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eCommerce

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Nov 14, 2023

Ecommerce holiday playbook: From Black Friday to New Year's - Interview with Kurt Elster

Kurt Elster
Kurt Elster
Rebecca Anderson

Rebecca Anderson

Ecommerce holiday playbook: From Black Friday to New Year's - Interview with Kurt Elster

As the holiday season approaches, every eCommerce brand faces the challenge of standing out during Black Friday and beyond.

We discussed this and more in a recent episode of "Click to Buy”, where Instant welcomed Kurt Elster. 

One of the most highly regarded independent consultants in his industry, Kurt Elster is a Senior Ecommerce Consultant who helps Shopify merchants like Jay Leno’s Garage uncover hidden profits in their websites through his ecommerce agency Ethercycle. With two million downloads, Kurt is best known for hosting The Unofficial Shopify Podcast.

This article explores the main takeaways from our discussion, including Kurt's expert advice on preparing for this critical sales period. Discover tactics for customer engagement, strategic planning, and maintaining post-holiday sales momentum.

To listen to our full conversation, tune into the full episode: 

How to prepare for Black Friday

With Black Friday fast approaching, the best time to prepare is now. However, this doesn't mean launching promotions right away. It's about setting the groundwork.

Here are a few crucial actions to take before BFCM:  

1. Grow the top of the funnel: 

Focus on acquiring new prospects; this includes:

  • Building your email subscriber list.

  • Increasing website visitors.

  • Creating retargeting audiences on platforms like Facebook.

By growing your top-of-funnel early, you can focus focus on retargeting them during and before the BFCM period. 

2. Newsletter and retargeting: 

Getting potential customers onto your newsletter and into retargeting audiences is crucial. This approach allows you to effectively reach out to them with promotions when Black Friday approaches.

3. Gather impressions early

Begin by showing your brand to as many people as possible. The costs of advertising, such as PPC (PayPerClick) and Facebook ads, will rise as Black Friday nears due to increased competition.

4. Landing pages are essential 

When it's time for Black Friday sales, focus on the following:

  • Creating dedicated landing pages.

  • Designing alternate product and collection templates.

  • Clearly outlining promotions on these pages. For example, if the promotion is "50% off t-shirts" or "buy one get one free," this should be immediately visible and emphasized at the top of the landing page.

5. Avoid common mistakes: 

Don't direct customers to generic pages like the homepage or a product page that doesn't clearly restate the promotion. 

It's essential to make the offer straightforward and easily understandable to encourage purchases.

6. Rejecting overthinking: 

Many business owners get paralyzed by analysis, leading them to do nothing out of fear of failure. Instead, Kurt advises taking any action, however small, to avoid this trap. 

One strategy for overcoming this BFCM stress is by breaking down the overwhelming task of preparing for Black Friday into smaller, manageable steps. This approach helps in making the process seem less daunting.

7. Promotion planning: 

It's essential to determine what types of promotions are feasible and align with your brand. Kurt suggests considering various options like:

  • Bundles.

  • Free gifts with purchases.

  • Straight discounts across the store (though he acknowledges some brands may be reluctant due to concerns about devaluing their brand).

8. Merchandising and promotion integration: 

After deciding on the types of promotions, it's crucial to integrate them with your merchandise. This could involve choosing overstock products for free gifts or developing new items for specific promotions.

10. Utilizing a calendar for promotions: 

Planning different promotions for each day of the Black Friday week can be highly effective. This could include different sale categories or varying free gifts with purchases each day.

11. Managing creative tasks: 

The final step involves creating the necessary creative elements like newsletters, landing pages, and social ads. Kurt acknowledges that this part can be overwhelming and suggests outsourcing some of these tasks to alleviate the pressure.

12. Outsourcing technical and marketing tasks: 

Successful clients often outsource the technical implementation and marketing aspects of their campaigns. This allows them to focus on campaign conception and overall strategy.

Kurt’s advice provides a clear, structured approach to tackling the challenges of Black Friday preparation, emphasizing the importance of strategic planning, gradual implementation, and, where necessary, outsourcing to ensure a successful shopping season.

Getting creative with your promotion strategies

To break through the noise during this high-traffic period, creating unique and memorable promotions is essential. 

Black Friday campaign example: Hoonigan 

Kurt recalls a campaign for Hoonigan that focused on promotions without discounting. This brand, catering to a specific demographic interested in car culture, leveraged the power of a free gift with purchase effectively.

The promotion involved giving away different collectible enamel pins with purchases each day of the week. 

Here’s an example of the email that Hoonigan sent on 27 November, 2022 during BFCM weekend. 

Here’s how Kurt and Hoonigan’s hyped up this promotion for Black Friday success: 

  • Exclusivity: These pins were exclusive and not available for purchase, adding a sense of exclusivity and mystery.


  • Engagement through daily reveals: Each day, a new pin was revealed, encouraging repeat visits and purchases from the brand’s loyal customer base. This approach not only increased customer engagement but also boosted the repeat purchase rate.


  • Discount ladder strategy: The campaign was structured as a discount ladder, with the required purchase amount increasing each day. This strategy effectively encouraged higher spending over the week.


  • Leveraging brand elements: The pins featured elements from Hoonigan's YouTube channel, like cars that had become 'characters,' making the promotion more appealing to fans of the brand.

Additional considerations for creative promotions

In addition to free gift with purchase, mystery gifts are another tactic that can be used during Black Friday and the holiday season. 

For example, Jay Leno’s Garage used mystery buckets to drive sales. 

Here’s an example of the mystery bucket promotion, a tactic used by Leno’s Garage. 

These promotions promise a certain value of products without revealing the specifics, enticing customers with the thrill of surprise.

That being said, while these strategies worked well for the mentioned brands, Kurt notes that the success of such quirky promotions depends on whether they align with the brand’s identity and customer base.

Kurt's insights reveal the potential impact of creative, well-thought-out promotional strategies, particularly those that create excitement and a sense of mystery among customers.

Balancing customer acquisition and loyalty tactics

During sales periods like Black Friday, brands must strike a strategic balance between acquiring new customers and nurturing loyalty among returning customers. 

Kurt stresses the importance of striking a balance between targeting new customers and retaining existing ones. 

He points out that focusing solely on new customers can be costly due to high customer acquisition costs. Conversely, relying only on returning customers is unsustainable as the customer base will naturally diminish over time.

Here’s how Kurt recommends balancing these goals: 

1. Ideal return customer rate 

He suggests that for most businesses, especially those not selling consumable subscription goods, achieving a 25% to 35% return customer rate year-round is a good target, with 40% being exceptionally high.

2. Shifting focus by season: 

Focus on acquiring new customers through September and October. 

As Black Friday approaches, particularly around mid-November, Kurt advises shifting marketing efforts towards retargeting and re-engaging existing customers, citing the rising costs of acquiring new customers at the top of the funnel.

3. Exclusive offers for repeat customers: 

One tactic is to run an early bird sale in early November, offering existing customers a sneak preview or special deals. This approach not only rewards loyalty but also serves as a test for Black Friday promotions.

4. Encouraging repeat purchases: 

After a customer makes a purchase, Kurt suggests following up with an offer for a discount on a second purchase within a short time frame. This strategy not only shows appreciation for their initial purchase but also encourages additional spending.

Kurt's insights offer a nuanced understanding of the dynamics between attracting new customers and building loyalty with existing ones. 

Maintaining holiday momentum: post-Black Friday strategies

To keep the holiday shopping momentum going after Black Friday and into December, Kurt suggested a number of ways to extend holiday promotions and capitalize on the festive season: 

1. Replicate successful formats: 

Similar to the Black Friday campaigns, he suggests running a "12 Days of Christmas" sale. This involves using the same format but with different merchandise or categories.

2. Add urgency with shipping deadlines: 

Incorporating shipping deadlines can create a sense of urgency. For example, offering free shipping for a limited time before Christmas can encourage timely purchases.

3. Leverage 'Shipageddon' lessons: 

Kurt mentions recent challenges like overwhelmed delivery services, suggesting that highlighting these issues can further emphasize the urgency of buying before it's too late for Christmas delivery.

4. Focus on digital goods post-shipping deadline: 

Once the shipping deadline has passed, Kurt advises shifting focus to digital goods, such as electronic gift cards. These can be a great option for last-minute shoppers.

5. Gift guides and landing pages:

To make holiday shopping easy for consumers, Kurt recommends two tactics: 

  • Creating helpful gift guides: Segmenting gift guides by price or demographic, like gifts under $50 or gifts for teens, to aid customers in their purchase decisions.

  • Utilizing landing pages effectively: Building landing pages tailored to holiday rush promotions and gift guides.

6. Promote post-Christmas sales: 

After Christmas, stores can target customers who might have received cash or gift cards. An effective tactic is sending out promotional emails that encourage them to buy something they really wanted but didn’t receive.

7. Kickstarting sales in the New Year:

To get sales going again in the new year, Kurt recommends two specific strategies: 

  • Leverage New Year’s resolutions: especially in the fitness, health, and nutrition sectors.

  • Post-holiday sales slump strategy: Holding a major sale in mid-January to clear the holiday and previous year's inventory, taking advantage of the most price-sensitive period.

Kurt's insights provide a roadmap for businesses to not only maintain sales momentum through the holiday season but also to effectively navigate the post-holiday period. 

Common mistakes in eCommerce and effective planning for sales events

In order to run successful major sale events year-round, Kurt cautions against common pitfalls that many eCommerce brands struggle with. 

Avoid overreacting to individual complaints:

Kurt warns against making broad changes based on feedback from a single customer. He points out that it's easy to exaggerate the significance of one complaint and suggests taking a more measured approach before implementing any changes.

Question assumptions and decision-making: 

He advises eCommerce brands to critically assess their own assumptions and decision-making processes. This involves being cautious about blindly following competitors' strategies or reacting to customer feedback without proper analysis.

Simplifying the Black Friday approach: 

Kurt recommends thinking about what you, as a customer, want to see from brands and what annoys you. This customer-centric approach can guide your planning for Black Friday and other sales events.

Data-driven decision-making: 

He emphasizes the importance of making decisions based on data rather than a limited set of opinions or reactions. This approach helps in creating strategies that are more likely to resonate with a broader customer base.

Effective scheduling and planning: 

He advocates for scheduling specific times to work on different aspects of a sales event. This could include focusing on campaign planning one week and then merchandising the next, thereby ensuring a thorough and well-planned approach.

This approach aims to help businesses avoid common pitfalls and succeed in competitive sales periods.

Final thoughts

Wrapping up, Kurt's expertise illuminates the path to a successful holiday sales season. By focusing on strategic planning, customer-centric promotions, and data-driven decision-making, businesses can navigate the challenges of Black Friday and sustain their sales momentum into the new year. Remember, the key is to start early, plan meticulously, and always keep the customer's needs at the forefront.

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