6 Unforgettable Lessons Ecommerce Businesses Can Learn From Holiday-Sales Disasters
Expert Advice

6 Unforgettable Lessons E-Commerce Businesses Can Learn From Holiday-Sales Disasters

20 December, 2022
6 min read
Jake Rheude

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the biggest days on the retail calendar for most businesses. And, with shoppers spending nearly $9 billion online over those days alone, that means big business for e-commerce companies!

Unfortunately, not doing things right can also mean disaster or huge revenue losses. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just the beginning of the holiday sales, making them some of the most important dates for setting the grounds for success over the holidays.

If you’re looking to make the most out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the upcoming years, this guide is for you. Here are several lessons from other business’ disasters that will help you avoid falling into the same pitfalls:

  1. Don’t focus on cash-only sales
  2. Don’t forget your marketing campaigns
  3. Don’t wait until it’s too late to launch
  4. Create a sense of urgency
  5. Organise your inventory
  6. Test your website functionality

1. Don’t focus on cash only sales

An example of Sears' Thanksgiving, cash-only sale.Source: Sears

While releasing promotions regarding cash only sales can drive more buyers, they don’t always work. Cash only sales can lead to more revenue loss.

One good example is the clothing brand Sears. Interestingly enough, Sears was historically one of the first shops to open for Black Friday, starting their sales as early as 6 am on Thanksgiving Day!

Despite that, their focus on cash only discounts seems to have done them dirty. The brand has consistently reported net losses of $100 million or more on Black Friday since 2013.  

Rather than falling into this same pitfall, it might be time to find a new way to give your customers some discounts. Not only can these still attract buyers, but they can also help you prevent losses:

  • BOGO sales (Buy one, get one free)
  • Free shipping and returns
  • Free items for orders over a certain value

BOGO sales

BOGO sales, or "buy one get one", are one of the easiest ways to sell your products quickly and gain more revenue, as they allow customers to pick up two items for the price of one.

BOGO sales are efficient solutions to move surplus stocks, especially slow-moving products. They also help increase your customer engagement and conversion rates.

The main reason why BOGO sales are better than cash only sales is that you’re preserving the product’s value. When you give discounts, you’re giving your customers the impression that the product’s value is less than before.

However, with BOGO, it’s like you’re maintaining the original value because, technically, you’re selling the products at full price.

Free shipping and returns

It’s safe to say that no one likes seeing an additional shipping cost before checking out. Heck, most customers abandon their online carts when they see that the shipping fee costs so much! 

Free shipping discounts, especially when only applied after customers meet a certain purchase threshold, drive consumers to put more in their carts. That amounts to more sales and more revenue!

Free items

Another way to entice customers to buy is by offering free products once they reach a purchase minimum. Typically, the free items are of low cost to the seller, so you’re still making a profit just by the original purchase. 

One example of a business that does this is Bath & Body Works. This company regularly gives out free items to customers who purchase certain products or certain amounts of products on Black Friday.

2. Don’t forget your marketing campaigns

One of the biggest pitfalls people run into on Black Friday is not marketing products at all. Or, they only market Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Some brands tend to focus only on marketing one holiday or the other and not taking advantage of both. A good example is Charlotte Russe, a clothing and shoe retailer. 

A few years ago, Charlotte Russe forgot its Cyber Monday marketing. They forgot it so much that when Cyber Monday rolled around with deals, some shoppers were mad that they’d shelled out cash on Black Friday instead of waiting!

When it comes to marketing for the holidays, make sure your company is sharing both Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. And ensure you’re making those deals known to clients. 

Otherwise, you may be unable to drum up the excitement you need from holiday shoppers. 

To ensure you don’t fall into this same trap, check out these tips on effectively marketing your products this holiday season:

  • Email blasts
  • Social media campaigns
  • Digital ads

Holiday calendar by Sendible helps your create fun content for social media

Email blasts

Email blasts are a direct form of marketing that convince individuals who have signed up for mailing lists to take certain actions. A couple of actions include: 

  • Checkout an item on their cart
  • Schedule a demo 
  • Register for a specific event
  • Sign up for a free trial

Statistics reveal that 99% of customers still check their emails daily. In other words, by sending out these blasts and putting your sales in front of customers, you’re more likely to drive profit during the holidays.

An example of an email blast campaignSource: Omnisend

Social media campaigns

Social campaigns are another key way to market your upcoming holiday promotions and sales. Since about 53.9% of the global population has social media accounts, this is a pretty impactful way to make your brand visible.

Launching good social campaigns for Black Friday means getting your ads up early. It also means creating attractive offers and images that lure customers in through a sense of urgency. 

In doing so, you can connect your brand with individuals who are simply scrolling on social media and start putting your products in their minds for when the holidays roll around.

Black Friday social media giveaway example by Ye Olde Donut ShoppeSource: LitExtension

Digital ads

Digital ads have two main goals: increase brand awareness and improve your brand’s online presence. These advertisements can successfully deliver a brand’s message to its consumers. 

Aside from building your online presence, digital advertising also promotes flexibility. The digital campaigns you launch can be easily shared on various online platforms. 

To get your products seen this holiday season, launch digital ad campaigns. You can launch these in places like Yahoo, Bing, Google Ads, Facebook, and TikTok, to name a few.

A screenshot of Black Friday deals sponsored on GoogleSource: Search Engine Journal

3. Don’t wait until it’s too late to launch

Another big pitfall some companies fall into during Black Friday is waiting too late to launch their sales.

You see, companies are launching their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals earlier and earlier. Some are even launching as early as the end of October! For instance, Amazon has been rolling out Prime Days in September to drive consumer purchases early on. 

With that said, other companies just don’t seem to have their act together. For example, one year Costco sales didn’t hit until December. As a result, Costco saw big losses in December because customers had already purchased gifts during the November holiday rush!

In general, you want to start marketing your holiday sales right around mid-November. This gives you enough time to build up hype without waiting until customers have already made all their purchases.

Additionally, there are a few things you can do to help manage holiday fulfilment

  • Stay informed about consumer trends
  • Delegate logistics to internal team members
  • Ensure you have enough inventory to cover holiday orders
  • Test your systems

Doing so can help you prep for the holiday season early so that you don’t find yourself in a pinch once it’s time to launch sales!

Free template for planning social media campaigns

4. Create a sense of urgency

Remember what we said about companies launching their sales early? Well, it needs to be said that there’s an issue with launching too early as well.

A screenshot of Withings sales banner saying Tomorrow is too lateSource: Selzy

Amazon, for instance, launched its Prime Day haul in July 2022. Many of the sales were marketed as ways for consumers to get their holiday shopping in early. 

The problem here is that these sales were too early into the year. Since they were six months out from the holiday season, customers didn’t have the same sense of urgency to buy. They figured they could score those same deals right around Black Friday and Cyber Monday!

When it comes to holiday sales, ensure that you correctly time your buildup and marketing to make customers feel pressed for time to buy. 

Some of the most effective ways to create a sense of urgency for your Black Friday campaigns are the following:

  • Inform your audience that the promotion will hold until only supplies last.
  • Add the “limited availability” phrase so your followers will want to purchase immediately.
  • Make your deals available only for a particular time duration. 

On the other hand, you can keep your audience engaged throughout the entire Cyber Monday by releasing countdown offers.

5. Organise your inventory

A photo of a worker organising inventory at Red Stag FulfillmentSource: Red Stag Fulfillment

In 2021, Macy’s had a big supply issue on Black Friday. The company had been promising sales for days leading up to Cyber Monday. 

However, they hadn’t gotten their supply chain logistics or inventory in check. As a result, shipping containers of customer products purchased on holiday wound up stuck in the Pacific Ocean!

Customers were far from impressed, and the company saw a huge amount of backlash over the issue.

Before Black Friday rolls around, ensure you have enough inventory to cover sold-out items in your online store. Also, make sure that you’ve organised your third-party suppliers so you can deliver the goods you promise your customers on time.

6. Test your website functionality

An example of an error message about the crash of website due to huge influx of traffic during Black Friday sales.Source: Insider

One of the biggest Black Friday fails e-commerce businesses can face is faulty website functionality. And don’t be fooled—this can happen to the best of us!

During the pandemic, J Crew had a huge website crash during the Black Friday rush. Their site simply couldn’t handle the huge influx of web traffic. Experts estimate they may have lost as much as $775,000 in sales due to the crash!

You must ensure your website works to avoid issues like J Crew experienced before the official Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Test its entire functionality to see what errors and issues need fixing. Additionally, make sure that it’s set to handle high volumes of web traffic.

It’s also best that your website automatically updates when a certain product becomes sold out. This prevents confusion, guaranteeing a smooth overall user experience.

Final thoughts

The holidays can be a huge profit booster for your business. However, they can leave you stressed out without the right prep work. 

Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure to plan out your promotions and marketing correctly. You also need to ensure your site and systems can handle the influx of traffic. 

With those things taken care of, you should be all set for a successful Black Friday and Cyber Week, as well as the holiday season! And, if you need any help on the social marketing side, check out our handy resources to get an idea of how to manage things.


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