How to maximise the Black Friday opportunity

The retail phenomenon of Black Friday started in the US but is now part of the UK’s shopping culture too. For years retailers watched curiously as the day – usually set in late November, when retailers slash prices for 24 hours and hand big discounts to customers, sometimes causing riotous scenes – unfolded from a safe distance across the Atlantic.

But in the last two or three years it has, perhaps inevitably, caught on here. Along with Cyber Monday – the day in December when the greatest number of people do their Christmas shopping online – and Small Business Saturday – a government-backed scheme to get more people shopping in private businesses instead of large chains – it has created a problem of the ‘nice to have’ variety for many shop owners and online retailers.

The additional impetus is welcome in the run-up to Christmas. What is less welcome is the sudden lurching of demand, which skews sales in all directions and makes stock purchasing a finger in the air exercise.

This year Black Friday arrives on 27 November, with Cyber Monday hot on its heels three days later. Small Business Saturday is the following weekend, 5 December. Such a tightly-condensed cluster will pose almost as many challenges as incentives for retailers.

To help smooth this potentially chaotic start to the Christmas period, here are some top tips that will help your business make the most of Black Friday.

Timing is critical

Analysis of previous Black Fridays shows spending surges in the morning, when the day kicks-off, and at lunchtime as people switch from work mode to bargain hunter. So make sure your best offers are in prime position and ready to go at these times. Don’t be late to the party.

The same applies to websites on Cyber Monday and physical shops on Small Business Saturday; be prepared to out-do the competition by opening earlier and shouting about your discounts.

Mobile is key

Mobile is a retailer’s secret weapon. Last year on Black Friday 60% of web traffic and 47% of online sales came from smartphones and tablets. Make sure your site is mobile-optimised or miss out on this rich source of sales.

Add value

As a growing business, you may not have the discounting power of a major retailer, so think of other ways to get ahead. It could be customer service, a competition, free delivery, or free gift wrap. It’s time to get creative.

Make use of social media

Social media is a great way to broadcast your offers cheaply and efficiently. It also lets you chat with customers, potentially turning them into loyal fans and even brand ambassadors.

By including relevant hashtags in your posts you can also borrow from the buzz created by Small Business Saturday on Twitter. Try #SmallBizSaturday, #ShopSmall and #SmallBusinessSaturday to get things off the ground.

Partner up

Great combo offers are timeless (think dinner and the theatre), so it could be a great idea to team up with other local businesses to offer packages that enhance the things you sell. Look around, who could you partner with for maximum impact?

Go local

Are you listed in all the right places? Google Maps, Yelp and Facebook are just three examples consumers rely on for local write-ups and reviews. Create profiles on these and others, load them with as much detail as possible and add pictures.

If people add reviews thank them for doing so and respond to criticism constructively, without being tempted into catfights with disgruntled strangers. Instead, offer to make things better.

Look after loyal customers

It’s cheaper and easier to generate sales from existing customers, so use these special days to reward loyalty. Tie offers into repeat business and personalise promotions to surprise and delight fans of your business.

Look beyond the holidays

Your website should see a serious traffic spike on and around Cyber Monday, so take full advantage by attracting new users to your sign-up list. Entice them with a special offer and, by joining your email marketing database, they can benefit from offers the whole year round.

Give your website a tune-up

More traffic is a good thing, but if you have laid the groundwork across SEO, social media and email marketing, your website could be facing a tidal wave of traffic. Check bandwidth and stress test with Google Page Speed Insights to make sure it can take the hit.

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst

This period in the shopping calendar is unpredictable to say the least. Your network, infrastructure and planning could be about to be tested to the limit. So plan for emergencies like running out of popular products, website downtime and other glitches in the system.