Sweat, Discounts, and Well-Timed Emails: How Three Stores Nailed Their Black Friday Weekend

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Heads up.

Once October rolls around, and Christmas decorations begin to creep into store, you’ll start to hear a lot more about another big event.

Black Friday.

That’s because the weekend, which begins the Friday after the US Thanksgiving holiday and ends four days later on Cyber Monday, marks the single biggest sales weekend of the year.

As retailers all over the world slash their prices, customers everywhere stampede into stores in chase of those sweet, sweet discounts.

Okay, so all that stuff is great if you’re a customer. But what if you’re on the other side of the screen?

What’s it like as a store owner over the weekend of Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Today, I’m sharing the stories of three successful ecommerce owners who have been there, down in the trenches hustling to pull off a huge Black Friday weekend. 

They open up about the mistakes they made, the moments they couldn’t wipe a grin off their faces, and the reality of a weekend that has the ability to make or break your business.

Before diving in, make sure to read these fascinating Black Friday facts. This should give you the answer to why so many store owners care about this occasion.

Done? Cool. Now let’s get to the stories.

Stage 1: Develop a Plan

Jacky and Albert: Their Make or Break Weekend

Last year in the weeks before the Black Friday weekend, Berlin-based Jacky Chou and his business partner Albert Liu were burning through money. They’d just launched their new home decor store, and were desperately trying to find a product that would sell. They’d been running ads for different products, testing everything from inflatable pool swans to wall clocks. Nothing was working.

With $3,000 already down the drain, they knew they had to find a way to make sales before they ran out of money. And then suddenly, it happened.

From the range of products they’d been testing, a winner emerged. A few sales begin to trickle in, and then quickly a few more. Then a whole lot more. It was clear they were onto something.

Now was their chance to make a big impact. They knew that people would be in mood to spend big over the weekend, and they needed to jump at the opportunity to get their new winning product in front of as many people as possible. The success of their business depended on it.

Paul Lee: A Black Friday Debut

Over in the US, Paul Lee was preparing for his first Black Friday weekend with his beard care store Huskybeard. He’d been running the store for six months, and his sales had been growing and growing. He’d recently expanded to take on three assistants and needed to increase revenue to match the new business expenses.

“Planning for a successful Black Friday and Cyber Monday strategy was vital for me,” he says. “I knew big companies would be going heavy in, and I did not want to fall behind.”

So 45 days before the weekend, Paul began his plan. He started by scoping out his competitors. He researched other businesses that had generated huge Black Friday results in previous years. How exactly did they do it? What did they offer? How did they manage to rise above to noise and attract customers?

Zoe Abel: A Seasoned Expert

Zoe Abel had done this before. She’d been through the Black Friday circus, with both her brick-and-mortar store and ecommerce store. She knew the importance of the weekend and its ability to make or break her success for the year.

Two years ago, she experienced the power of the sales weekend. Back then, she was running a brick-and-mortar fashion business and struggling to bring in foot traffic. She’d recently set up an ecommerce branch of the business, and it was growing quickly.

Faced with the prospect of re-signing the expensive lease on her brick-and-mortar store, she decided to conduct an experiment. Over the Black Friday weekend, she would push hard with online sales to see if she could generate enough revenue to allow her to give up her brick-and-mortar storefront.

“We decided that Black Friday would be the deciding factor on resigning our lease on the store,” she says.

That year, the results spoke for themselves. “On Sunday Nov 29th, [two days after Black Friday] we got boxes, rented a storage unit and moved our whole business online.”

“Now for me, the holiday season is 90% about my Shopify stores and 10% about food and family,” she says.

Stage 2: Gather Leads, Build Hype

Paul’s Plan to Compete With the Big Guys

Paul from Huskybeard was deep in research land when one thing became clear. If he was going to try to compete with the big companies over the weekend, he was going to have to get creative.

“My main source of traffic was always Facebook ads, but I knew that this platform was going to be extremely competitive and expensive during the Black Friday weekend,” he says.

But Paul had an advantage. He was prepared early, so he could spend more of his time and money focusing on building up an audience before the prices of advertising skyrocketed over the weekend.

“I spent roughly 80% of my marketing budget on collecting emails and Facebook custom audiences.”

He set up a giveaway competition using the platform Gleam, offering to give away a bundle of his most popular beard care products. The competition incentivized people to engage with the brand in exchange for entries. They could earn extra entries by reading and commenting on blog posts, following the brand on social media, or referring friends.

The strategy behind collecting leads and having people take specific actions was to convert them from completely cold traffic to warm and hot traffic so I could retarget them during the Black Friday weekend,” he says.

He promoted the giveaway through Facebook ads, through his social media channels, across Reddit, and within other online communities where beard lovers would hang out. By the time the giveaway wrapped up 30 days later, he’d spent $5,000 and collected over 7,000 new leads.

Zoe Begins to Build Hype

Zoe was busy preparing, ordering backup stock from her suppliers to make sure she wouldn’t sell out. Even though she had first started prepping weeks ago, she hadn’t finalized her plan as early as she would have liked.

“I had prepared my stock levels well in advance, but I didn’t start working on my marketing until a few days before. I wish I had started sooner,” she says.

She began teasing customers on her email list that something big was coming, careful not to give too much away. “I like to hint that there will be holiday specials but I don’t like to say exactly what the discount is. If your buyers know the whole store will be half off next week, none of them will shop this week,” she says.

Stage 3: Calm Your Nerves

By now it’s the day before Black Friday, and each of the entrepreneurs was feeling a little different. Jacky and Albert, who were still working full time with their consulting businesses, remember how they didn’t have time to feel nervous.

With so much on their plate, their aim was to automate as much of their marketing on the weekend as possible. Days before the shopping frenzy was set to begin, they set up a sequence of emails and ads that would automatically be sent out over the weekend. They kept it simple, offering their customers 30% off storewide, including their new winning product.

As the weekend approached, Zoe noticed a familiar feeling creeping up. “I was excited, but like always wish I had prepared better,” she says.

Paul was feeling good. “I was extremely optimistic and confident about it,” he says. After all, by now his Black Friday campaign was already in full motion. His email list was bursting with new subscribers, and on Monday he began to email them with hints about what was coming. On Tuesday and Wednesday he followed it up with more emails, building hype for the sales.

On Thursday night he let loose. He launched a pre-Black Friday sale, hoping to reach his customers before they were inundated with a swarm of other enticing Black Friday offers. He sent out the offer to his entire mailing list, and ran Facebook ads to the people he already “warmed” with the giveaway, who were now familiar with his brand.

“I sent out the first email on Thursday night, and achieved $700 just in a few hours,” Paul recalls, grinning.

Stage 4: Hit That Go Button!

Zoe Gets in Early

At midnight on Thursday, her belly full of Thanksgiving turkey and mashed potatoes, Zoe kicked things into action. After building excitement earlier in the week that something big was coming, she emailed her list with details of her Black Friday offer. Getting early is key for Zoe. “I send my first email at midnight so my customers have a full 24 hours to shop.”

At the same time, she fired off Facebook advertising campaigns with the same storewide discount offer. “I like to make it easy and just do a flat percentage discount off the store. Plus I always have free shipping on orders over a certain dollar amount depending on the store, which incentivizes people to spend more.”

Jacky and Albert’s Big Discount Strategy

Like the other entrepreneurs, Jacky and Albert kicked things off early. On Friday morning the first of their automated email sequence was triggered, along with a series of Facebook advertising campaigns offering 30 percent off. To catch any shoppers who slipped through the cracks, they followed it up with a retargeted Facebook ad campaign with an even bigger discount.

“We retargeted people who engaged with our ads or visited our site with a 50 percent off coupon, but raised prices by 30-40 percent as well to cover our expenses. The logic behind that was that people are in the shopping spirit, and we believed a large discount would boost conversion rates.”

Paul Creates Winning Product Bundles

Paul’s special offers were proving a big hit with his customers. He created exclusive product bundles with complementary items like a beard oil plus a beard comb, as well as multipacks of his popular beard oils. This clever bundling tactic pushed his average order value higher than usual, which in turn let him offer a juicier discount.

Rather than using a percentage discount, he was able to promote his bundles as $50 off. “It might be the same discount amount as if I offered 50% off, but the dollar savings made it seem much more significant in comparison,” he says.

Stage 5: Watch The Results Roll In

Too excited to sleep, Zoe was up early the on morning of Black Friday. Black Friday is my Christmas morning,” she says. Throughout the weekend she stayed glued to her Shopify app, watching the sales come in. “I’m an obsessive Shopify app home page refresher,” she tells me. “I’ll stare at it for a second while it’s loading and try to guess what the sales are going to be before it pops up. I guessed way under what my actual sales were.”

Over the course of the weekend, as Jacky and Albert’s ads reached more and more people, their sales began to climb. Their winning product proved popular, over and over again. They were constantly interrupted during the weekend by Shopify app making a “ka-ching!” noise as it registered another sale.

“The Shopify app was going nuts!” Jacky remembers. By the end of the weekend they’d pulled off $5,460.88 in sales. The money helped them make back the money they had spent testing products, as well as giving them a big boost of cash to scale their business even further.

Jacky and Albert’s store racked up $5,460 in sales over the weekend


Paul stretched the weekend out a little longer, and continued to advertise his sales offers until Tuesday, hoping to snatch up any last-minute customers. At the end of the weekend he tallied up his sales.

“I had received over 200 orders and made just over $8,000,” he says. “That was pretty massive! My biggest month’s revenue was around $15,000 and I made more than half of that in just a few days.”

Those spikes? Yep that’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Stage 6: Breathe. Then Review.

With the dust settled after the crazy weekend, what did each of the entrepreneurs take away from it all?

Paul’s hard work paid off. Apart from the revenue he generated over the weekend, the hard work he’d put into the lead up meant he’d be able to extend Huskybeard’s success far into the future. “I now had an additional 7,000+ leads and audiences that I could convert into lifelong customers,” he says.

Zoe’s weekend was a success, and performed even better than previous years. “Every Black Friday has been better than the one prior,” she says.

In 2018, she’s committed to getting started even earlier, and has already started planning bulk orders of her best selling products to ensure she doesn’t sell out. “This year I will plan weeks ahead not days ahead, and make sure I have plenty of inventory for last minute shoppers,” she says.

As for Jacky and Albert, if their sales had turned out differently their business might not be here at all. The weekend marked a turning point in the success of their store and helped them to revive their bank accounts.

The success of the Black Friday weekend also gave them a ton of new data about their target customers. After the weekend, they used the sales data to create lookalike audiences on Facebook that would help them to reach a highly targeted audience.

Thinking back over the weekend, the significance of the moment is clear. As Jacky put it, “It’s what really kicked our store off the ground.

3 Tips for Nailing Your Black Friday Sales

1. Start early. Follow Paul’s advice and don’t leave things to the last minute. The earlier you start planning and building up your email list and custom audiences on Facebook, the better position you’ll be in when the weekend hits.

2. Retarget. Over the Black Friday weekend you’ll have a lot more eyeballs on your store than normal. Take advantage of this by retargeting people who have engaged with your ads or visited your site with more ads. Remember, less than 2 percent of customers buy on their first visit, the rest need multiple exposures to your brand, through retargeting and email marketing.

3. Factor in higher costs. Advertising costs over the holiday period will jump on average 20 percent, reaching their peak over the Black Friday weekend. Remember to factor this extra cost into your margins, and remember not to eat up your profits by offering a discount that’s too large.

For more ways to increase sales on the Black Friday weekend, check out our article Black Friday Tips: 6 Ways to Make Sales.

Now It’s Your Turn

Get prepared early and you’ll be able to take advantage of all the extra shoppers over the Black Friday weekend. If you haven’t started your own store yet, sign up for Shopify to create one and start selling.

Want to Learn More?

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