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Beating the Market At Peak Trading Times

Many ecommerce sites, make or break their targets in the busiest times of the year and Peak season will soon be here! We are soon approaching the dates for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day sales and year on year we find new craze days popping up like the new opportunities arising from ‘Singles Day.’

The most important thing is making sure our sales vacuum is set to ‘on’ when all these days hit so we can maximise ecommerce profits. Stay tuned as here are our top ten techniques for smashing peak trading.

1. Sale Dates

Decide on exactly which days these sales are going to start and run. Having a sale near a weekend or close to a pay day will make a big difference to how people are going to shop and how long the sale might run.

Singles Day – Monday 11th November

Black Friday – Friday 29th November

Cyber Monday – Monday 2nd December

Christmas Day – Wednesday 25th December

Boxing Day – Thursday 26th December

New Year’s Day - Wednesday – 1st January

In 2018, Christmas Day was on a Tuesday so people could take the Monday as a holiday and then do last minute Christmas shopping. This year with Christmas on a Wednesday people will be less likely to take two days off prior, so they will need to be more organised to buy on the weekend. This need to be organised, can be leveraged in marketing messages, to push people to buy online.

2. Facebook

Facebook is driven by machine learning building a model to see who might convert based on your past sales. Given buyers behaviour changes so much during these peak periods, it’s unwise to expect Facebook to change its model for you in one day. Instead create a lookalike list of people who bought from you over the period last year and target this.

During Black Friday, given that these adverts will be new and thus will have no comments on them or social proof, it’s important to monitor these in real time and react to negative comments straight away. What you don’t want is to set your Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads to run over those four days, set the budget and then come in on Monday to find that two or three negative comments have put people off for the whole weekend. Also, you want to be instantly answering any questions that buyers have. I.e. you need people working on these ads over the weekend to make sure that the money is well spent.

3. Landing Pages

For most ecommerce sites the majority of the landing pages are going to be product pages. We run a lot of split tests during peak times and these have shown that certain elements need to be emphasised more than others to raise the conversion rate. For example, around Christmas, the delivery date can be a huge objection for the buyer, and we have found that putting the expected delivery date in prominent text underneath the product title has increased the conversion rate by 10% over Christmas.

The other worry people have is availability and stock. We have all ordered something that says it’s in stock and then been emailed to say, ‘sorry but that item is on back order’. Once bitten, twice shy, so it’s important that we are convincing to the customer when we say the item is in stock. Many websites still miss a green tick, in stock item, which is an easy fix. However, going further and making the stock icon animate itself when the product page is loaded and also updating itself when the quantity box is changed, makes the site look like its actually going off to the warehouse, checking stock and coming back and saying ‘yes I have checked we definitely have this item in stock’. If we can give the buyer confidence that we have the item, they will choose our store over another one that has vague stock information.

These peak trading times turn many shoppers into ‘spontaneous buyers’ – this means that they tend to act more irrationally than they would normally and buy more on impulse. Purchases are made much more quickly without normal due diligence and hence fear of missing out becomes a lot more prominent. To increase the FOMO, introduce scarcity messaging such as ‘low stock’, ‘how many buyers are viewing this product’, messaging about how long you will allocate the product to them in their cart before you allow someone else to buy it. Increasing communication around FOMO will increase sales during peak trading.

4. Competitors

You are probably already subscribed to your main competitors’ emails, so dig out what sales they had last year. Also, you can analyse the Way Back tool (archive.org/web) to see what offers they were running for Christmas last year. What you want to find are offers that they repeat year after year as this shows that its working for them. Perhaps they switched from one type of offer and then switched back this year? Then you know what didn’t work. Use your competitors mistakes so you don’t make the same ones.

Do a post purchase survey and ask your customers which competitors site they ‘almost bought from’ and then use this data to make sure you have counter offers in place reacting in real time to the competitors promotions. Don’t think you can set offers and then fire and forget – the market is now dynamic, and you need to be responsive.

5. Site speed

Can your shop cope? These sales days are getting bigger and bigger and a lot of commerce is shunted into a small-time frame. There’s no point teeing everything up and then your site not working! If you are self-hosting and using a platform like Magento, then there are two options here

  • a. Option 1, go with an Amazon AWS hosting setup which allows the underlying architecture to scale with traffic and add server capacity on demand.
  • b. Option 2 use a queuing model where after a certain amount of people are on the store the landing page changes to a queue page and only lets more in once the existing visitors have left.

Option b is useful because letting the server fill up and up means that the site grinds to a halt and you lose all sales because no-one can checkout. With the queue system, although not as good as option a, it does allow you to drive a large sales volume and keep the site going.

What you need to know is at what point your site loses performance. We find that a good page load time in Google Analytics is below 4 seconds and when the site moves from under 4 seconds to 6 seconds then we have an issue that impacts conversion rate.

Ask your web team how many visitors it would take before the conversion rate will suffer. If they don’t know ask them to do some load testing during the night and then report back. Is this number of users acceptable, or do you need more capacity? If so, what’s the most cost-effective way of getting this?

Basically, here you need a plan and you need to know your numbers. If you are running on a tight capacity model due to costs, then stagger your email sends, to drip feed the visitors, rather than have one big tsunami of traffic.

6. Google Shopping

The way your Google Shopping is currently set up to run during normal sale times is likely to fall over during Black Friday, Cyber Monday. Why is this? Well most sites tend to use the default option to update the feed on the website and in the merchant centre, once a day. This is often enough to deal with the stock changes happening day to day. However, during peak sales time, given the higher budget spend and the higher amount of inventory changes, if left to update only once per day, products that go out of stock will continue eating up the budget. Instead either manually update the feed every hour or arrange an FTP upload to the merchant centre hourly. The only caveat to this is that sometimes generating the whole feed for a website including all the product information such as descriptions and alternative images can take a significant amount of server resource right when you need full power for all the visitors. If this is likely to be a problem, create a supplementary feed which just contains product ID and stock status which can combine into the product feed using a third-party tool like DataFeedWatch. Using this method will mean that the stock is up to date in Google without hitting server performance.

Google Promotions need planning too. If you want to submit a promotion to the Google merchant centre, make sure you do this with enough time to react to them rejecting the promotion. You can secretly start a coupon-based promotion early and then let Google Test it before applying it to the whole inventory. Don’t wait till the last minute to apply promotions!

7. Email

For many sites this is a huge part of the strategy. Ultimately you want to be sending targeted emails with more targeted messaging to those who are more likely to buy. Take time to really dig into your email performance last year and compare it to the previous year. What patterns emerge and what does well? People expect a lot of communication around Black Friday and you can resend emails to non opens.

Given that a lot of people in the week coming up to Black Friday will be waiting for the sales anyway before they buy, start doing some ‘prehype’ emails to tell people something big is coming. Build a promotion launch plan so people know that something is going to happen. Make sure they know to come and specifically check out your site on Black Friday. Make the pre-hype into an event, give them a big reason to be the first on the website in the first hour. Think Harrods sales where people queue for hours and stampede to get to discounts first. Make the sale entertaining, grab their attention and let them buy.

8. Machine learning

We touched a little bit on this regarding Facebook. Today a lot of sites are running machine learning on their stores and in their marketing even if they don’t realise it. Black Friday is a big blip of ‘outlier’ behaviour that machine learning has a hard time optimising for. For example, Google Ads (formally Google Adwords) now has a setting to ‘black out’ certain days in the bidding model to let them ignore those days. So, after Black Friday has happened you want to make sure your AdWords team does this so that your bidding models don’t massively go off the boil, otherwise the bidding model will think that Black Friday needs to be taken into consideration and that its part of the new normal.

When Black Friday starts, machine learning algorithms will be using the previous trading behaviour to try and optimise for these new conditions. So, you need to be aware that the suddenness of Black Friday won’t allow the machine learning to have enough time to change. Let me give you an example. You run an offer where you offer a tweed jacket and a certain travel bag half price if they buy both together for a Black Friday offer. The machine learning will not know about this offer and so will push other related products on the tweed jacket product page and not the travel bag as it will not have any history of people buying both together. Hence by the time machine learning has cottoned on that the bag goes with the Tweed Jacket the sale will be over. Common sense needs to be layered over your machine learning manually to make sure it’s doing what it should.

9. Follow up

With behavioural based marketing set up to take advantage of the normal sales cycle, how will the abandoned basket, abandoned products and abandoned category emails work when its likely they might be received after the Black Friday sale has ended. Think about making these emails send more quickly during these times so that there’s a greater chance of catching the customer whilst they have Black Friday fever.

With remarketing, boost remarketing audiences that are extremely recent, i.e. 1 day – 2 days and spend more on this segment with offer focused promotions.

Keep an eye on large basket value abandonments and if the amount is significant enough and the abandoner is an existing customer, then consider ringing them up and asking if they are having any issues checking out with the pretence of you not wanting them to miss out on the Black Friday deal. One site we worked with sent a personalised handwritten email, separate to the normal automatic abandoned cart email, and this often started a conversation and led to a sale.

Consider adding a text-based email, using the ‘9-word email’ format, to the abandoned basket sequence. e.g.

Subject: Ian Hammersley
Body: Hi Ian, you still looking to buy something for Black Friday? Regards Mark

This will open up a conversation for difficult to close sales and if there’s an objection this will flush it out. Don’t be scared to initiate conversations as you will learn a lot more about what is holding people back.

10. Coupon Fail Smart

If you use coupons heavily during your peak trading periods, think about the process that happens when an invalid coupon is entered into the basket. Often this is a typo, or the wrong code and the frustration leads to unnecessary abandonment. Instead setup a process to either give invalid coupon entrants a coupon that does work or show them where they can find them, the newsletter sign up etc. At the very least track invalid coupon entry in real-time to make sure that the coupon you are spending thousands to promote actually works.

In summary, I hope all the above has got you thinking about how you can maximise your sales during these important peak trading times. If you found these useful, then there is more about this topic covered in our book ‘Ultimate Guide To Ecommerce Growth’ which you can request a free copy of from our website.

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