The seller’s guide to Black Friday/Cyber Monday (BFCM)

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Wrap up holiday sales

If you’ve ordered anything in the past few months and experienced significant delays, you’re not alone. Customer complaints about a late delivery are now a common occurrence to which no person or company is immune. Ahead of BFCM, the biggest ecommerce event of the year, this trend is troubling.


Black Friday and Cyber Monday, also known as BFCM, have become ubiquitous experiences for holiday shoppers. Thanks to ecommerce, BFCM has exploded in popularity and is acknowledged as a special day in its own right.

However, the recent state of the global supply chain with shipping delays and scarcity of materials means that ecommerce sellers will face unique challenges in the upcoming 2021 holiday season. Sellers that can get ahead of the problems predicted for this year’s BFCM will be able to mitigate the issues that are sure to rise.

What sellers can expect from BFCM in 2021

If you’re active on ecommerce social media, you’ve likely seen reports that the global supply chain is facing significant challenges. Nike warned that production and delivery of its shoes would have to slow down, and even Amazon Prime orders are reportedly being delayed. Twitter threads breaking down the problems of the global supply chain have been appearing throughout 2021, with no signs of slowing down. Basically, problems seem to take precedence over solutions ahead of BFCM 2021.

Challenges

The problems induced by COVID have only gotten worse, according to Bloomberg, making it unlikely that BFCM will be an easy ride this year.

The bottleneck that was exacerbated by the Suez Canal blockage in early 2021 means that there are fewer shipping containers in circulation, creating an imbalance in usable supply and demand. Sellers are being affected by shipping and storage price increases, and there’s no end in sight to the container problem.


In addition, labor shortages mean that both you and your chosen logistics company might not have adequate staff numbers to fulfill orders on time. According to Retail Dive, there were 906,000 retail hires in July, down from over 1.1 million in June—despite increased wages and benefits.

Marketing and advertising are not safe from problems either—on average, different people have reported a drop of 41% in ad performance, which indicates that ads will not be the most effective way to reach customers during the holiday season. Sellers will need to find alternative channels to reach their customers (hint: email’s a big one).

Positives

Even with all the challenges predicted by ecommerce experts, Black Friday 2021 promises to be an exciting time.

Ecommerce has been growing steadily throughout 2021. According to a Metapack report, 78% of respondents say they have shopped more online since the pandemic began. And much of that shift is predicted to stay, with 86% saying they will continue to shop online after the pandemic.

The 2021 holiday season will only contribute to the rise of ecommerce—Deloitte, Bain, and Mastercard have each predicted increased sales of between 7 to 11% this year. Most of this growth is expected to be online if the 2020 trend is repeated, as Black Friday foot traffic in retail stores was down 44% in 2020. This is great news for ecommerce sellers.

How to win at BFCM 2021

It’s safe to say that BFCM in 2021 will present many unique opportunities and challenges for sellers. To make the most of the year’s biggest shopping event, start your preparations sooner rather than later as there’ll be many moving parts to consider.

Practice proactive communication

Consumers will be starting their holiday shopping early—be prepared to offer BFCM-level promotions in your marketing starting today. Engage with influencers and push your loyalty programs to start building hype around your store’s BFCM program as early as possible—literally right this minute since BFCM is not far away anymore. If you grab new prospects’ attention now, you can re-market to them in the weeks and days leading up to BFCM with targeted, personalized offers.

Be proactive in your communication to customers by letting them know about the challenges you are experiencing or anticipating.


According to this tweet, Nordstrom has done a great job of setting expectations by sending emails that warn customers about inventory and delivery challenges while also providing tips to avoid them.

Invest in multichannel marketing

Don’t be afraid to go outside the typical channels of discovery to find a new consumer base for your products (yes, even Facebook and Instagram fall under this category). Use updated marketing tactics and channels to reach new audiences that will be excited.

Email marketing will be a solid investment as your existing mailing list has invested in your products and is more likely to be excited about deals or offers. Make sure you capitalize on all the digital platforms and channels you have at your disposal. Discovery commerce delights consumers who are primed to discover new brands and deals on their social networks, particularly algorithm-driven ones like TikTok.

Even if ads are declining in performance, they’re not a total write-off. Thanks to the rise of Small Business Saturday, smaller ecommerce operations can find great success in hyperlocal ads. This can also help mitigate problems with delivery—if you can sell out your stock within your postcode, small business owners only have to worry about intra-state order fulfillment.

Also, look at customer reviews as a form of marketing during this BFCM. Customers are more cautious about where and how they spend their money, so they’ll be looking towards trusted voices for where and what to buy. So it’s important that what existing customers say about your products leans positive. Take notes from customer reviews to find areas of improvement (product quality? unboxing experience?) and implement them ahead of the holidays.

Look beyond discounts

Although it might be scary to consider, ecommerce expert Web Smith says: “Have products in stock and don’t discount a single thing. It will all sell out.”

While not discounting anything on BFCM might be a bit extreme, you do want to find alternative ways to market your product beyond just that. Every consumer loves a bargain, but low prices aren’t necessarily the only path to profit.

In the period leading up to BFCM, try to find ways to influence the perceived value of your products or services in the minds of your customers, rather than simply offering them a discount. Highlight qualities such as aesthetics, convenience, or accessibility in your marketing and sales efforts to make your brand stand out.

Capitalize on seasonal FOMO (fear of missing out) by running limited-time deals or offering free shipping or delivery for orders over a certain amount. This will entice shoppers to add more to their carts beyond just the initial promotional item that led them to visit your store.

If you do sell out of your products—congratulations! But remember to communicate the minute you don’t have a product in stock. Particularly for multichannel sellers, running out of stock would be a nightmare that could very well come to pass, considering that even big-name retailers are reporting similar challenges.

Other promotional ideas to consider include gamifying your offers via interactive media, contests, in-app purchases, and more.

Circumvent Murphy’s Law by preparing for every negative scenario

From server downtime to shipping delays, Murphy’s Law will likely be in full effect this BFCM. Murphy’s Law refers to the theory that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. It simply asks that people expect the unexpected.

For example, the BFCM period is notorious for overloading servers, causing websites to go down. Downtime and sluggish website performance equal lost revenue on any day of the year, but BFCM is the period when you can least afford them. Today’s busy shoppers won’t hesitate to click away from your website if it isn’t functioning properly.

To avoid this, test the server load capacity of your store with Pingdom to find where it’s lacking and how to improve it. And check out this article for tips and tools to improve website performance.

Shipping will be another point of contention for customers and sellers alike this BFCM. Research from Baymard Institute shows unexpected shipping costs are the top reason for shopping cart abandonment.

Be transparent about shipping delays due to COVID, natural disasters, carrier delays, the impact of peak volume, and whatever else might hold up your customers’ packages. Build a relationship with your shipping services so that you can communicate accurate information to your customers.

Keep your focus on creating the best customer experience

It might be tempting to panic over all the things that could go wrong with the upcoming BFCM season. However, sellers need to remember that this period is all about creating a great experience for their customers.

Focus on crafting the best brand messaging that takes ownership of all problems and communicates expected challenges to consumers. Being real with your customers is a great way to build loyalty and garner empathy as you weather the storm of BFCM together.