4 Last-Minute Ecommerce Tweaks for Black Friday

Thanksgiving, Black Friday and CyberMonday are coming up fast. As the first and biggest red-letter days on the holiday shopping calendar, they’re likely to set the tone for the rest of the season to come.

There’s cause to feel optimistic. A recently-released forecast from industry researcher Forrester estimates that online holiday sales will total $59.5 billion, growing by a robust 15 percent over 2010. One of Forrester’s top predictions is that “key dates are getting bigger”: Black Friday and CyberMonday are likely to have a bigger impact than ever before as merchants maximize sales opportunities.

At the same time, consumer attitudes to Black Friday seem mixed. Major outlets’ plans to open bricks-and-mortar locations so early that shopping impinges on Thanksgiving Day itself have spawned a minor backlash. And online, merchants face the very real potential of discount overload. “Black November” campaigns have urged shoppers to hunt for bargains for a full month now already; according to Chad White’s Retail Email blog, the volume of promotional emails has rocketed since Halloween, and now averages 3.6 messages per week, outpacing last year.

So while the Black Friday opportunity is huge, it’s crucial to stand out from the crowd. Online merchants must offer shoppers fresh solutions to their gifting challenges, and promote those unique benefits prominently. To elevate your Black Friday game, enact these last-minute tweaks:

Use prominent global positioning to highlight specials. With any page on your ecommerce site a potential landing page from a search engine or social network, be sure that Black Friday/CyberMonday deals are prominently positioned throughout the ecommerce site. The global header is one prominent area to consider. Another is a global banner positioned at the top of the center content area on every page – a position used by Design Toscano for a free shipping offer.

Emphasize crowd-free convenience. Message directly to those shoppers balking at the prospect of Black Friday lines by stressing the convenience and ease of online shopping. MarketLive’s 2011 Consumer Shopping Survey found that “saving time” resonated with 77% of consumers as a motivator for shopping online — second only to “saving money” at 79%. “Avoid the crowds at the mall” was another top incentive, chosen by 73% of consumers.

Show you’ll follow through with service. Let shoppers know that their entire experience will be hassle-free, especially after they click “Buy”. Elevate customer service information, clearly message shipping and delivery timelines and promote return and exchange policies. Land’s End highlights customer service with a graphic in the left-hand column, and also ensures key information is instantly available throughout the site with a global footer, anchored to the bottom of the browser window, that includes links to gift cards, shipping and customer service information.

Highlight charitable connections. Consumers value a brand’s commitment to charitable causes – and are willing to pay for it. According to the 2010 Goodpurpose study from Edelman, 72 percent of U.S. consumers said they’re more willing to buy from companies that are committed to good causes, even if competitors are cheaper. Highlight your existing holiday giving campaign – or, if you don’t already have one, you can craft a pledge to donate a percentage of Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales from a specific product category to charity. Promote that pledge and the associated products on the site, in email and on social networks; your brand’s reputation and bottom line are likely to benefit.

With these final Black Friday tweaks in place, merchants will be well positioned to win sales throughout the crucial Thanksgiving weekend – setting the stage for a successful holiday season overall.

Ken Burke (ken@marketlive.com) is founder and chairman of ecommerce platform provider MarketLive.