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Holiday Guide

Holiday season is a busy time for ecommerce. More and more people are turning to online shopping. Less people are willing to face the big crowds and long lines. This gives businesses like yours a unique opportunity to capitalize on. Throughout this guide, Wayne, Alison, and Josh will share their thoughts on commonly asked questions. You will get tips and tricks to help your business to navigate through this busy season. 

Wayne is the Director of Business Development at Optasy, a web development company. Alison is the Marketing Coordinator at Alpha Hosting. Josh Ward is the General Manager at Alpha Hosting. Each brings unique experiences and ideas to help your business be successful. 

What is the best way for small-medium sized businesses to capitalize on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

WT: To prepare for the 2020 Black Friday, marketers need to examine their online customer experience with a fine-toothed comb and test and retest their user experiences by channel. They will need to focus their effort on what channels are trending up, and what  is trending down. And adjust their strategy accordingly.

AM: Black Friday and Cyber Monday bring a lot of new traffic online. With the holidays approaching, people are shopping online and looking for the best deals. Big businesses tend to get big results on these days in and out of stores. Oftentimes, small/medium sized businesses try to compete with these big box stores, but don’t get the same results. Instead of trying to compete with these businesses you should play to the strengths of your business and start advertising early.

Each business has unique strengths and weaknesses. At Alpha Hosting, we pride ourselves on getting to know our customers. We can use this unique selling point on our ads to make us stand out from the competition. A lot of our other strengths include our robust packages, free add-ons, and the ability to upgrade and downgrade anytime, these are harder to advertise because they tend to be lengthy. Instead of trying to fit all of that on an ad, pick one specific point to focus on, or drive traffic to a web page that explains all of that. You can do that by promoting a unique promo, product, or service. Do your research, and find out what makes your business stand out. 

Getting the word out about your business can be hard especially when your competitors have bigger budgets. If you start advertising your sales earlier with a count down or black friday preview sale, the space won’t be so crowded with everyone promoting black friday. Post on social, send emails, put an ad on your site, and let people know that you have an awesome sale. 

JW: Ideally you’ve been building a list of clients, potential clients, people who like your brand/story, followers, etc. over the previous part of the year. If you haven’t it’s never too late to start. Especially when it comes to leveraging social media. Just start posting. If you need a little help ramping up your posting volume this post from Gary Vaynerchuk can be extremely helpful –

Also, make sure not to neglect those that have already purchased something from you. Start getting them excited about your BF/CM sale now. Ask them to leverage their social networks to extend your reach. 

The closer we get to Thanksgiving the louder the noise surrounding BF/CM will be. It’s important you don’t wait until that week to start talking about this. There should be a ramping up of content around BF/CM so your audience knows to be looking for your sale. It will help you stand out as things get busier later.   

What kind of promotions are best to run?

WT: Gift cards, Mystery Campaigns, Send loyal customer-only offers and sneak peaks, Alternate deals by the hour, a free gift with every purchase

AM: Percent off campaigns are the most commonly run campaigns on BF/CM. With the majority of companies offering lower rates, we definitely recommend these do you can compete. But, we also recommend you add something unique to the deal. Whether that is XX% off plus free shipping, a free gift(s), or entry into a giveaway, these add-ons can really make you stand out. 

You should also take into account timing for these. If you have a bigger following you can run changing deals that encourage your followers to keep up with the sales to find what they are looking for. If your audience is more of the “casual shopper” type, constantly changing deals could be off putting. Instead you should run one sale the whole time. Make sure the customer knows when the deals are ending and when inventory is getting low so they can make sure they have a chance to make a purchase. 

If you are selling a service or not a physical product, up-selling can be a big market during this time. We recommend doing a multi month discount to encourage customers to upgrade now. For example: “XX% off your first 3 month when you upgrade today!”

How soon should businesses start promoting Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

WT: Starting in Mid September is a great time to get going on your Black Friday, or Holiday promotions in general. This will build a very steady flow of interest in your promotions and build excitement. Start with a low percentage of holiday marketing. Gradually increase as the date approaches. You should have your holiday marketing in full swing in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

AM: You should always start advertising early for big sales like these. We say start as soon as possible! At the latest, you should start promoting a few weeks in advance. You want the customer to make a mental note to check back with your site. It’s never too early to start driving interest in your brand/products.

How should businesses decide on an advertising budget for Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions?

WT: Analyze your yearly or quarterly budget and see what you have left towards your marketing efforts for the end of the year. Once you have an idea on what you have to spend, analyze all of your channels and see what areas have been performing well in terms of being the best source for conversions. 

JW: Hopefully you’ve saved your budget for the larger seasonal events where you’ll get the most ROI. These seasonal events are also when costs will go up because competition increases. If you’re low on budget this is when you’ll need to get creative. Building and leveraging your audience costs your time (instead of straight cash) and is well worth it. As mentioned before think about offering deeper discounts to those willing to share your content. Consider sending people you know, or sort of know,  with the most influence some free samples. Think of it as a budget friendly way to leverage influencer marketing. There are also lots of coupon codes floating around the internet that will get you $50 to $100 worth of ad spend on Facebook, Google, etc. Typically these codes are based on matching your own spend. You spend $50 and they give you $50 in credits. It’s a great way to stretch your budget as far as possible. 

How should businesses prepare their site for the increased traffic over these days?

AM: Make sure your website looks good! When people come to your site you want it to immediately draw them in. Whether it’s appearance or loading time, those first few seconds are essential. If you’re a WordPress/WooCommerce user check out our blog on essential plugins to make sure your site is ready:

JW: Load Testing – Load testing is the process of sending large amounts of fake visitors to your site to see how it reacts. What you want from a load test is to see where your site’s page load time spikes, or becomes completely unavailable. Then you know how large a traffic spike your site can handle based on your existing hosting solution. Since the purpose of load testing is to crash your site you’ll want to make sure to schedule it for off peak hours. We recommend working with your hosting provider and developer to setup, run, and interpret the results of a load test. 

Scaling – Scaling doesn’t have to be done on-demand or instantly…but it helps if you can. If your hosting provider doesn’t support on-demand scaling of any kind, and/or you have to go through a painful migration to upgrade, then you’ll want to plan well in advance for the surge in traffic you get during BF/CM. We’d suggest making the change at the beginning of November to allow enough time to work the kinks out of the new environment. In this scenario you’ll also want to make sure to over plan for that surge. Opt for a slightly larger package than you think you’ll need. There’s nothing worse than being dead in the water because of your hosting when your sales start to take-off. 

On the other hand, if you’re with a host that offers on-demand scaling (*cough*…Alpha Hosting…*cough*) you can breathe a little easier. You’ll still want to upgrade and test any scaling capabilities beforehand, but the process should be smoother and less painful. Especially if there’s no migration involved. 

Make sure you don’t overlook this part of your strategy. If you’re on shared hosting, or under powered servers, it will cost you big bucks come BF/CM. Even a second or two of increased page load time can have huge negative consequences to your conversion rates. Don’t let a more expensive hosting solution stand in the way of your hard earned success this holiday season. 

Caching – Caching is going to be the thing that saves your site during a large spike in traffic. It allows the server to handle much more traffic while keeping your page load times fast. Think of it as increasing the capacity of your site. Depending on the application (WordPress, WooCommerce, Magento, etc.), you have several options for caching. Most popular caching plugins (W3Total Cache, others??) for WordPress and WooCommerce can utilize Redis for caching. Magento 1 can use Redis as well. With Magento 2 we’d recommend setting up Varnish for caching since it is natively supported. Your web host and/or developer should be able to recommend and setup the best caching approach for your site. It’s important to get this setup and tested well in advance of any critical sales days. 

One additional caching trick for large sales, like BF/CM, is to turn your most targeted landing pages into static html. Instead of the content being served by your application, it can just existing as an old school static html file and some images.We’d recommend creating these for your home page, BF/CM primary sales landing page(s), and maybe even your top category page(s). This is a short term strategy and won’t help if those pages are intended to change frequently. 

What is the best way for businesses to stand out when everyone is promoting Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals?

WT: Consider starting a day early and invent  your own Black Thursday!

AM: Make sure your deal stands out externally and internally. Do your research: see what promotions your competitors have run in the past and keep an eye out for advertisements that catch your eye. Through this process you can make sure your business has a deal that stands out and creative that is eye-catching.  Update your site: Just because a customer makes it to your site doesn’t mean the process should end. Throughout your site you should ensure that they can see the deal and that it correlates to the advertisement that got them there. Remind them of the promo codes and other promotions.

If you don’t have a graphic designer on your team, this is a time you want to hire someone externally. With so many people promoting a similar sale, it is more important than ever that your ads look good and stand out.

How should businesses use social media to promote their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals?

AM: Social media is an awesome tool to get your customers excited about these deals. We recommend that in the weeks leading up to BF and CM you either promote a preview or a count down. When the sales are live, continue to promote on social media regularly, with relevant hashtags. When you promote or boost these posts on social media it can give you access to an audience that you normally wouldn’t see, or if you are retargeting, it will give the consumer another chance to visit your site.

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday, do businesses just go back to normal, or can they still capitalize on sales?

AM: Businesses can continue to capitalize on sales with extended promotions, last chance emails, and onsite advertising. This allows your business to stand out against other competitors who may have already stopped running their promotions. Instead of just running  Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, run the full weeks surrounding them (for example: Black Friday Preview Week or Cyber Week). November and December are big spending months, don’t limit your sales to 2 days, when there are 2 months of opportunities. 

JW: This is a great point. Make sure to think of BF/CM as a ramp up to the next 45 days. You’ll have the entire month of December to ride the wave of increased ecommerce activity. Continue the momentum offering last minute virtual gift cards, post Christmas sales, and new years sales. It’s increasingly a digital world, but some of the “traditional” retail strategies still work well. 

Once all Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are complete how should businesses use their experiences this year to prepare for future years?

AM: Gather all your data along the way! Make sure your ad tracking is set up in Google Analytics or your ad tracking platform. Find out which ads worked and which didn’t. Do a deeper dive on who converted and who didn’t. All of this information will allow you to plan better in the future. 

Also, take a look at other companies and competitors. If you get a Black Friday email from a company that isn’t a competitor, but it really drew you in, see if you can adapt it to your business next year.

Screenshot things you love, save your data, write yourself notes, and next year you will be even more prepared than this year. 

JW: I’m a big proponent of doing a post mortem after a large event or campaign. Once all the activity and stress has passed the honest reflection is valuable. Celebrate what went well, figure out how to fix the things that went poorly, and identify the opportunities you missed along the way. The assessment will help you throughout the year, not just for the next BF/CM. 

We can help!

Prepping for BF/CM can be overwhelming. I believe strongly you’re the best person to champion your brand. When it comes to the technical stuff, the things outside your wheelhouse, it’s never a bad idea to ask for help. Optasy and Alpha Hosting would love to chat with you about where you’re at heading into this holiday season. We can expand more on what we’ve talking about here and give you guidance on all things development and web hosting. We’re here to help you get the most out of BF/CM. Email [email protected] to setup a meeting.