We recently held an AMA webinar, where we answered questions from ecommerce retailers about how to prepare for Black Friday.
You can watch the whole webinar in the below video. Or you can read through an edited version of some of the responses below.
Louis Thompson, Marketing Director of Eastside Co
Louis Thompson is the Marketing Director at Eastside Co – a full-service ecommerce agency that has built over 500 Shopify stores. Louis has spent the last ten years working with some of the world’s most established brands. He is a marketing strategist with experience across the entire marketing ecosystem and has even created his own marketing strategy framework: SCALE. This framework helps brands to communicate across every touchpoint while still delivering an unparalleled return on investment.
Matt Warren, CEO of Veeqo and serial ecommerce entrepreneur
Matt Warren is the CEO & Founder of Veeqo, a software company designed to help online retailers increase their sales. Veeqo was created to solve the types of operational headaches Matt had encountered in his previous ecommerce businesses: Blitz enterprises and Jura Watches. Both of which were multi million-pound businesses that sold watches online.
What kind of volume should I expect to be handling at peak?
Matt: I guess what this merchant’s asking is what kind of volume should they expect to handle at peak. This is a magic question for this year because we’re in a bit of a weird situation with being in a post-pandemic situation.
I’ve been looking at our data to see what’s happening with order volumes. We can see that last year, most of our customers were on average were up about 30-40 percent on the previous year. This is not a big shock as we know broadly what effect lockdown had on most sectors.
Interestingly, since April this year, year and year growth has started to go negative. That’s mainly down to retail opening back up at the end of March/ start of April. And obviously, furlough’s starting to come to an end as well in the UK. It’s also summertime, so people have been allowed out for the first time in six months.
So, after reviewing our data and speaking to other tech founders, it’s clear we’re seeing a softening in online sales. But, is this a real drop in growth? Because these figures are still higher than the year prior to the pandemic.
So, while it’s a drop on last year, last year was quite unique. So we won’t see the 40-50% growth we saw last year, but there will probably be growth from the year before the pandemic. This is because e-commerce is still going strong on the back of last year’s growth.
How do I forecast for Black Friday / Cyber Monday 2021?
Matt: In terms of predictions, start by looking at last year’s figures and the pre-pandemic figures and starting from there. Then, when it comes to forecasting, you can look at your numbers over the last three or four months and then factor in your normal boost that got pre-pandemic.
Louis: We’re going through this process with all marketing activity as well. All e-commerce brands are seeing a dip, for various reasons such as retail reopening.
Comparing year-on-year data now is super difficult and it’s going to be so until we’re past this period because we don’t have any solid baseline data. Everything’s skewed because any e-commerce brand that had some popularity saw a massive increase during that period.
So you do almost have to go back to those two years prior to the pandemic. I suppose you can assume what you think your growth would have been last year had it been normal and making a comparison to that. But it is really an assumption.
Are there any specific industries that you would expect to have a big peak or dip this year?
Louis: It’s always going to vary. People who buy from e-commerce companies are essentially trained by amazon to do so and amazon has such a broad range of products that people consider buying anything online.
So, any industry or product that wants to place itself into the thick of Black Friday has the opportunity to create growth. As long as they’re prepared and if they’re doing something that’s going to cut through the noise. Because ultimately people want a deal.
If you’re communicating with an audience that has an active interest in what you’re doing, and you’re deciding to opt into Black Friday, and you’re going to offer something that is a significant discount or you’re going to offer significant added value. Then you have the opportunity to make the most of it. Because people are absolutely expecting big deals and you can be involved in that if you want to.
The other side of it is the brands that are taking an actual stance against it and being quite loud about that. But essentially they are still participating in it by saying we’re not participating. So there’s a choice for everyone.
I don’t think it matters what industry it is. I’m not a surfer but if I was and it was the winter and I could get a good deal on whatever surfers want then it wouldn’t matter to me as long as I’m getting a good deal.
Matt: One thing I think might be interesting this year, is how the new people who have turned to ecommerce this year for the first time during the pandemic will act. Think of all our grannies who have bought online for the first time this year because they have had to. What that group of people do may be quite impactful. But otherwise, it will be the normal verticals that do very well on Black Friday.
There has been a lot of talk in the last year about the effect on ios14 and 15 will have on marketing in general. Do you think it will do and do you think this will affect marketing this Black Friday?
Louis: Essentially the removal of any kind of tracking or data collection from any device is going to affect marketing.
But what we need to remember with the apple updates is; firstly, they affect apple users. So that is a subset of your customer base. And you can see how large or small a subset that is by looking into your analytics. This will give you an idea of how big an impact it could be on your business. But then you need to remember that only a certain amount of those users will opt-in or out.
We have seen an effect on Facebook advertising already. What we’re trying to figure out at the moment is: are we not seeing the results from Facebook and Instagram because results are down or because there aren’t been attributed correctly due to those updates. In terms of email, it’s obviously going to change how much we can track actions.
I think all of this comes down to depending on any third party to communicate with your customers. If you’re an e-commerce brand you’re going to be using Google, Facebook, Instagram and some kind of email marketing platform. Then you’ve got your website where you’re going to be doing SEO and conversion rate optimization.
If you’re dependent completely 100% on Facebook and Instagram for your sales you’re in a very dangerous position. The old adage is if you build your house on rented land then the risk is huge. You know you need to start owning your customer data. You need to focus on communications that are actively engaging your user base.
If not knowing how often your emails are opened is going to change your business significantly, you need to question how valuable your content is to users. Because the results at the end should still be the same. If you’re sending valuable content users will continue to open your emails, users will continue to buy from you.
In terms of Facebook and Instagram, my prediction is that Facebook will simply find another way around this like all big technology companies do. But in the meantime, we just need to accept that there is going to be a shift in how we’re tracking customer interactions.
Some users will end up opting back in just to get more appropriate advertising, which may make a difference. But, regardless of that, the lesson here is to:
- Be continuously adding valuable content.
- Start to own your own data and communicate directly with customers
While you should still acquire customers through paid means, you should not be solely dependent on that. Start to own some of that customer data and enrich it yourself.
If you can no longer collect IP addresses via email anymore, start to collect actual valuable data that is useful to you. So, when collecting email data on sign-up, only collect that data that you will use to inform your marketing. Then use that data to improve your content offering.
How do you think email personalisation will change in light of the Apple updates?
Louis: When personalization was first introduced into email marketing it had a big impact. When people got an email with their name in the subject line they would open it because it was novel. Since then, I’ve seen brands do things like putting the forward colon into subject lines to get a higher open rate and other clever tricks.
But, these are tricks, and if you depend on tricks to get people to open your emails you will get diminishing returns. Just like how putting emojis in the subject line will become less impactful over time as people overuse it.
Email is still a really valuable tool, but it is only as impactful as the marketing strategy underlying it.
Where should ecommerce brands be focusing their marketing activities and spend for Black Friday/Cyber Monday?
Louis: As a strategist, I think individual tactics are massively overrated. While saying you should be doing paid social or PPC may be true, on their own they will not be as impactful as you might think.
It’s much better to look at how everything works together and what the actual strategy is than to focus on individual tactics. You can’t know if you are excelling as a brand unless you know what excelling looks like for you. What are your goals? Do you want to drive revenue or increase profit? The latter is a lot more challenging with Black Friday. Whatever your overall goal, it’s vital that you have that in mind before deciding on your tactics.
The strategy framework I’ve developed is called SCALE.
Those are the elements of the journey someone takes before buying a product. On Black Friday most people start in the middle of that user journey. So brands are trying to get people to convert with onsite messaging and improving conversion rates. So most brands are not trying to create evangelists, they are trying to get stuff out of the door.
What I think brands should be doing is looking more strategically and thinking “what are we doing across the whole user journey and how do we communicate with people?”. This means moving the focus away from individual tactics and starting to think about how paid social and email marketing work together or how paid can support SEO.
For the best Black Friday marketing strategy, you will need to establish what your goals are and then set your whole strategy around achieving or exceeding those goals. When you are doing this you may find that you consider new tactics and marketing channels you hadn’t considered before or it may mean putting more money into well optimised channels. Indeed, after doing an audit of your marketing efforts, it may be that doubling your PPC budget maybe double your orders. But you won’t know that for sure until you have reviewed the overall strategy.
How would you prepare your warehouse for Black Friday?
Matt: Effective warehouse operations will be super important for Black Friday. Because ultimately it is about getting your customers what they want. Ultimately this is a form of marketing itself, in that if you deliver customers what they want quickly they will come back. So, be like Amazon in that regard.
Having been there myself I know how stressful Black Friday can be. There are a couple of things you can do now, but unfortunately, all of them involve a bit of upfront effort or money.
Reorganising your warehouse
I often see brands that have grown quite quickly and the warehouse ops have become unwieldy. Often systems have grown organically and you will find mistakes have crept in. For example, you may find you have products in random places.
If this is the case, you should probably take some time out and redesign your warehouse layout based on sales volume. You want your best sellers closest to the picking station. You also want all of your best sellers in the same aisle, which minimises the walk time of your packers.
Barcoding your products
Another high effort-high reward tactic is to barcode all of your products. This takes time, but once everything is barcoded it will eliminate a lot of errors going forward. One of the biggest issues on a high-volume day like Black Friday is mispicks. For an average retailer, 3-4% of orders are mispicks due to normal human error. Barcoding your products eliminates this factor.
Offer your team greater incentives for more shifts
I often see customers hire temporary staff, which makes sense as it tends to be cheap to do. Unfortunately, what often happens is that the new hires don’t know your products or your systems and so they make mistakes.
A better approach can be to go to your team and offer them some big incentives for working extra shifts. They’ll be ten times more efficient than some random hire, making it far more economical to pay them more money. You also already trust them and don’t need to train them. And, ultimately, they are less likely to make the types of mistakes that would lead to unhappy customers.
Learn more about how Veeqo can optimize your warehouse process.
More packing desks
It’s also a good idea to get and prep more packing desks. You know you will need more packing desks and it’s best to get them prepped as far in advance as possible.
Work with your shipping carriers
You should also make sure you’ve got your carrier’s contracts organised. Perhaps if they have been picking up at around 6 pm, you may be able to arrange for them to pick up an hour later. Just to get more time to get those orders out.
Lastly, it can be cool to let everyone in the company know how big a push this is going to be for the warehouse team. It makes them feel appreciated and can boost morale during a busy period.
Louis: It’s important when you are planning to scale your marketing up to remember the knock-on effect you will have on your operations. If they aren’t prepared you may have the situation where you actually have to pull back on your sales because you can’t fulfil the number of orders coming through your marketing channels. Which is certainly a conversation we’ve had with clients in the past.
These here are just some excerpts from the webinar, so if you are looking for even more discussion and insight you will need to watch the whole webinar!
Unfortunately, during the webinar, there wasn’t time to get into one of our delegates’ questions about digital picking. If you would like to know more about digital picking, it’s probably best to watch our ‘How to save costs and ship more with digital picking’ webinar.