Preparing For Black Friday and Cyber Monday

We’re less than 90 days out from Black Friday! It might seem like plenty of time to prepare if you’re a shopper, but merchants know – there’s never enough time to get ready for the chaos of holiday sales. At Classy Llama we’ve been helping merchants prepare for the holidays since 2007! Here are a few things we’ve observed over the years as November eCommerce sales have continued to grow:

Load Testing

The last thing you want is to orchestrate a fantastic set of holiday promotions and then have your site go down because your hardware couldn’t handle the load. Letting your customers test your infrastructure for you is an expensive way to learn! We recommend testing your site now, because if critical failures are uncovered, you can mitigate them now, before it’s too late.

Here at Classy Llama, we use Apache JMeter to do thorough load testing that covers the key components of the conversion funnel and simulates customer behavior on the site – from home page view through category pages, product pages, shopping cart, and checkout as both guest and registered customers. Don’t forget customer account creation as well, because hopefully, those shoppers are registering during checkout! Make sure whoever load tests your site is familiar with your eCommerce Platform, how it should be configured, and how it performs. For instance, Magento is a complex application with specific hosting requirements, and it can easily handle intense amounts of browser traffic and customer transactions. As long as proper coding practices are adhered to and the infrastructure has been properly setup and configured, your site should be able to handle the load.

Black Friday 2016 broke sales records, with a 17.7% increase in sales from 2015. Overall eCommerce traffic was up 220% on Black Friday and 155% on Cyber Monday. Your results may be higher – be ready!

Shipping & Sales Tax

Shipping and tax are often the “boring” parts of the checkout from the merchant’s point of view. After all, you’re not getting the revenue! However, if you’re using third party services for sales tax calculation or shipping rate calculation, you’re reliant on those APIs staying up – and those APIs are likely powering thousands of websites, all of whom are being slammed right at the same time you are.

Make sure your integrations have a user-friendly error handling system that allows a shopper to complete the checkout even if, for instance, sales tax can’t be calculated. It’s also possible to use a service like ShipperHQ to designate a backup shipping carrier in case your primary one goes down. You can also switch to table rates for both tax and shipping as a fallback in case a service goes unresponsive.

You may lose margin skipping sales tax collection, or going with a higher-price shipper. But that’s better than losing the sale and the customer. Start evaluating the key components of your checkout process today!

Promotions & Campaigns

Are you planning to do a big sale with doorbusters or limited time offers? Consider implementing a countdown timer on your site that builds urgency and interest in your sales. How about seasonal deal sites like or SlickDeals? These aggregators can drive extra traffic to your site, and they are the kings of holiday SEO among motivated shoppers looking for deals. Do you plan to roll out blog posts or other targeted content that supports a paid campaign? Get that copy written now!

Speaking of paid campaigns, think hard about your keyword bidding strategy. “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” will be pretty expensive keywords, but adopting a long tail strategy of combining product or region-specific search terms could boost your performance. Think “Cyber Monday deals on propane grills” or “Black Friday performance auto parts”.

Pro-tip: Make sure the URLs linked to in your promotional campaigns are landing users on pages which can be accelerated via a full page and/or Varnish based caching system. Linking to a non-cacheable page such as a search results page can rather dramatically impact site speed, even taking a site in some cases. In a scenario such as this, try using a category page created beforehand with the products you want the customers to see when they hit your site!

Finally, don’t forget about social media. It’s a great way to re-introduce your brand to customers who are already thinking about where to spend their money during the holidays, and it can be even more effective than PPC at acquiring new customers. Make sure your fans have a call to action besides likes and favorites – get them signing up for your newsletter, sharing your post, or clicking through to your site.

Fulfillment & Customer Service

Once you’ve got the sale, what next? Is your team ready for the barrage? There are some things you can do now to make sure your brand can deliver the goods and keep those customers coming back.

First, take inventory! You need to order new stock now, and step one is knowing how much you have right now. There are always hidden corners with pallets and boxes of inventory hiding out – maybe some of those items would make good doorbusters? Also, review your warehouse organization. Are the high volume items easy to reach for your packers? You’re going to sacrifice floor space for speed, so break out the measuring tape now and start thinking about where the people and the boxes will live. Speaking of people, do you have enough of them? If you need to cross-train your current team, or bring in additional staff to avoid burnout and shipping delays, you need to start before it’s crunch time.

The same advice can apply to your customer service team. Make sure they have the tools they need to be successful. One of the best things you can do is make your site as self-service as possible. Can you customers get answers to commonly asked questions without an e-mail or phone call? If you have holiday shipping and return policies, get those written and posted soon. Do you have technical products that might need an explanation of how to use them? Think about an FAQ section on your product pages, sizing charts for apparel, or link out to some Youtube tutorials. Now might also be a good time to look at live chat as a solution to reduce friction between an engaged shopper and your team of experts.

Server Monitoring

Chances are there will be some high-profile site outages during the holidays. Last year it was Macy’s, but long page load times, slow checkouts, and random 404s happen to a lot of merchants during peak traffic hours. Even if you’ve load tested your site, it’s still possible for higher than expected traffic or hardware failures to take down the most optimized merchant. Do you have a solution like New Relic installed on your servers, and have you reviewed your SLA with your hosting provider and systems integrator?

Don’t let your customers be your early warning system for a poorly performing site. Install monitoring software and setup automated alerts and a system for triaging issues now.

Advanced Analytics

A startling number of merchants aren’t aware that their Magento store is already equipped to tie-in with Google’s Enhanced eCommerce via a native Google Tag Manager plugin. It costs nothing to start tracking your customers shopping and purchase behavior. Turning this on won’t help you sell more during 2017, but the more customer data you can track now, the better you can optimize your site for 2018. At some point next year, you’ll want to analyze where customers abandon the cart or checkout process so you can help prevent them from falling out of your funnel.

For information on how to enable this valuable service, check out Magento’s documentation (M1, M2). Please note that Magento’s native plugin is Enterprise Edition specific; you’ll need a third party extension if you’re on Community Edition.

Email Marketing

You’re probably doing email marketing now, and plan to send an e-blast to your subscriber list letting them know about your great deals. Once you’ve identified your doorbusters & promotional items, you can segment your customers now and target the right group with the right promotion. This is a great time to get in front of potential customers today without waiting for them to search for you!  If your email service provider doesn’t support dynamic segmentation, you may have to do this by hand.

This is also a great time to grow your subscriber list more cheaply than trying to do it during the holidays. Get some promotional landing pages up now that have e-mail address captures (“Subscribe Now to Learn About Our Great Black Friday Blowouts!”), and bid on the keywords for those pages now while competition is low. Your CTA will be cost-effective, and when you do start pushing out targeted emails you’ll have a group of interested, motivated subscribers!

And of course, if you’re not doing automated cart abandonment emails now, set that up before the holidays! Triggered emails in general are as fantastic way to bring back people who have already engaged with your shop; check out this report!

This post is written by eCommerce Consultant, Aaron Sheehan. Learn more about Classy Llama’s consulting services.

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