Most would agree that 2020 has been a year like no other.
And while just about everybody has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic to varying degrees, it’s fair to say that merchants have had a particularly turbulent year.
From massive spikes in demand resulting from panic buying to supply chain issues that affected product availability and mandatory shutdowns, 2020 has been a wild ride.
As we enter the final stretch year and the holiday shopping season approaches though, there is one final question on the minds of many merchants:
How will COVID affect Black Friday sales?
With images of long lines and crowds of shoppers clamoring at doors as they open a fundamental part of the sales in previous years, Black Friday during COVID is going to look very different.
Just because we aren’t likely to see the same crowds as before, it’s not all bad news for merchants. We’ve already seen a massive increase in online shopping this year as people limited the times they left their homes.
Google’s research indicates 73% of U.S. holiday shoppers plan to do more shopping online this holiday period than they have in previous years, and 77% say they will browse for gift ideas online rather than in store, indicating shoppers aren’t entirely comfortable going back to brick-and-mortar retailers as yet.
Whether it’s pivoting to capitalize on this trend by running more online sales or spreading your Black Friday sales out more by starting earlier, there are many ways to adjust your marketing in response to COVID.
That’s why we asked 20 experts for their top tips on how you can adapt your marketing in response to COVID in 2020. With a particular emphasis on the most effective and profitable channel: Email marketing.
Here’s what they came up with.
Be empathetic in your Black Friday marketing
If there was ever a year not to make your Black Friday marketing all about driving sales, 2020 is it.
While you don’t necessarily have to address the coronavirus situation in your marketing campaigns, if you decide to do so, make sure you do so empathetically.
Touching on the pandemic in a compassionate way by showing that you care about your customers’ experiences and the struggles they may be facing can do wonders for building brand loyalty and engagement.
This is what Matt Press from Splash Copywriters has been doing:
I’ve had to adopt a much more sensitive tone. Businesses can’t just pump out content with the jovial, everyday vibe that has been the fashion in recent times. The reality is, people are worried. Business continues because things still get bought, but not in the same way. Not right now, anyway.
As marketers, we must be aware of the big picture.
My advice for any kind of marketing campaign in these times is to think carefully about tonality. Show sensitivity and think about how the product or service fits into today’s world, not how it would be beneficial pre-COVID.
April Duffy, the owner of Cloth Diapers for Beginners, also agrees on the benefits of being empathetic in your marketing:
People trust the opinions of people like themselves, so showing customers you not only understand what they’re going through but you feel it too will build trust and activate the “we’re in this together” feelings that stressful times always stir up.
By allowing your brand to acknowledge the hardships of the time; not just about lockdowns, but for losing loved ones, for being uncomfortable in public, or losing income/opportunities to name a few, you’ll not only increase sales, but you’ll increase readership and build brand loyalty that will help you come out of these tough times even stronger than you went into them.
Artem Klimkin from Linkshero echos this point by talking about the need to help potential customers rather than pushing them to buy straightaway:
In my opinion, one of the best things you can show during this period is empathy and care for your customers. You can (and should) provide value to people before trying to sell them. For example, we built an entire section dedicated to reviewing orthopedic cushions for chairs which, essentially, shows which cushion would work best for any given person/condition. So rather than pointing people to a product page (which is like screaming “buy this now”), we help people first.
In addition to being empathetic, Kayleigh Duggan, the Senior Marketing Client Manager at ThoughtLab, stresses the importance of transparency as well:
My number one suggestion for email marketing during these unprecedented times is to be transparent. Right now, consumers are more vulnerable than ever and the last thing they need are businesses trying to sugarcoat or cover anything up.
Mention the pandemic and sympathize with the subscriber. Highlight your deal or sale and give it a lifespan that stretches from Black Friday to or through Cyber Monday.
A great example would be “We know things are a little crazy this year and we are here for you. Take 50% off XYZ and we’ll even throw in free shipping so you can stay home, avoid the crowds, and focus on keeping your family safe.”
Offer practical help and assistance
Talking about how “we’re all in this together” and “we’ll get through this together” is great but it’s even better if you’re able to back this up with something more meaningful to your customers.
This could include more flexible financing options to increase sales, as Matt Satell, the Marketing Manager from Little Bundle suggests:
Consumers have been hit hard by the COVID pandemic and their wallets are stretched thin. As a result, many will be more selective with their purchases this holiday season.
Consider offering financing options to customers to let them buy now and pay later. Especially for higher ticket items, highlighting flexible payment terms in email messaging will help put consumers at ease knowing their bank account doesn’t need to take an immediate hit.
Instead of trying to offer buy now, pay later services yourself, an easier option would be to set your store up with third-party providers like Afterpay, Klarna or Affirm. All of which will give your customers the option of flexible financing without you taking on the risk.
Getting shoppers inside your store
If you have a physical brick and mortar store, it might be challenging to get shoppers through the door this Black Friday as people avoid crowds.
If you find that your customers have been reluctant to visit in recent weeks and months, then the lead up to Black Friday is the perfect time to remind them of your COVID-safe practices.
Just as Juliana Weiss-Roessler, co-founder of WR Digital Marketing, suggests:
If you rely on customers coming to your physical location, you need to communicate how you’re keeping them safe. What are the rules to enter your establishment? How are you enforcing them? What are your cleaning procedures?
Whether or not you are aware, people are talking about what businesses are enforcing safety precautions, like wearing masks, and those that aren’t. If you get a word-of-mouth reputation as a place that isn’t safe, you’ll lose out on customers.
For some people, coming to your physical location simply isn’t an option right now. Whenever possible, make sure your in-person sales are also available online.
Reduce the possibility of crowds
Whether you’re required by law to keep the number of customers in your store below a certain level to maintain social distancing or simply want to keep your customers and staff safe, you’ll want to avoid any large crowds on Black Friday.
To help achieve this, Sharon van Donkelaar, the Chief Marketing Officer at Expandi, has a couple of suggestions:
If there is one thing we need to avoid on Black Friday it’s the massive gatherings that happen around this time of the year. So the first thing to include in your email, preferably in your Black Friday email subject line is that you offer free delivery on all Black Friday deals.
This will separate you from competitors right away, as it shows that your business is willing to incur the shipping cost to keep its customers safe during the pandemic. It might require some logistical and budgeting acrobatics to pull-off, but I think it’s the best way to win the email marketing battle this holiday season.
Ana Khlystova, the Content Marketing Manager at HelpCrunch, also suggests holding dedicated in-store hours for particular customers so that they feel safe visiting your store:
If you’re running a brick and mortar store, your biggest challenge would be a huge increase in the number of visitors. While this sounds like a great opportunity for your business, the current pandemic situation calls for some different measures.
One of the ways to manage the crowd size is to send emails with some kind of a shopping schedule a few days before the event. For instance, such emails can explain when different at-risk groups can shop at your store without much contact with other buyers.
This way, you’ll be able to attract more customers who otherwise would stay away from any shopping whatsoever due to higher health risks.
Offer a click and collect service
There will be some customers who will prefer to come and pick up their Black Friday purchases in-store but are hesitant about being around too many people.
Offering a ‘click and collect’ service is a great way to help alleviate these customer concerns and further reduce the likelihood of crowds. As James Jason, the Chief Marketing Officer at Mitrade, suggests:
My COVID Black Friday marketing idea is to send an email with an overview of what to expect on Black Friday or Cyber Monday then announce BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In-Store).
By sending an email to the clients on what and when to expect, it prepares them for the big day financially and mentally. BOPIS, in turn, informs them that they don’t have to rush to the stores and scramble for the offers as customers are still avoiding public spaces. If possible, announce doorstep delivery for those who clinch the offers on the big days.
Chans Weber, the CEO and Founder of LeapClixx, also suggests a similar set up:
Something that is likely to give businesses an edge over the competition, while helping with any COVID fears of consumers, is to arrange an email pre-order and collection plan.
This will allow consumers to simply pop in on a day after Black Friday when it’s not too busy to collect the item they already paid for. This means your consumers are still able to take advantage of your great deals while being able to still feel safe by not visiting on a day when stores are likely to have more people in than they might feel comfortable with.
Start your Black Friday marketing early
While empathizing with your customers and helping alleviate their concerns can be invaluable, it’s important not to forget that Black Friday, even during COVID in 2020, is still a sales event.
That’s why it’s important you still run your Black Friday campaigns and, as many experts stress, you run them early.
Just as Michael Chammas, the founder of Makro Agency, points out:
My biggest advice to brands, especially during the COVID-19 is to remember that they are not the only company trying to reach out to their customers
In the days leading up to Black Friday / Cyber Monday, almost every ecommerce brand that has a customer’s email will try to advertise their promotion, sales, and more. Expect customers to receive countless emails that frankly will all say the same things
I recommend brands this year to take a new approach. Start early, very early. Come up with existing campaigns and make sure your customers know about it weeks in advance. Due to COVID, customers have a limited spending budget and must plan ahead. Don’t expect your customers to take note of your promotion during the days leading up to BFCM when they will probably receive 15 emails a day.
Start sending emails before mid-November. Many businesses make the mistake of only showing up in their subscribers’ inbox a week before thanksgiving to announce a sale. To separate yourself from the competition, build a relationship with your subscribers by providing value leading up to Black Friday/Cyber Monday so by the time those offer emails hit their inbox they’ll be excited to hear from you.
Use your emails to provide reassurance that your business is doing everything to ensure safety (from curbside pickup to contactless delivery to in-store customer limits and frequent sanitizing). This reminder will encourage consumers to shop confidently, whether in person or online.
As does Annabel Maw, Director of Communications from JotForm:
Make the most of Black Friday this year by starting your sale early. Even beginning your sale 1-2 weeks in advance will give your customers more time to purchase from you, which will increase your sales overall.
Think about shipping
There’s another reason to start your Black Friday marketing early this year: The potential for shipping delays.
The risk of customers not getting their orders by Christmas is what convinced Brandon Shoupe from Awesome Dice to start getting their Black Friday emails out early:
Our Black Friday/Cyber Monday email strategy is as much about avoiding COVID-induced disaster and disgruntled customers as it is about capturing orders.
While everyone wants to get as many orders as possible, this year ecommerce owners should be worried about heading off disgruntled customers who don’t receive their orders in time for Christmas because of an overwhelmed delivery network. Therefore our strategy this year will be to encourage shoppers to buy as early as possible.
With many people shopping online for the first time this year, chances are more of your customers than usual will have shipping-related questions and concerns as well. This has convinced Mike Greenberg from Mythology Source to be preemptive in addressing this:
With so many shoppers being forced to order online, one of their biggest worries is product handling and shipping. Our tactic this year is especially focused on reassuring the customer when it comes to shipping. We’re offering ‘Lockdown Special 60-Day Return Policies’ with all shipping and handling covered on our end.
The goal is to remove the barrier for shopping online – by making the online buying process smooth and risk-free, even for our oldest customers.
Go for the small business angle
COVID has impacted small and large businesses differently and certainly hasn’t created a level playing field. That said, if you’re a small business owner you can turn this to your advantage.
Just as George Hartley, CEO and co-founder of SmartrMail, points out:
People know that small businesses have been doing it tough during COVID and they want to help out where they can. So instead of trying to come across larger than you are, emphasize that you’re a small business owner.
You can do this by sending some brand-building emails now in the lead up to Black Friday that talks about things such as what inspired you to open your store and your brand’s ethos.
It’s even better if you only serve a particular region. That way you can also talk about the importance of supporting the local community as well.
Carly Fauth, the Head of Marketing at Money Crashers, also talks about taking the small business angle:
Prioritize content that reminds your customers of a) the value you add to the retail community and b) the importance of supporting smaller businesses during the pandemic. You’re competing against behemoths with vastly more resources, after all; an emotional appeal is needed to make inroads where you can’t compete on price or selection.
Online sales will be a bigger part of Black Friday in 2020
People have been increasingly opting to purchase online over in-person on Black Friday in previous years. And with COVID that trend is only going to be even more pronounced in 2020. As Phuc Nguyen from PageFly points out:
Back in 2019, we saw a spike in the number of online shoppers, with a staggering 43% growth, and at the same time, in-shop visits fell down by 6.2%. So we expect a similar trend this year, with even more exponential growth in online shopping, especially with the COVID-19 situation, hence optimizing your online store for CRO (especially with FOMO, Urgency and Upsell elements) and Page Speed before Black Friday is the foremost preparation strategy.
During BFCM, every business is bound to compete with each other to steal the spotlight, so you have to be creative – ask yourself again: What will your target customers need, during this time of the year, in this one-of-a-kind situation we’re having in 2020? Maybe a DoorDash gift card works better than a Lyft Gift card? Combining your creative digital promotion ideas with a multi-touched email or SMS campaign to meet your online shoppers where they are can be a killer strategy.
Keep your customers up-to-date
One of the defining features of the COVID pandemic is how quickly situations change. This has left many shoppers unsure of what shops are open, which are accepting orders, and so on.
This is why it’s important to keep your customers up-to-date on all the changes that potentially affect them. As Amara Ukaigwe, the CEO of Book Learn Pass, points out:
Add value to your emails by including accurate, real-time information about your business, and the products and services you offer.
Inaccurate information about stock levels, opening times, or new policies has been a major issue for consumers during the pandemic. You can overcome this problem by including up-to-date information where possible and this should lead to improved campaign performance.
Thinking beyond Black Friday
With all the attention on preparing leading into Black Friday, merchants tend to overlook how Black Friday can impact things after the weekend is over, both positively and negatively.
By putting a bit of thought into this, you can help ensure that Black Friday isn’t just a sharp spike in sales for one day or weekend, but has a lasting positive impact on your business.
This is the point that Raúl Galera from ReferralCandy makes:
When we talk about preparing for BFCM we typically think about the areas: inventory, marketing channels, promotions, discounts, etc but we tend to overlook what happens *after* BFCM.
This crazy time of the year is where most merchants focus on attracting new customers but, what happens after they’ve bought from you? It is extremely important not to overlook the post-purchase aspect of BFCM.
Your support team will have to be ready for a higher volume of tickets (probably even more than usual considering COVID-related shipping issues) but your marketing team will also have to figure out a clear post-purchase path for these new customers.
What do you want them to do after they’ve bought for the first time? Incentivize them to buy again? Leave a review? Refer a friend? Make sure your post-purchase call to action is extremely clear and leaves no doubt to the new customer as they interact with your brand for the first time.
Black Friday during COVID is going to be unlike any other Black Friday we’ve seen before. But like other years, it will still be a major opportunity for merchants to boost their sales.
Hopefully these tips have helped answer the question of how COVID will impact Black Friday and how you can adjust your marketing accordingly.
To help you maximize your sales, we also have plenty of other Black Friday resources, including:
- A curation of great Black Friday email examples
- A list of Black Friday subject lines you can use
- Black Friday campaign examples
- Black Friday campaign ideas
- Tips on when to send your Black Friday emails
As well as resources for your Cyber Monday email marketing and dealing with COVID more generally:
- Examples of great Cyber Monday emails
- Cyber Monday subject lines you can use
- Email marketing tips for dealing with COVID
Best of luck with your Black Friday marketing!