead ends on your site if a product they want is sold out or they search for an item and receive no results. In both of these cases, the shopper is left without a real path forward and is likely to bounce off your site. Instead of letting these scenarios be the end of a shopping journey, think about how you can keep the shopper browsing. For example:

  • If a shopper clicks through to a product detail page and the product is out of stock, allow them to click through on the product image and locate similar items within your inventory.
  • If a shopper receives no results after entering their search query, you can provide personalized recommendations to pique their interest.

Both of the solutions above can help continue the shopping journey, improve user experience, and increase the chances for the customer to spot the perfect product.

Alternatively, you can prevent most dead ends altogether by graying out out-of-stock items and color variations as well as disabling filters when certain colors or sizes are unavailable. 

10. Guarantee a smooth checkout process

Shoppers can be fickle all year round, but they tend to show even less patience for friction on your site during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s easy to see why: Thousands of brands and retailers are offering the same or very similar products. Some of them can make everything from product discovery to purchase as smooth as possible, while others don’t invest in the same UX. If your site’s journey to purchase is not simple to navigate, you can’t expect BFCM shoppers to hang around. 

The worst time this can happen is on your checkout page. The shopper has already spent the time searching for items of interest, they’ve added these items to their cart, and they are ready to buy. If they drop off on your checkout page, you are losing valuable revenue. 

Black Friday checklist: Checkout screen

There’s no reason to make the checkout process the only thing standing between your customers and conversion. Here are some tactics brands and retailers can implement to make the checkout process easier and more intuitive:

Use the minimum number of checkout fields possible. Customers can find it tedious to fill in unnecessary information before they can finalize the purchase. If there are too many fields, they may give up and move on to another site. 

Remove clutter. Once a customer makes it to the checkout page, your goal is for them to stay focused on completing the transaction. Make sure that all information displayed on the checkout page is relevant to the customer. For example, don’t start advertising winter coats if the shopper is buying beachwear. Include only highly targeted final product recommendations.

Build confidence with multiple payment options. Make sure that all the major payment methods are available so that users find the process convenient. Some examples include PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, or Google Pay. 

Offer guest checkout. Remove friction by allowing visitors the option to checkout without having to create a user account and verify their information. 

11. Prioritize mobile-first design

Unsurprisingly, more and more shoppers are using their mobile devices to conduct research and make online purchases. In fact last year, smartphones accounted for 40% of total online spending on Black Friday, which amounted to $3.6 billion. We can expect the same trend this time around.

Make sure you test the UX on all different types of mobile devices. It should be as smooth and intuitive as it is on the desktop. Some common issues to consider are:

  • How easy is it to add products to your cart? Can it be done in a single tap? 
  • Are your BFCM marketing banners easily readable on mobile? 
  • Can shoppers easily access and type within your search bar on a smaller screen?
  • How exactly does payment work? How many clicks does it take to pay? 
12. Ensure that your customer support is available, friendly, and quick

With the influx of customers during the holiday shopping season, brands can also anticipate increased demand for customer support. Make sure that your team can handle the load quickly, efficiently, and politely. Consider opening different channels such as live chat, phone support, and AI chatbots for the occasion. 

At the end of the day, proper and friendly communication should be a priority so customers can feel that a brand empathizes with their concerns and cares about their overall user experience. Make sure your customer support team prepares ahead of time how to respond to frustrated shoppers dealing with lost or delayed orders, damaged items, or unsatisfactory purchases.

Advertising and Marketing Tips

Here are eight ways you can improve your advertising and marketing approach before BFCM:

13. Get the word out early

Last year, we saw shoppers become more cautious when it came to spending. This year, you can help more guarded customers get in the mood for shopping by creating banners, sending targeted emails, and planning campaigns that advertise your BFCM deals way ahead of time. The earlier you begin prepping, the sooner you can build excitement over what you have on offer for the shopping season.

Calendar with alarm clock showing countdown to Black Friday

If you have a personalization solution, you can use it to send highly tailored emails. You can also start setting up retargeting ads, sending out teasers on social media, and collaborating with influencers to alert customers of what’s coming. 

By getting the word out early, brands and retailers can let shoppers prepare and plan how they will shop. Customers can add items to their Black Friday wishlists and determine their overall budget for the holiday season so that once it’s time for BFCM, all they have to do is tap on each wishlist item to complete their purchase. 

14. Enhance your SEO strategy 

If you want your deals to show up first in search engine results, you will have to get your site SEO-ready for BFCM. Start by identifying specific keywords that are relevant to your brand and industry. Then create a plan to improve your site ranking with regard to these terms in search results. Make sure to start early for best results. 

Here are some practical ways to accomplish this: 

  • Incorporate buzzwords you find from your keyword research into page titles and descriptions 
  • Make sure to include high-quality images for the products you want to appear in customer search query results 
  • Don’t skip on image titles and alt text, and fill these with pertinent information 
  • Edit headings and links to include the phrase “Black Friday” 
  • Build backlinks by creating high-quality content such as gift guides that can be shared on different social media platforms. These should help you build online authority and boost organic traffic.
15. Create attractive BFCM offers 
Black Friday sale signs in a store.

During the build-up to BFCM, brands and retailers face the challenge of making their campaigns stand out from the noise. This is a time when the internet is profuse with ads, social media posts, and BFCM reminders. If you want shoppers to purchase on your site, you need to use this time to leverage all of your online platforms in new and exciting ways. For example:

  • Try to gain attention through social media channels where your promotions are shareable
  • Inject humor and entertainment into your campaigns so that they go viral
  • Gamify the shopping experience to provide another way to engage and push shoppers to spend
  • Offer month-long deals to draw customers online and allow them to shop ahead
  • Offer free shipping as an added incentive to push customers to buy 

Make sure your BFCM strategy includes creative, thoughtful, and eye-catching campaigns that encourage shoppers to engage with your brand. Here are 15 enticing Black Friday experiences from last year that you can check out for inspiration. Brands and retailers can also find ways to upsell, cross-sell, and offer bundles that add more value to the final purchase. 

16. Be active in multiple sales channels

There is no single way for customers to discover products. They can find their ideal item in different places, such as social media, online marketplaces, brand websites, blogs, TV, influencers, their friends, and search engines. Be sure to meet them where they are in advance of BFCM, and pay attention to the channels where most customers engage with your brand in order to maximize return. 

Social media is a great place to reach out to potential customers. In fact, 43% of global shoppers research products online via social networks. Advertisements on social networks also tend to have more engagement because they are targeted to your desired market and they are often shared with family and friends.

You can also seek customers through smarter email marketing campaigns. According to Custora, 25.1% of sales on Black Friday begin with email marketing. Reaching out through email allows brands and retailers to connect with both loyal and interested customers. You can easily reward their loyalty with personalized offerings, as well as special discounts and promotions that are not available elsewhere. 

17. Remind shoppers of items in their carts and wishlists 
An abandoned shopping cart

Your BFCM customers do not have to be new. Sometimes, the sales you get are from customers who have previously shopped with you, or visitors that have earmarked items they intend to purchase at a later date. If any previously purchased items or wishlist items will go on sale with highly tempting deals during BFCM, make sure to let customers know in advance. This is one of the simplest ways to encourage interested shoppers to buy your products.

You can also employ the same technique for visitors who have abandoned their carts — both before and during BFCM sales. Hope is not lost with an abandoned cart—you can trigger automated reminder emails that bring customers back to your site to complete the purchasing journey. 

18. Double down on personalization

If you want more opportunities to get ahead of competing brands when it comes to customer experience, traditional personalization just won’t cut it. You have to double down on your efforts to personalize, which means that the customer journey—from product discovery to purchase—is tailored according to the individual tastes and preferences of shoppers

Moreover, everything from product recommendations to pop-up promotions must be unique and relevant to the real-time intent of on-site behavior instead of being based only on previous interactions. For example, a shopper who previously searched for and bought a couch is not likely to purchase another couch anytime soon. So showing them similar couches is a wasted opportunity. Instead, you could prioritize your recommendations to show items commonly purchased with a couch that align with their taste and their current browsing behavior, such as floor rugs, coffee tables, or lamps. 

A couch in front of a green wall.

 

At least 87% of customers say that relevant content positively influences how they feel about a brand. Here are some examples of how you can personalize the end-to-end shopping journey for BFCM:

  • On-site search users can start receiving a customized experience as soon as they start typing in the search bar. You can do this by surfacing items that align with their preferences. For example, if they’ve always favored skinny jeans and search for “dark blue jeans,” prioritize skinny jeans in the search results.
  • When users explore the search results, smart merchandising should prioritize the products that best reflect your shoppers’ interests. This means that the first few lines of items on the product listing pages should be personalized to instantly catch the attention of your customers.
  • As shoppers go through the BFCM eCommerce experience, personalization can ensure that wherever you have recommendations on your site—from product detail pages to the shopping cart—customers find relevance and value. The deeper you understand your shoppers, the more you can maximize Black Friday success.
19. Cater to different shopper personas

Different shoppers that visit your site will have different purposes. Some will already have an item in mind and be ready to hunt it down, while others will take their time “window shopping” and looking for the perfect gift and discount. Some shoppers will visit your site out of inspiration, while others will be driven by the discounts you have advertised. There are bulk buyers who will take advantage of the attractive deals of the season, and then there are customers who will only purchase one or two items. 

These various shopper personas have different expectations from the shopping experience. That means you can’t simply go with generic content and expect uniform customer journeys. Your BFCM merchandising strategy and the paths to purchase on your site should consider both individual intentions and different kinds of customers. Then you can apply a variety of tools, such as simple segmentation or more sophisticated personalization, to appeal to different shopper personas. 

20. Reward loyal customers
A man takes his loyalty card out of his wallet to make a Black Friday purchase

Loyal customers are more likely to purchase from you on BFCM than other visitors. As such, it is a great time to strengthen your relationship with these shoppers and invite them to come back to your site. Here are some ways to do that: 

  • Brands can remind loyal customers through email blasts how much they are valued and that they can repeat the positive shopping experience they’ve had in the past by checking out new Black Friday deals. 
  • You can make your shoppers’ time more worthwhile by giving out prizes that are exclusive to them. This can include a members-only sale before the official shopping event or a no-minimum amount for free shipping. 
  • You can also entice shoppers with extra reward points for making purchases on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. They can use these points in the future to get more value from their purchases while driving up lifetime value. 

Post-Black Friday Checklist: How to Keep the Momentum Going

Planning for Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a big undertaking. As our Black Friday checklist shows, the preparation is an investment, taking up months of time before the event itself. So once this lucrative weekend has passed, you should try to keep the ball rolling for as long as you can. This involves a two-part process: nurturing acquired customers as well as assessing how your team did.

21. Evaluate successes as well as failures
A retail team conducts a review of campaign successes and failures post Black Friday

The period after BFCM is a good time to have a retrospective meeting with the team to track and evaluate performance. Brands and retailers can take note of what went well during the sale and things that could be improved moving forward. You can talk about the efforts that worked and that you want to repeat, as well as the campaigns that underperformed and what you think went wrong. 

It is important to document all forms of success and failure — and then to use this information as the basis not only for the major holiday shopping season but also your year-round eCommerce strategy. Make sure to determine the effective solutions that have been implemented, what tools you should stop using, and tactics to retain or discard or improve.

22. Retain shoppers with ongoing engagement

BFCM is a good venue to introduce new customers to your brand, but your relationship does not have to end there. You still have a goal to meet, which is to turn them into repeat shoppers and long-time customers. The time after BFCM is a chance to nurture new customers by sending post-purchase emails, engaging with new followers on your social media accounts, and featuring user-generated content on your platforms. 

Also, for one-time customers who did not sign up for your email lists or follow you on any platforms, you can use retargeting campaigns with creative advertisements and products related to those they have already shown interest in to draw them back to your website.

Ultimately, you want to ensure that your BFCM customers are happy with their purchases and the overall shopping experience that they had with your brand. To achieve this, make sure to follow up with them during the two-week window of time post-purchase when they’re beginning to use and enjoy the products they bought. By engaging with them during this crucial window, you can set the stage for an ongoing customer relationship in the new year. 

We hope this Black Friday checklist helps you start off your holiday season on the right foot!