If you think it’s too early to start campaigning for Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2017, you are mistaken. It is time to start planning your PPC campaigns and Black Friday promotions, and getting those holiday gift guides into your content marketing stream.

Yes, most of us don’t have the same budgets as big eCommerce brands that won last Black Friday, but if you look deep into their strategies to see what they did, how they did it, and what their payoffs where, there is so much we can take from their strategies as inspiration for our own.

Today we will look at the two biggest eCommerce brand winners from last year, why they came out on top and how you can use similar strategies regardless of your store size and niche, to win in your market and increase your conversions.

Black Friday Brand Winner #1: Amazon

As the saying goes, the early bird always catches the worm. And when it comes to early birds, eCommerce giant Amazon nailed it last Thanksgiving weekend. Their main campaign strategy was to take advantage of the expected early-shopping trend predicting that 50% of consumers would complete holiday shopping by Thanksgiving, and rolled out Black Friday deals a month early.

Amazon black Friday deals

Before you say to yourself, “I am a small business and nowhere near Amazon’s level to learn from this”… Don’t worry we’ve got the examples on how you can work this for your business. Let’s dive in.

The Main Strategies

From the 1st to the 24th of November, Amazon shoppers were able to save with early Black Friday sales across a variety of niches including men’s, women’s and kids’ fashion, electronics, toys and more. New deals were offered as often as every five minutes. Prime members were treated to even more, including two-day shipping, 20% off of new video game releases, pre-ordered items and the option to shop “thousands of Lightning Deals” 30 minutes before regular customers.

This is not to say that they didn’t offer amazing deals all through Thanksgiving weekend, well past Cyber Monday. Here’s what they did to capitalize on the biggest shopping weekend of the year.

Amazon black friday deal ideas

Amazon understands that you don’t just need to be selling high-priced products to ensure you are able to cash in on big spending days. They used social media to enforce early Black Friday deals and push inexpensive products. This is not a new concept, and used by many successful eCommerce and retail stores selling things that have small dollar amount profits but in big enough amounts that brings in a lot of revenue.

Upped Their Customer Service Game

They also made user-experience newsworthy with the launch of their updated app, designed to make customer service over the holidays their number-one priority. Their app included Package X-Ray (shoppers are able to scan a package that is delivered to check its contents before opening) and Search Anything (users are able to take a photo of almost anything to get a list of similar products on Amazon) function upgrades. Now of course these tech upgrades are not within the budgets of small businesses, but what we can all learn from this is their dedication to ensuring they went above and beyond with customer service before, during and after Black Friday to capitalize on as many sales as possible.

The Payoff

According to Relative Drive, 2016’s Black Friday orders increased from previous years and exceeded mobile order expectations. Their competitive deals meant shoppers were saving over 40% on average and dominated online sales by a whopping 35.7%. When their next biggest competitor, Best Buy, only took home 8.23% of the pie, they outsmarted some of the biggest brands to record their biggest sales weekend to date for Amazon products. By announcing deals early, they effectively turned the tide on Thanksgiving weekend and got shoppers invested and hooked on Amazon long before the weekend arrived.

How to Implement Amazon Strategies

Don’t wait for Black Friday to show your hand. As we discussed in our Prepare Your Store for Black Friday and Cyber Monday post, potential shoppers start searching for Christmas gift ideas as early as August. Although there are ways to compete with big brands like Amazon, the key takeaways here are not about one-upping the giants but one-upping your biggest competition in your niche. Here are things you can do to ‘copy’ Amazon.

Don’t Wait for Thanksgiving Weekend

Start sending early-bird deal emails to existing customers or running time-sensitive, big pre-Black Friday promotions and Facebook and AdWords campaigns. The simplest way to do this is to create Black Friday deal countdowns for your store.

Lenovo black friday deals

Get Proactive with Customer Service

online store customer service by shopify

If you haven’t already, add Messenger or, if you have the budget, chatbots to make sure you are answering your potential shoppers as quickly and efficiently as possible. I also highly recommend including Facebook Messenger ads to your Black Friday marketing strategy.

Don’t Just Push High-Priced Products

Instead, push smaller popular products that will attract more holiday shoppers, and you have a better chance of converting new customers who don’t know and trust you yet. It’s also important to remember what problem your product is solving this time – what to buy for holiday gifts – and therefore creating your campaigns not just around what the customer is going to save but what the ‘holiday gift’ payoff is.

The DSC Holiday Shave Set is such a perfect present, other gifts can't handle it.

A post shared by Dollar Shave Club (@dollarshaveclub) on

Black Friday Brand #2: REI

If there was one brand that took their branding message to a new level, it was REI. When looking back on winning campaigns it is hard to ignore the big trend increase last year in anti-Black Friday initiatives, but REI used this to push their own brand agenda in an incredible way.

Wait, wait! Before you throw your hands up – I am not saying you have to suddenly shut your virtual doors, so to speak, and make a statement. But there is a very important aspect about their campaign that you can use.

The Main Strategies

Outdoor gear giant REI’s , #OptOutside campaign centered around the retailer’s announcement that they wouldn’t accept purchases and instead was opting out of Black Friday. They encouraged their shoppers through email marketing, PR and social to instead spend the day outdoors. This was a bold step, but one that resulted in them cleaning up almost every advertising award and getting incredible traction on Social Media that won the hearts of many of their potential target audience.

REI Black Friday #optOutside campaign

Additionally, their REI outdoor activity finder on the campaign’s website encourages user engagement by allowing them to find nearby trails and parks, upload photos and connect with nonprofits that help protect the outdoors.

REI Black Friday #OptOutside campaign

The Payoff

Ultimately REI found a way to talk to their ideal type of potential customers, and used Black Friday to build a phenomenal brand. The exposure they gained is priceless and although they were not online for Black Friday, the resulting exposure makes them as leaders in the outdoor gear niche and with pre- and post-Black Friday sales you can be sure they are still cashing in on holiday spending. They were so successful that big giants such as Google and Subaru Google and Subaru are jumping on the bandwagon.

How to Implement REI Strategies

So, as I said, this campaign doesn’t tell us to put up a “Gone Fishing” sign and take the day off. It offers us a way to learn from these branding geniuses. The biggest takeaway we get with their campaign is this:

Stay True to Your Brand to Stay Unique

Yes, the object here is to offer deals and rev up your marketing, but it is important to do it in the voice of your brand. This can be done in the way you present your promotions, what you choose to promote and how you choose to push it. In fact, it can be a simple as crafting good email copy to get their attention just like big retailers J.Crew did with their email, subjected: The biggest, best, most amazing, OMG, beyond anything, ever, sale event. Starts now.

J.Crew Black friday strategy

Speak Your Target Shoppers’ Language

Appeal to your shoppers by showing that you understand their interests, and create your campaigns with your target shopper in mind. Think of how many emails and campaigns shoppers are exposed to during this time; by speaking their language you can stand out from all the campaign competition noise.

Be an Authority in Your Niche

Position yourself as an expert in your niche – as the brand that is the authority on not only the products you sell but the lifestyle it represents. Black Friday isn’t just about making the most sales in one day; it is about using the biggest shopping days of the year to drive long-term growth. Being an expert in your niche contributes to this and building trust in a HUGE way.

With every successful campaign, it is not just about offering great deals. It is about expanding your potential audiences, telling your story and strengthening your brand: something these campaigns both did in very different ways. To rise above the noise during the busiest day of the year you need to use email to market to your existing customers before the competition, and use your promotions to highlight your brand.

Read more: The Top Brands on Social Media this Black Friday