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Avoiding Black Friday: New Strategies for Peak Season

As a retailer, deciding whether to avoid Black Friday or Cyber Monday is tough. Here’s how to figure it out.

Avoiding Black Friday is a decision that few retailers dare to make. For decades, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been one of the most important days in the retail calendar – last year, 137 million people spent more than $850 billion during the sales.

However, the race to the bottom driven by discounting has started to provoke a backlash from some retailers. An increasing number are avoiding Black Friday and Cyber Monday, opting to protect their brands and margins through more creative campaigns. This is particularly true for the newer breed of pure-play e-commerce companies, where 22% are opting out of Black Friday.

Even among those who participate, a growing number have evolved their Black Friday strategies in order to cope with increased competition and challenged margins. Rather than one-day sales, many are turning the holiday into multi-day campaigns that start early or run in phases.

As a retailer, you stand a crossroads – here’s how to decide whether avoiding Black Friday is right for you, and what to do if you decide to #optout.

Is Black Friday right for new customer acquisition?

If new customer acquisition is your priority, Black Friday can appear as an obvious choice. But is it really all it seems?

First of all, timing is critical. Most companies plan their Black Friday strategy months in advance – according to our research, over 75% of retailers start their preparation before August. This means that your decision needs to be made early if there’s much chance of success.

If you still have time to consider your options, consider that this is a seriously expensive time to be acquiring new customers. Competition for clicks will be fierce, and the cost with it.

This brings us onto our next consideration – if you’re investing in traffic, it’s only worth it if you have confidence in your conversion rate optimization. With every click costing more, your site needs to be ready to ensure that you see return, with cart abandonment strategies in place to catch every potential new customer.

If you feel confident that you can get a good return on your ad spend, there’s one more thing to consider. One of the biggest issues that retailers face is how to retain those new customers once Black Friday is over. That’s for a good reason – you’ve just scooped up a large number of discount-hunters, who are likely to repeat that behavior again.

Conclusion: Black Friday isn’t quite the new customer bonanza that it might first appear to be. You not only need to be able to spare a healthy budget, you need to be confident that your conversion and retention strategies are healthy.

Should you follow your competitors?

You know your customer base. This also means you likely know who your prime competition is. Understanding their strategy may help you determine yours – but is it wise to follow the crowd for Black Friday?

A good first step is to run the numbers and do a little spying – so we made it a little easier. You can use our handy Black Friday benchmarking tool below to see what proportion of e-commerce businesses are taking part and what their strategies will be:

If you’re concerned that your competitors will be stealing your market share during Black Friday, use data from years past to query just how much you might have to lose by opting out.

If you’re still unsure after balancing the numbers, remember that avoiding Black Friday isn’t really an either/or question after all. So if discounting stands to hurt you, you can simply choose to participate in a different way.

You could, for example, focus your Black Friday promotions on delivering value through free delivery, added loyalty credit or even free gifts instead of discounting. You could also leap ahead of the pack and start campaigns early to take advantage of the many millions of shoppers who’ll be researching their potential purchases ahead of time.

Conclusion: if your competitors are likely to be taking the leap but you’re unsure if your numbers stack up, try a Black Friday strategy less focused on discounting.

Does Black Friday fit with your brand?

In recent years, Black Friday has been held up as a negative symbol of consumerism. The images of crowds fighting for bargains in big-box stores aside, for many Black Friday is seen to encourage excessive spending on things we don’t necessarily need.

Whatever your opinion is on the matter, it’s important to consider this perspective when deciding whether Black Friday blowouts really fit with your brand.

An increasing number of retailers have decided to make avoiding Black Friday a conscious part of their marketing strategy. In 2015, outdoor equipment giant REI announced that it would no longer participate in Black Friday sales. It actually didn’t open at all during the event, urging employees and customers alike to #OptOutside.

In fact, REI not only encourages employees to spend the day out in nature instead of shopping – it pays them for the time off. The movement included over 834,600 Tweets and 12.5 million Instagram posts, showing that avoiding Black Friday can generate great momentum.

Even if your brand doesn’t necessarily suit making a big moral stand around Black Friday, there’s always a question about whether discounting is right for your brand. In a more subtle act of avoiding Black Friday, Everlane participates in fundraisers during the holiday. As it consistently offers products that are roughly 60% less than their original price tag it made little sense for it to discount. Instead, it collaborated with Surfrider Foundation and donated more than $250,000 to help clean up beaches.

Conclusion: Avoiding Black Friday is an opportunity to make a statement about your brand – but be creative with it.

What to do if you’re opting out

Deciding to avoid Black Friday can be a bold choice – so what should you do if you opt out?

First of all, be ready to capitalize on organic traffic from visitors expecting to see Black Friday deals. If you don’t have discounts ready for them, what can you do to capture them instead? Consider offering value-adds in exchange for email sign-ups or highlighting other time-limited campaigns.

Secondly, consider piggybacking on Black Friday by running campaigns in the week before the big day. Our data shows that the weekend before Black Friday is a major ‘pre-peak’ in traffic, so consider what you can offer to those early-bird shoppers before everyone else gets in on the game.

Finally, think about what your Black Friday narrative is going to be. A great deal of your customers will expect discounts – don’t leave them puzzled. You need to build a great story around why you’ve chosen to opt out of Black Friday, like REI did. More than shying away from a big event, it’s an opportunity to build your brand and make a statement.

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