My Black Friday sale is just wrapping up as I write this. I’ve spent most of the last three days processing orders and I have 21 more to pack.
I’ve been selling crafty things online for 10 years and it’s taken me that long to have a truly successful holiday sale. There were years when I wasn’t organized and didn’t plan for a sale – all these Black Friday emails would suddenly arrive in my inbox and take me by complete surprise. There were years when I did plan for a sale only to have disappointingly few customers. This year my sale was a success. I offered 25% off plus free shipping for orders over $50 over three days (Black Friday through Cyber Monday) and I made $2740.71.
First, a few words about setting up the sale. Last year I offered a 25% off coupon code for my shop and although it’s easy to set up I found that it required a lot of intensive customer service; many people forgot to use the code and then emailed me asking for a 25% refund. This year I just discounted everything by 25% with no coupon code which was much easier.
I read an article recently that said it was a good idea to offer free shipping for purchases above a certain amount because people will likely add items to their cart in order to qualify for free shipping. I tried it this year by offering free shipping for orders over $50 and it worked really well. I had lots of orders just over the $50 threshold.
Here are some thoughts about what it takes to run a successful holiday sale:
Building a customer base takes constant effort over the long-term. I think this can be hard to accept, but the truth is that finding an audience for your work and then nurturing that audience is something you need to do every day all year even when it feels totally fruitless. Writing my newsletter takes at least half a day of work each week. Sometimes I ask myself, “Why am I doing this? It takes forever.” Then I have a big sale and I remember why. I began this year with 4,000 newsletter subscribers and now I have 8,800. Constant effort over the long-term.
This is a report I generated with WooCommerce, the shopping cart on my site showing sales over the last seven days. The first spike? That was on Friday when the special Black Friday edition of my newsletter went out. The dip was Saturday and Sunday. The second spike? That was the “last day of the sale” reminder email that went out on Monday. The urgency of the sale ending made that spike higher than the first.
A few lessons here. First, don’t worry about bothering your customer base by telling them about your sale. Will you annoy some people? Yes. 50 people unsubscribed from my newsletter. But here’s the thing – they weren’t ever going to buy anything anyway. I pay MailChimp for every subscriber so it’s best to keep my list lean. And in that same period of time 77 new people subscribed so it’s okay! Not everyone on my list bought something, but those who stuck around understand that I run a business. They expect holiday sales emails and they’re okay with them.
I put a coupon code for the same discount in my Etsy shop announcement, but didn’t promote it in my newsletter at all. Here’s what my Etsy sales look like during these same seven days:
My Etsy shop made $268.80 – that’s $2,000+ less than my own online shop. This shows the value of building an audience. Wherever you’ve put your long-term effort – Facebook or Instagram or an email newsletter – you’ve got to tell them about your sale. If you don’t promote it nothing happens.
Develop an efficient system. I need to buy a label printer. Printing shipping labels on my laser printer, cutting them out and gluing them to packages takes too much time. 2016 is the year I get a Dymo!
There will always be customers who are upset. “I bought this yesterday at full price and now I see it’s on sale.” No matter when you run your sale, someone will be angry. I love this piece by Elizabeth from Forgotten Cotton about how to handle disgruntled customers. The short answer? Always reply with grace.
Accept help. On Friday Charlie looked at the stack of shipping labels I was printing and offered to help me pack orders. It felt really weird at first. I’ve never had anyone help me before. Once I showed him around it was great and it makes me think I could hire someone to help me next year.
Pre-package things as much as you can. Last Sunday morning I sat on Josephine’s floor while she played and pre-packed and labeled bags of eyes. This was time well spent.
Have tech help on hand. When my sale launched on Friday I was on a ferry crossing Long Island Sound with no wifi. I spent the rest of the day in an assisted living facility visiting with my father-in-law. When I got emails on my phone from customers who were having trouble checking out, I contacted Sarah Bailey who helps me with my website. She was able to log on and fix things throughout the day.
This year’s sale marked a milestone for me. In 2004 I left the traditional workforce to raise my children. While at home I accidentally started a tiny business. 11 years later I’ve exceeded the income I was making as a public school teacher. I did it! What I love best is that this is a bicycle I pedal entirely on my own. I make every decision and I generate every dollar that comes in. It’s exhausting at times, but I’m really motivated by the direct correlation between what I do and what I earn.