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BFCM 2023: 8 Strategies for success

Illustration of a person using their computer to buy products on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

[Updated post from September 13, 2022]

It’s that time of year again – and Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) is taking no prisoners amid reduced customer spending, labor shortages in retail, and persistent inflation. Whether retailers will survive or thrive during the BFCM 2023 will depend on whether they can offer shoppers flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

As consumers and online merchants alike continue to adjust to the realities of post-pandemic retail, enabling greater choice and control within the BFCM shopping experience is the key to success. Whether it’s earlier access to products, smoother returns, or proactive communications, consumers are expecting brands to eliminate friction at every single touchpoint.

So, what should your BFCM strategy focus on for 2023? In this blog, we’re going to cover everything your business should be doing to appeal to both new and loyal customers.

BFCM meaning

Before we get started: What is BCFM?

Put simply, BCFM stands for ‘Black Friday Cyber Monday’ and refers to the four-day weekend over Thanksgiving that sees some of the biggest revenue earnings of the year. BFCM includes two major shopping days: Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as well as the weekend in between where sales remain high.

Originally, in-store Black Friday sales were the only promotional events that took place during the Thanksgiving holiday. But the rise of online shopping has resulted in a longer sales period thanks to the birth of the Cyber Monday rush, Black Friday’s e-commerce counterpart. Over time, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have blurred into an omnichannel holiday season event collectively referred to as BFCM weekend, and it’s well worth your marketing efforts (and dollars!)

In the weeks leading up to the holiday season, Black Friday Cyber Monday is a powerful promotional tool to prime customers to begin fulfilling their gifting obligations. BFCM promotions provide that push for shoppers to snap up the best deals and sought-after products. In sum, it can be a make-or-break moment for holiday sales – and for your brand.

8 Strategies to succeed at BFCM in 2023

1. Segment customers effectively

The Black Friday Cyber Monday weekend brings an interesting influx of existing and new customers into online stores. Some shoppers are getting a head start on their holiday shopping needs, while others are simply taking advantage of huge discounts on sought-after items. So, how to you identify who is shopping for themselves versus buying holiday gifts?

Being able to segment customers at the onset of the shopping journey is key to directing shoppers to product collections that fulfill their needs. For example, if a shopper is looking for a gift for their husband, segmentation marketing strategies will direct them to the appropriate gift guide, rather than leaving them stumbling around an e-commerce website until they give up and bounce.

Live chat, SMS, and email are just some of the channels that e-commerce brands can use during BFCM season to segment shoppers based on needs and interests.

And don’t forget about the power of loyalty programs. A comprehensive rewards program which allow you to reward customers with high repeat purchase rates with perks like early access to flash sales. By personalizing the shopping experience to ensure relevant content and offers, this helps to increase sales, average order value, and overall customer satisfaction.

2. Prep your internal teams

It’s not only your online store that has to be prepared to handle increased traffic for BFCM 2023. A successful holiday shopping season is reliant on multiple teams – customer support, marketing, and product, to name a few – working together seamlessly to attract potential buyers and present them with enticing deals.

If these teams are not on the same page, this can seriously threaten your BFCM campaign. Discounts might be applied incorrectly, orders may be shipped late, or sale items might not be flagged as ‘sold out’ quickly enough to avoid stock levels being exhausted.

Consider creating a holiday playbook for your internal team that lists all the activities that are happening over BFCM and when. Think social media marketing campaigns, landing pages, holiday promotions, and product spotlights so everyone knows what’s coming up and can plan accordingly for the shopping frenzy.

3. Setting the right customer expectations

Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are enticing for potential customers, but discounts aren’t the only thing that shoppers are paying close attention to. When holiday gifts are on the line, consumers need to feel confident that brands are reliable and are going to deliver. This all starts with setting the right expectations around shipping and delivery.

While the vast majority of BFCM orders will be fulfilled and shipped without issue, it’s the 1% that retailers need to be concerned about. During peak season, it’s more likely that delays and errors will take place that are outside of a brand’s control. So, your business needs to have a plan for how to communicate with customers – both before and after orders are placed.

For example, at a time when parcel carriers are overstretched, it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Orders being just a day late can result in WISMO (Where Is My Order?) inquiries skyrocketing, so make sure your shipping timeframes reflect this by adding on an extra couple of days.

“Customer feedback is vital during BFCM. Our customer advisory boards have shown us time and time again that consumers want proactive communication above anything else – including free shipping and fast returns.” Says Ryan Powell, Group Director of Marketing and Partnerships at Ryder E-commerce. “This builds trust and ensures customers want to come back again to shop, because they feel as though the brand is on their side.”

4. Ensure your operational and marketing workflows are in sync

Marketing and order fulfillment might not appear to have anything in common, but these activities need to be in lockstep with each other for BFCM weekend to run smoothly.

For example, if a certain item is going to be on promotion during BFCM, this will increase sales and the number of orders that feature that product. Informing your operations team means they can take steps to reduce errors and prepare for higher order volumes, like storing SKUs in a different part of the warehouse for faster picking. Accurate peak forecasting and knowing what products are in demand helps to avoid bottlenecks in order fulfillment and ensure customers get their orders on time.

You should also consider how your marketing efforts during BFCM may affect the fulfillment process. Your brand identity will shape customer expectations for the post-purchase experience, so it’s important that your package reflects the values and messaging they are familiar with.

“Every brand community is different, and this means the fulfillment process does, too. It takes as long as 17 minutes to pack some of our client’s orders if they involve an elaborate unboxing experience, while other clients are more focused on sustainability and want their packaging to be minimal. Choosing the right packing process for orders all comes down to what aligns with your brand and what your customers expect.”

5. Ensure earlier access to seasonal inventory and promotions

There is no longer such a clean start and finish to Black Friday Cyber Monday sales. The retail holiday season begins not with the onset Black Friday, but when shoppers decide they want to start shopping for holiday goods – which is now.

According to Salesforce, promotional events will rise sharply early October as brands try to jump on the back of Amazon’s fall Prime Day, with global discount rates forecast to rise to 19% during October and peak at 29% during Cyber Week.

Why? Because reduced consumer spending and concerns about inflation are driving consumers to shop even earlier for holiday gifts. As holiday spending becomes more spread out into less of a holiday ‘peak’, brands must respond in kind by targeting early holiday shoppers with the right messaging and inventory to inform customers and encourage holiday purchases.

Plus, moving away from a short, intense holiday shopping season does have benefits for retailers. It enables brands to manage inventory levels more effectively, utilize less expensive shipping methods, and retarget customers multiple times in the lead-up to the holidays with fresh offers.

6. Offer a range of payment methods

As consumers come to expect personalized experiences in e-commerce and retail, payment haa emerged as a key touchpoint to enhance customer loyalty. By offering shoppers their preferred payment options during the holiday shopping season, you can increase your share of repeat customers.

It’s no longer enough for payment options to be limited just to Visa and Mastercard. Studies show that younger consumers in particular are moving away from traditional credit cards in favor of Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) plans. According to a survey of 1,000 consumers by Inmar Intelligence, 38.3% say they will be utilizing BNPL to manage holiday expenses, up from 23.2% the previous year. Millennials saw the biggest increase, with 56.29% planning to use BNPL during the holidays.

Adopting a Buy Now, Pay Later option is less about getting ahead, and more about making sure that your business doesn’t fall behind. With marketplace penetration growing at a rapid rate, it’s never been easier for consumers to vet retailers based on BNPL availability.

7. Seamless online returns

Return volumes undergo a massive spike during the holiday season as gifts are exchanged and returned, which increases the likelihood of bottlenecks in the return process. In 2022, retailers saw 17.9% of holiday sales returned, equating to nearly $171 billion worth of merchandise.

Without a streamlined return process in place during Black Friday Cyber Monday, returned merchandise begins piling up in fulfillment centers, delaying refunds and reducing resale opportunities.

But while online shopping is designed to be easy and seamless, but the returns process often isn’t. A poor post-purchase experience reduces the odds of holiday shoppers becoming loyal customers. According to a consumer survey by Loop, 97% of respondents believe that retailers with ‘flexible and extensive’ return policies care more about their customers. In sum, seamless returns are closely tied to customer retention.

So, how can brands offer attentive service without overwhelming their customer support teams?

Taking a self-service approach to customer service enables customers not only to initiate returns and exchanges themselves, but to track parcels, get product care advice, and access FAQs to troubleshoot issues independently.

Using a third-party returns management solution is an excellent way to manage returns effectively during BFCM. Return portals use the power of automation to resolve return requests quickly and enforce your return policy, such as longer return windows or exclusions on clearance items. By resembling a traditional online shopping experience, return portals help transform returns and exchanges into an enjoyable customer experience that doesn’t feel like a chore.

8. Find alternatives to discounting

The door-busting BFCM sale has become iconic in popular culture, so it’s easy to feel like the Black Friday Cyber Monday weekend is all about who can give shoppers the biggest discount. But there are still a range of tools available to online sellers who aren’t a position to slash prices on all of their inventory.

Black Friday Cyber Monday sales come at a time when online merchants need to free up storage space for seasonal inventory. This makes it a great opportunity to offload excess inventory and dead stock that is costing you more in storage fees that it can realistically make in sales. This allows you to keep profit margins high while still offering great deals.

There are other strategies that enable brands to boost the perceived value of their products – without discounting at all. For example, bundling together merchandise that complements each other creates a unique product offering that cannot be bought anywhere else. Likewise, a BFCM offer like a gift with purchase or free holiday gift wrapping gives online retailers an edge over competitors that may be offering the same or similar products.

With many shoppers watching their wallets thanks to inflation, it’s not surprising that shipping costs will prove to be a make or break for online sales. According to a Shippo survey, two-thirds of consumers wouldn’t consider purchasing from a retailer that didn’t offer free shipping. While free and fast shipping is always preferable, the former will prove more influential to encourage customers to purchase.

For more on offering free shipping during the holiday season, check out our full guide.

This year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday event is set to be an expansion of the pandemic-fuelled trends we first experienced in 2020. With ongoing shadow of inflation, consumers are eager to start their holiday shopping earlier than ever in an effort to secure favored products at the best prices.

As a result, holiday shoppers are also going to be especially sensitive to additional costs such as shipping and return fees, and more likely to pursue deferred payment options like BNPL to manage cashflow.

By investing in more flexible retailing, from omnichannel selling to additional payment options and generous return policies, merchants can eliminate friction from the shopping journey and enhance the customer experience – all paving the way for stronger customer loyalty and retention into 2023 and beyond.

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