Top 5 Lessons from 45 BFCMs

There's a lot of information out there about Black Friday/Cyber Monday marketing tactics. How to A/B test your subject lines, what time of day to send out your email promotions, when to start your SMS campaign. 

This is not that kind of advice. 

Instead, it’s about the big lessons learned over four decades worth of BFCMs. That’s right–I’ve been in ecommerce for more than 25 years. My partner, Michael Epstein, has been doing it for 20. 

We think what’s missing in the ecommerce world is some hard-earned wisdom. What are the big things we wish we’d known? How do you get the major wins? Where are the 80/20 opportunities

Here are our big takeaways from a roller-coaster 45 years of BFCM. 

#1 Max Your Margin

I know–no kidding. But stick with me here. 

I used to be CMO of a hot streetwear retailer called Karmaloop. It was one of the first iconic online brands. We acquired it out of bankruptcy right before Black Friday, and put a ton of work into that weekend. 

We had an epic revenue line through BFCM. 

Brands are losing money because customers have swapped full-margin purchases for discounted ones.

Then we ran the numbers. And we realized that we hadn’t made any money. 


We all know there are epic sales for BFCM, and they drive epic demand. 

But the reality is, you are not creating new demand over that four-day period. We’ve trained customers to expect discounts during Cyber Week. So customers who would have otherwise bought at full margin are waiting for a BFCM deal. 

Twenty years ago, brands could easily be profitable over Cyber Week. Now they’re in a Karmaloop situation, where they’re losing money because they've swapped full margin purchases for discounted ones. 

So what do you do? You really have to know your gross margin on every purchase. You have to know the lifetime value of all your customers. 

You're going to get a lot of eyeballs over that weekend. How do you maximize the margin during those four days when everybody out there is pounding the drum on discounts? 

This is the time to come up with a great promotion that has the potential to go viral and pull people in—but you also want to cross-sell and upsell. Upsell a higher margin item at checkout to make sure you make money.

Here’s what we did at Karma Loop. The next Black Friday, we came up with an offer around the hot item—I think it was Adidas. When customers added that to their cart, they got the upsell for an inexpensive white t-shirt. Even at $9, we knew we made money on that shirt. 

All the company's margin for Black Friday came from the upsell.

#2 Don’t Bleed Cash 

Paid spend can quickly drain away your cash over Cyber Week. 

Here’s why: Everyone is buying ads the week leading up to Black Friday. CPCs and CPMs go through the roof. You're trying to capture that demand along when it's most competitive, and your spend is just going to go nuts. 

When I was CEO at AutoAnything, we’d be up against our competitors like Walmart, Amazon and AutoZone. Surprise, surprise, all of them had almost limitless paid budgets for Black Friday to Cyber Monday. We didn’t want to get in a bidding war against any of them. 

We had to play the game a little bit smarter. 

We created a model that tracked latency with attribution—we looked at how much revenue came one day after a click, three days after a click, 14 days, and so on. We could model out how long it took people to convert from the time that they clicked.

From that, we ramped up our spend to capture the attention of customers in the weeks before Black Friday—when they were in a discovery phase, thinking about what they wanted to buy later. 

We could acquire that traffic at a much, much lower cost, then throttle back at peak times. We leaned into lower-cost channels like email, SMS and direct mail during Cyber Week, feeling confident that people we’d marketed to weeks before would come back and start converting. 

Now’s the time to talk to your ad buyer. What does your data look like, and how can you use it to spend more effectively? 

#3 Make Recency Your Friend 

We talk a lot about the power of winbacks—bringing back customers who previously bought from you. 

There’s probably no time better than Black Friday to mine your previous customer data, but how far should you go back? 

The short answer: Go back farther than you think

Here’s some PostPilot data from a company that illustrates the power of recency.

This brand sent out a birthday mailer to cohorts going 180 days to a year, a year to two years, two years to three years, and so on. (LOD is the number of days since the last order.)


As they go farther back, ROAS goes down and cost per conversion goes up. This will be the same whether it's email, SMS, or postcards. The customer who ordered from you last week is more likely to buy from you again than the customer who ordered from you five years ago. 

But it turns out that you can still make money going farther back. 

In this brand’s two-year to four-year segment, they got a 1.4x ROAS. Once they got a customer back, they were purchasing multiple times. So going back almost four years was a win. This cost per conversion was still better than prospecting new customers on Meta over Black Friday. 

The brand tested this with a birthday campaign prior to Black Friday/Cyber Monday. The mistake many brands make is to test these things during BFCM—they don’t have the data until after the big event is over. And they realize too late that they could have been more aggressive. 

Do a recency test, bucketing your customers by the time since their last purchase. You could do every 30 days, every 90 days, every 180 days. Go back several years and you can get a sense of your cutoff–where you stop making money. 

Now when you go to Black Friday, you know how far back you can go to really drive a lot of volume. 

#4 Leverage OOH 

We're not just saying this. BFCM is direct mail’s time to shine. 

The big reason: You have a zombie audience. 

As a marketer, I would rather market to previous buyers from my company than a brand new prospecting audience. Where do you do a lot of that? In Klaviyo or Omnisend or in Sendlane.

But take a hard look at your data. Can everyone in your email service provider who has bought from actually hear from you? 

Check out this pie chart. Maybe I have a million customers that I can market to. That’s great, but how many of them have actually subscribed? (In my experience, maybe a third.) How many of those who signed up are still subscribed? 

Then, how many of those are opening my emails? How many are still active? 

You can test this yourself. Go into your email software and create two segments. The first has all your previous buyers. This is from oVertone, a haircare brand I own. 

We have 1.6 million customers. Wow, that's a lot to work with. We can email all these people, we can sell them everything, right? 

Now create a second audience that includes everyone who has ordered and has opened an email in the last 60 or 90 days. In this case, you end up with 9%. That leaves 91% that I can't reach online. 

There’s only one channel that lets you reach all of those customers, and it’s direct mail. 

I know a lot of people don't believe the statistic that 90% of people who receive direct mail look at it. You always get these curmudgeonly people who say, “I always throw junk mail away.”

Okay, you're in the 10%. But you also look at it before you throw it away. 

That's right. You look at it.

So flip what’s working into direct mail–or even better, let us do it for you. Send us the email that’s minting sales for you over Black Friday/Cyber Monday. We can build the audience for you, create the design, do the recency test and get it all out the door. 

That’s what cookware brand Hexclad did last Black Friday, and raked it in. You can read the case study for more details. 

#5 Engineer a Second Sale 

The brands that win BFCM aren’t going to do it during Cyber Week. 

They’re going to trigger a second sale a month later at full margin. That’s where you really make your money. 

Base your timing on common customer behavior. Look at your interpurchase latency report—the time between customer purchases. 

At oVertone, of the customers who bought a second time, 45% come back within 30 days and 85% within 90 days. After that, the customer is much less likely to return. 

How do you market to that customer? Show them full-margin related products to buy. Do not discount before you need to—but discount to keep them from defecting. The timing, obviously, varies from brand to brand. 

Engineer that second purchase, and you’ve nailed Cyber Week. Congratulations—let us know how it went. 

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