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A blueprint for Black Friday planning

Black Friday is many things. It’s a great day for deals, a garish celebration of consumerism, and a huge opportunity and a huge headache for retailers. It’s been pivotal in the history of FringeSport. We love Black Friday — the “shopping holiday.” It’s a big reason why we exist.

I founded FringeSport in 2010 in my garage. I wanted a company that would make a difference for our customers, be something special in the world, and make a positive impact on millions of people.

We grew a little, made some sales here and there, and eventually Black Friday 2011 rolled along. My partner and I planned a Black Friday sale online and, also, in our warehouse Austin.

When we showed up that morning to our (tiny) warehouse, we were locked out! Our landlord had rented the place to a band for the weekend to shoot a music video — and didn’t tell us. We banged on the door and got the band to stop recording for 30 minutes. We then dragged as much inventory out of the warehouse as we could, and waited.

Thirty minutes later, an older Volkswagen Jetta showed up. Kara, Joe, and Raul step out. They looked at us, and bought almost all of our bumper (weightlifting) plates — our main product. They kept coming back throughout the day, loading up the Jetta, and driving away with our bumpers. They cleared us out. We had to turn away a few other shoppers looking for bumpers.

Thankfully, we could restock for our web orders from a local dealer and fulfill the online demand.

That Black Friday finally confirmed to me that what we were building was what our audience and the world needed. And that was the day I decided to quit my job and focus on becoming better than anyone else in the world at caring for the consumers that FringeSport targets — a journey I am still on.

Fringe Sport now does about a month’s worth of business in the four days of Black Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Cyber Monday.

To prepare for the onslaught, we focus on the key elements.

  • Sales promotions.
  • Timing and organization.
  • Staffing.
  • Fulfillment and customer service.
  • Promotion and partners.
  • Feedback and improvement for the following year.

Sales promotions. Black Friday is a day when consumers are primed to open their wallets and buy. We often see conversion rates on rise by three-to-four times what they normally are — although conversion rates for the week or so before the sale are roughly one-half of normal.

We try to make sure the sales promos are exciting and satisfying for our shoppers. We tend to put broad swaths of our products on sale. We might offer these discounts during the rest of the year on individual products, but during the Black Friday sale our customers can order many different products and enjoy sale pricing on most categories, instead of only one.

We also run “lightning deals” of heavily discounted products with a limited time and quantity — e.g., “sale goes live at noon and we only have five items available at this price.”

Additionally, in our physical store we offer “door busters” aimed at enticing shoppers to stop by. “Door busters” tend not to work as well online.

Timing and organization. Your customers and employees need to know when the sale will be live and how to order. This sounds simple, but there are a couple of tricky points regarding when to announce the sale. If the announcement is too early, you risk missing shoppers that delay ordering and maybe even forget to order and go to a competitor. If it’s too late, you risk missing out again as shoppers have already ordered or plan to order from your competitors.

For us, the sweet spot is announcing the sale — to our email subscribers — about a week out.

Staffing. We have toyed with hiring seasonal help or, alternatively, getting our employees to work a lot of overtime. I’m still not sure which option is better. If we require overtime, our employees could get tired and burn out. Seasonal hiring can be positive, in that the hires can sometimes develop into full-time employees after the holidays.

The downside of seasonal hiring is that the help is almost always less efficient and more error prone.

Fulfillment and customer service. When we cram about 30 days worth of sales into four, it creates a huge bottleneck for outbound shipments. We compensate by asking UPS and our freight partners to provide more trucks for us to load, and by shifting human resources to shipping and fulfillment from marketing and other functions. Even though customers may receive a great price, they still expect fast shipping!

Promotions and partners. To get the word out on our sale, in the weeks and months leading up to Black Friday we coordinate with our marketing partners to make sure they are promoting us during the sale. We’ll often promote them in turn.

Another huge decision is whether to offer sale pricing on Amazon and eBay. Our choice is always no. We strongly prefer to keep the sales on our channels.

Feedback and improvement for the following year. We always have a feedback meeting in one to two weeks after the sale to go over the highlights and lowlights. What promos worked? What promos didn’t? What was the feedback from customers and employees? It’s handy to put all of this in a Google Doc so you can review it next year.

How do you plan for Black Friday?

Peter Keller
Peter Keller
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