Online spending on Black Friday grew 21.6% to cross $9 billion this year, according to real-time data from Adobe Analytics. But in a year marked by the disruption of a pandemic, are Black Friday sales numbers even relevant to small businesses?

Black Friday 2020 was less about a single sales day than it has ever been. Traditionally an in-store event, major retailers like Walmart announced as early as July that they would no longer begin in-store sales on Thanksgiving. Ecommerce giant Amazon began sales on October 26, signalling the extended window for holiday deals — and a range of retailers used pre-event sales at the beginning of November to mitigate Black Friday crowds.

COVID-19 and the ongoing pandemic have forced a change in retail behavior, but in truth these changes reflect an ongoing and persistent trend that presents both an opportunity and a challenge for small businesses. 

Black Friday has always presented both opportunities and challenges for small business owners. Sales volume is high because there are more people shopping. But that additional sales volume comes alongside steep discounts — which eat into margins — and fulfillment challenges that can turn a holiday weekend into an extended work week. 

Add to these challenges that Black Friday puts small businesses in unusually direct competition with major retailers. Consumer inboxes are flooded with coupon offers for Black Friday, making it more difficult than ever for small businesses to capture a share of the market. 

What’s the fix? 

As emphasis shifts from single-day sales and technology becomes more accessible to businesses of every size, small business owners are presented with an opportunity.

Black Friday sales aren’t disappearing any time soon, but the most successful businesses will be able to extend the sales period by preparing automations in advance of high-volume events — and then pairing those automations with segmentation and personalization to make compelling upsell and cross-sell offers after Black Friday. 

November data from ActiveCampaign shows that businesses are adapting.

This year, businesses focus on the full customer lifecycle

How can businesses make the most of a major sales day like Black Friday? 

  1. The week before Black Friday, set up automation that will make it easier to follow up. Set up abandoned cart automations to recover revenue, created automated upsell offers to increase sales from new customers, and use drip campaigns to convert people who didn’t buy.
  2. On Black Friday, take advantage of the high-volume sales day to send out campaigns and keep everything running smoothly. Use live communication channels like live chat or chatbots to answer urgent questions from customers.
  3. The week after Black Friday, follow up with high-value customer segments. Automations set up in advance can help convert people who didn’t buy on the big day — as well as offer recommended products to sell more to new customers. 

ActiveCampaign saw a surge in usage on Black Friday 2020, as expected. But more interesting than the one-day increases were the week-long and month-long changes — businesses prepared for a major sales day in advance, which saw the volume of activity stretch beyond Black Friday.

ActiveCampaign customers used 2.5x more automations than in 2019

ActiveCampaign data shows a 150% increase in automations processed during the week of Black Friday 2020, compared to 2019. Automations serve a range of functions for a business — they can send targeted emails, SMS, or site messages, pull in data from integrations (or push data out to them), and coordinate internal processes that make it easier to get a full customer profile.

2.5 times more automations were processed in 2020 than 2019

In addition to the increase in automations usage, ActiveCampaign saw a strong month for the use of automation recipes. Automation recipes are pre-built automations that make it easy for businesses of any size to fill in the gaps of their customer experiences. 

October 2020 saw the launch of ActiveCampaign’s predictive recipes, a recommendation engine that makes it easier to find and use new automations. November 2020 saw nearly 28,000 automations recipe imports, as businesses prepared for the coming holidays.

ActiveCampaign users imported 28,000 automation recipes in November 2020

Abandoned cart revenue climbs 593% compared to 2019. Businesses recover more revenue.

Abandoned carts are one of the most impactful automation opportunities. Prospective customers who add items to their carts are likely to have purchase intent, but many carts are abandoned due to competitive research, distraction, or last-minute changes of heart. 

This remained true on Black Friday 2020, which saw consumers abandon 112% more carts than in 2019. However, ActiveCampaign customers were able to recapture a much higher proportion of that revenue — revenue recovered from abandoned carts climbed an incredible 593% compared to 2019. 

The number of abandoned carts increased 112%, but revenue recovered from abandoned carts increased 593% year over year

Abandoned cart automations prompt consumers to return to checkout, and are an important way to increase sales from a high-intent audience. 

More ActiveCampaign Conversations, with a 562% year-over-year increase 

Conversational marketing has increased in popularity, as a way to reduce sales friction on websites and quickly answer questions from potential customers. 

Live chat can be powerful, but difficult to scale. Chatbots and chatbot automation are one method of improving user experience without needing to manually answer incoming chats — but regardless of exactly how customers use conversational marketing, data from chats is useless if it can’t be integrated into an overall customer profile.

ActiveCampaign Conversations integrates directly into a full Customer Experience Automation platform, and the use of Conversations surged 562% in 2020, as businesses rushed to answer customer questions. 

Conversations usage increased 562% in 2020 compared to Black Friday 2019

When conversational marketing is plugged into Customer Experience Automation, its value extends past the day of the chat — because information can be used to later personalize the follow-up for each customer.

Conclusion: Black Friday is three weeks long — at least

Black Friday 2020 shifted in-store sales to online deals. Major retailers offered extended pre-sales, and deals stretched through the entire month of November.

But the extension of holiday sales is only one piece of an ongoing trend towards improved customer experiences. 

Data from ActiveCampaign shows that small businesses treat Black Friday as a major sales event, but also that they extend the length of that event to maximize their results. 

  1. Week one: Prepare automations and offers for Black Friday
  2. Week two: Follow up with new customers and people who didn’t buy
  3. Week three, and beyond: Use new data to build ongoing relationships with customers

A growing focus on the customer lifecycle means more and more businesses are thinking about how to grow while creating incredible experiences for their customers.