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Black Friday Cyber Monday 2020: Likes and Yikes

Jim Babb
Jim Babb

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Black Friday and Cyber Monday were different this year… because everything’s different in 2020.

According to RetailNext, sales in physical stores were down almost 30% from 2019. Meanwhile, ecommerce continued to soar. Adobe Analytics, which tracks 80 of the top 100 U.S. ecomm sites, measured a record $9.03 billion in Black Friday sales, followed by another record $10.84 billion on Cyber Monday.

Our team analyzed the BFCM landscape to identify three marketing strategies we liked—and three that were yikes.

LIKE: Sales as event programming

National Retail Federation research found that 42% of shoppers started their holiday shopping early this year, and many retailers weren’t waiting for Black Friday, either. We were impressed by ecomm sites that found creative ways to structure and message a parade of deals, discounts, freebies, and exclusives.

A great example is the way Huckberry built BFCM momentum with their holiday lineup. This feels very much like an event listing, and it’s exciting to see a variety of offers, including a veterans’ discount, a new product drop, and an annual contest.

Home Depot used a slightly different tactic. The days before and after BFCM brought rotating daily deals, and the only way to get the details was by visiting the store’s website. If your inventory is broad enough, this can be a compelling way to encourage repeat visits—and multiple buys.

LIKE: A personal touch

Department stores are dead, but Nordstrom may be an exception. Not only did the company beat Q3 estimates, it seems well-positioned for the post-pandemic future, thanks to smart investments in fulfillment operations and ecommerce. Customer service is a cornerstone of Nordstrom’s brand: Its stores have in-house stylists to revamp your wardrobe, beauty experts to suggest the right lipstick or perfume, and other associates trained in the art of helping people who don’t know what they want. 

For BFCM, Nordstrom moved its personalized service online. Each day featured new deals (aka daily drops), and each item was selected by a store shopper who provided product insight and gifting advice. For those who miss the reassuring feeling of IRL shopping with a knowledgeable salesperson, this was the next best thing.

LIKE: Simple interactions with high value

We saw a few versions of this, but the example here comes from jeweler Lizzie Fortunato (a P+S client). To build their marketing list while driving interest in Black Friday sales, LF offered an early access pass to the sale with email submission. What made this approach great was the fact that it emphasized benefits for the customer, not the brand, thanks to a 10% discount and other special offers.

We talk a lot about social proof here at Part and Sum. Time and time again, we’ve seen that people look for other people’s opinions before they buy. Ulta created a sense of buzz around key products by displaying a simple timed purchase counter on hover. Remember when you’d see a long line and think, “Wow, I should check that out”? This is that, from the comfort of home.

YIKES: Shipping stress

Earlier this year USPS, UPS, and FedEx warned retailers to expect holiday surcharges. The pandemic-driven spike in online shopping had already strained shipping and logistics operations—in fact, some carriers are even running out of delivery vans.

While many ecommerce stores offered free shipping with no or low minimum buys, we noticed a few exceptions.

At beleaguered prep shop J.Crew, free shipping was only available to those who enrolled in the store’s loyalty program. Everyone else paid $5 for standard or $15 for expedited shipping, regardless of order amount. 

One of our team members discovered a surprising detail in the Adidas checkout flow: Every order—shipped free or not—came with a $2 seasonal surcharge attributed to “an increase in carrier and handling costs during this busy holiday season.” In other words, that FedEx surcharge was paid by customers, not the company.

“For 40% off, I’ll forgive $2,” one of our strategists commented. “But it’s the principle!” 

Exactly. It’s an odd move, unless Adidas is feeling price-matching pain, or seriously selling at cost and risking losses on the sale. What’s more, the majority of their products are priced at $160 or below; buying just one item and applying the 40% holiday discount would slide your cart under the $100 free shipping threshhold. Spend more, or pay.

YIKES: Bargain-basement prices

Our team spotted discounts as high as 70% at several retailers, especially apparel and accessory stores, as well as some speciality retailers.

Perhaps the most striking drop of the season was at Banana Republic, which has struggled to shift its product mix from officewear to lie-on-the-couch-staring-at-Slack-wear. They practically gave things away: The entire store was on sale, up to 75% off, plus an additional 10% holiday discount, and free shipping on all orders. 

“Really makes you think about their margins,” said a strategist here. We also wondered how this will impact their brand identity long-term. A $180 blazer conveys a certain sense of value. What happens when people start thinking it’s only worth $44?

YIKES: COVID cluelessness

In our 2020 holiday planning guide, we emphasized the importance of marketing with extra sensitivity and tact this year. Seems Giant Supermarket didn’t get the memo.

At least they apologized.