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8 Black Friday Pitfalls First-Time Sellers Should Be Aware Of

12 min read

Your first holiday sale is a lot like a first date: exciting — possibly overwhelming — and it can definitely keep you up at night. “What if my deals aren’t good enough? What if my ads don’t work? What if my products don’t ship on time?”

Holiday sales are intimidating. That’s why we’ve got a few lessons to help you stay cool this holiday sales season — no snow required.

Below are the top 8 most common mistakes merchants make when managing their first holiday sale. Steer clear of these, and you’ll be stuffing your customer’s stockings with shiny new toys in no-time — no chimney break-ins required.

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1. Not Enough Inventory

If you’re serious about getting the most from your Black Friday/Cyber Monday deal, make sure you stock up on plenty of products. Otherwise, you may disappoint more than your customers when those “out of stock” messages pop up sooner than anticipated.

It’s hard to estimate at the exact right stock quantities for your first Black Friday sale, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a pretty educated guess. Here’s a method you can use to help calculate your average safety stock level.

(Maximum daily product purchases X maximum time to make product) — (average daily product purchases X average time to make product) = safety stock

For example, maybe you sew handmade tote bags. You sell three bags a day on average and it usually takes you four days to sew one bag (including the time invested to buy fabric). If your supplier runs out of fabric, it takes an additional two business days to get more, making your maximum time to complete one product six days. Last month, you had a special offer for students which increased your order count by one bag per day, making your maximum daily product purchase four.

(4 X 6)  (3 X 4) = 24  12 = 12

This means you need to have twelve bags stocked and available at any one time. This is your safety stock, and it protects you from running out of products if something goes wrong (a supplier isn’t available, you get more orders than anticipated, etc.)

Elizabeth, owner of the Ecwid store Cloud 9 Design, says:

Take stock of your inventory early (ideally around the end of October/early November), and make sure you have enough material and packaging supplies to see you through the holiday season. Don’t forget all the little things you use, such as sticky labels or rolls of packing tape for example — these simple things can easily be forgotten until you run out!

product packaging details

Details matter!

2. Ignoring Shipping Deadlines

Shoppers want their purchases to arrive on time — and that’s doubly-true if they’re shopping for gifts for the holidays. Courier services tend to be overloaded during the holiday season and delivery times often lag the closer it gets to certain holidays.

To avoid customers receiving their new Christmas sweaters on Valentines Day, shipping providers set deadlines for guaranteed on-time delivery. Once the delivery deadline has passed, couriers can no longer guarantee that an order will arrive on time. Make yourself and your customers aware of any deadlines your shipping service may have to set the right expectations and help customers better plan their purchases.

Shipping deadlines in the US for popular providers

Shipping deadlines in the US for popular providers (source)

3. Spending Advertising Budget Too Fast

Did you know that costs-per-click in Google AdWords and Facebook jump up 2-3x during the holiday season? At that rate, you could easily burn through your advertising budget in the first few days of your campaigns, limiting ad visibility and campaign effectiveness.

Advertising system forecasts predict user-activity based on historical data like average number of searches and clicks over the previous months. These can be misleading stats going into the holiday sales season where consumer behavior is more erratic than previous months.

Instead of looking at data from the last few months, look at data from the previous holiday season. A service like Google Trends can show you how much searches for products like yours grew during the holidays, and the number of clicks and costs will have increased accordingly.

Google trends

If bidding for search terms makes you uncomfortable or you don’t have time to monitor your campaigns, try Ecwid’s automated advertising solutions for Google Ads.

You can also promote your deals through owned channels like email marketing and contests on social media or use a portion of your budget to participate in an offline holiday market.

If you do place ads on search engines and social networks, target your audience correctly and write creative copy to encourage more clicks.

4. Copying Other Merchants

After a while, holiday promotions can start to feel a little redundant. How many times can you realistically see “50% off! SHOP NOW!!!” before you just stop caring?

You’ll need to get creative if you want to win the attention (and dollars) of holiday shoppers. Here’s an example from AFOUR, where their team posted a cryptic image and asked customers to count how many pairs of shoes they saw:

black friday promotion ideas

The correct number turned out to be the discount they received during the sale. This outside-the-box approach turned what would have been just another holiday sale into a game allowing shoppers to engage with the brand and its marketing on a deeper level.

Learn more about gamification on the Ecwid E-commerce Show.

And don’t forget to tailor your messaging for your audience. For example, if you sell shoes and you’re targeting past customers, you can acknowledge their previous experience with your brand by asking them to send a photo in their original pair in exchange for a discount. Whatever you decide, remember to keep the conditions easy and the discount attractive.

5. Discounting the Wrong Product

You may be tempted to use the holiday season to get rid of old products that aren’t selling. But if those products don’t make good gifts, they’re unlikely to work as the backbone of your sale either.

If you really need to clear out unpopular stock, choose a softer strategy, like:

  • Offering discounts for popular products, then use the “You May Also Like” section on these product pages to promote the items you’re trying to sell off
  • Or combining best-sellers with less popular products in gift sets.

6. Cutting Prices Too Much

Each year, holiday discounts get more aggressive. These price wars can be next-to-impossible to win for small businesses.

black friday ideas

Some brands can give their products away for nothing on Black Friday

But if someone throws their products away, that doesn’t mean you should do the same. Profitable discounting is impossible without doing some math.

Check out the table below. Find the gross margin of your product in the left column, then find the column that shows your price decrease. Where the two numbers intersect is a number that shows how many more units you have to sell as a result of a price decrease to maintain the same gross profit.

calculate discount

7. Manipulating Your Prices

Whether it’s a simple mistake or an intentional misdirection, discounted prices aren’t always what they appear. Even big brands have been busted for playing price games with their customers.

Walmart discount prices

Generous discounts at Walmart (source)

Some of the most common price cheats include:

  • Raising prices a couple of days before a sale, then cutting them back to the original price with the sale tag.
  • Exaggerating a sale: for example, if a sign says “up to 70% off,” but the average discount throughout the store is only about 20%.
  • Misleading discount terms: for example, a store offers a flat $20 off, but when the customer tries to checkout, they learn that it’s only available with a purchase of $100 or more.

Misleading customers obviously isn’t something we’d recommend trying. You might win a few extra dollars in the short-term, but the risks definitely aren’t worth the reward. The internet never forgets, and if you get caught cheating, it can be difficult to untarnish your brand’s reputation.

8. Not Getting Your Online Store Ready

A good sale can lead to a pretty sizable increase in website traffic — which is a good thing — but it can also bring with it a variety of new challenges you probably don’t encounter in your normal day-to-day, like decreased website load times or even a payment service failure.

So, at a minimum, you’ll want to:

  • Optimize product images to speed up website load times.
  • Connect additional payment methods in case of service failures.
  • Employ an assistant who will answer clients’ questions via chat or over the phone.
  • Make sure that your web hosting, domain name, email service, and all other services are paid for in advance to avoid losing access during sale time.

In Short…

The holiday sale is a big project that requires a lot of planning. But even if you plan everything perfectly, that doesn’t mean it will work out that way. Don’t panic. Just roll with the punches, optimize where you can, and remember those lessons for next year.

Elizabeth, Cloud9Design

Elizabeth, Cloud9Design

Elizabeth at Cloud 9 Design advises:

You can even rope your kids into doing some basic prep for you, such as sticking postage labels on all your envelopes, assembling a batch of dispatch boxes, or cutting strips of ribbon to size. Prepare a few standard customer inquiry responses as templates now. It will save so much time being able to reply to emails by simply editing a template rather than starting each response from scratch. It’s surprising how time-consuming these little tasks can be when you have more urgent things that need your attention in the midst of Christmas chaos.

We wish you the best of Black Friday sales.


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About the author

Anna is a content creator at Ecwid. She loves big cities, pasta and Woody Allen's films.

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