Our Black Friday Game Plan

The weekend following US Thanksgiving has emerged as the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season. Big box stores advertise sales that literally bust their doors open, and even small brands see a significant influx of traffic and orders. Because it’s an important time for our community of shops (especially in a tough economic year like 2020), we want you to know that Big Cartel is primed and ready to handle what this weekend may bring.

I caught up with Lee Jensen, Big Cartel’s Technical Director, to ask about our preparation for this busy weekend. Lee’s your biggest cheerleader, and after ten years with the company, he knows a thing or two:

What to expect on Black Friday weekend

We’ve learned from past years that shoppers start heading online to snag the best deals at midnight on Friday. Lee says “we’ll see a surge at midnight Eastern Time, and then midnight Central Time, Mountain Time… There’s a spike every hour for the different time zones. We get overall three to four times our normal sales volume that weekend, with Friday being by far the busiest day.” But while Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday may not be quite as busy as Black Friday, “I’m talking about the difference between four times our normal traffic on Friday, and two to three times on Cyber Monday.”

And of course, COVID-19 has influenced online shopping trends. “Since April, our stores’ year-over-year sales are 1.5 to two times what they were last year, on any given day. That could mean that Black Friday will be the biggest we’ve ever seen by a large margin. The Friday before Thanksgiving, November 20th, we saw a few sales peaks that actually exceeded the 2019 Black Friday surge by about 8%. I think 2020 Black Friday will be a big day in an already big year.”

Learning from the past

In 2019, Big Cartel had its busiest and most problem-free Black Friday weekend yet. Lee declared that our systems had “no problems whatsoever. Two years ago was mostly good. We had a few instances of delayed checkouts at the peak of our sales volume. Every year has been a learning experience. When there are issues, we see where things break down, make improvements, and come back stronger the next year. We’ve gotten to a point with our checkout systems and dealing with organic traffic that I feel really confident in what we’ve built and its ability to handle the load.” But of course we’re not just kicking back and assuming all will be fine.

For 2020, we’re doubling down on what worked well for 2019. “We make sure that we’re nowhere near maxing out any of the systems. We balance things across systems and physical servers, and tune the software to make sure everything is working and running well. We review our policies and procedures for dealing with outages to make sure we know what to do in the event of an outage.”

Advice for stores

What Lee mainly wanted to tell shop owners is that Big Cartel will be there for them throughout the holiday season. We consistently have over 99.95% uptime (that means it’s very rare for you and your customers to not have complete access to your shop), and this weekend, Lee and our DevOps team will be on call and monitoring our platform. “If you see me at a family gathering on Thanksgiving, I’ve normally got my laptop in my bag and my iPad in my hand, watching numbers roll in. Half of that is an abundance of caution and half is rabid excitement. It’s such a big weekend. I’m obviously the guy posting screenshots in Slack and jumping up and down as we watch the orders roll in for our stores.”

So plan your holiday promos without worry. And keep those peak traffic times in mind: if most shoppers are kicking off their holiday buying right at midnight, consider being awake and online so you can answer any questions that come in. We see a second, slightly smaller spike on Friday morning, so that could be a great time to send an email or post on social media, greeting shoppers and acknowledging the occasion. Even if we’re all online, it’s important to meet your customers where they are.

But however you decide to promote your shop this season, we feel ready to support you. We want your online shop to be something you can depend on, so you can focus on promoting your products and shipping out orders. You’ve got this, and so do we.

Sarah Anderson

Marketing at Big Cartel. Loud talker, maker at City of Industry. Semi-professional aunt. Pretty psyched about all of it.

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