2021 is shaping up to be unlike any other year in recent memory. The unpredictability of product availability levels and fulfillment has left merchants scrambling to formulate a plan heading into the Black Friday – Cyber Monday Shopping Season. We’ve heard three consistent themes from clients over the past few weeks. 

Theme 1 – The Holiday Shopping Season is Already Underway

Merchants and suppliers alike have been advising shoppers to shop early. The 2021 Shopping Season started early and will be an elongated shopping season where shoppers aren’t necessarily waiting for a big bang event to kick off seasonal buying.

Theme 2 – Shorter or Non-Existent Data Runway

Typically, merchants use the months and weeks leading up to the Q4 shopping season to identify buying trends and establish a promotional strategy in advance. We’ve heard from quite a few merchants that this year’s plan looks more like walking to the loading dock to see what items arrived in this week’s shipment.

Theme 3 – Fewer Juicy Promotions for Pre-Holiday List Building Requires More Rigor and Intention Behind Promotion Strategies

Many merchants start offering juicy incentives around September and October to plump their Email and SMS list sizes heading into the Flash Sales, Cyber Sales, and Black Friday Deal announcements they intend to send in November and December. However, with fewer products on hand and increased shipping costs (and in some cases, higher return rates), merchants are forced to be more creative and intentional about how and where they can offer discounts or deals.

With these three themes in mind, we’ve created this playbook of nine ideas you can use to increase conversion rates and engage shoppers this holiday season.

Strategic Promotions Play #1: Use Product Stock Levels to Drive Buzz

Low Stock
Instead of seeing low stock as a negative product attribute, use limited stock as a marketing mechanism to drive conversion. Labels like “Act Fast – Expected to Sell Out” , “Low Stock, Only 3 Remaining In-Stock,” “Hot Buy, Going Fast” can all create positive urgency. Using low stock messaging is especially helpful when paired with your existing omnichannel automation messages such as Browse or Cart Abandonment user journeys. Instead of hiding product stock information, proudly display this as an attribute when an abandoned item is of low stock to drive positive urgency.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
Check to see if any of your Most Popular or Gateway Items are in low stock. (Gateway Items are the items most frequently purchased by first-time buyers). Create an Informational Promotion in the Smart Bar to highlight the product’s low stock status. Use the product page as the Offer Landing Page to guide shoppers to drive traffic to the product or category page for low-stock items.

Raise Awareness of Back-In-Stock Items 
Many merchants already use back-in-stock alerts to strategically notify specific shoppers when an item they recently browsed, carted, or paid attention to came back in stock.  However, right now, shoppers see their favorite things out-of-stock across several websites. Instead of targeting back-in-stock notices only to a subset of customers, and/or when they are not in an active shopping session on your site, you should proactively highlight when your Most Popular or Gateway Items are back-in-stock during the actual shopping session.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
When high-priority items are back in stock after a low or no inventory period, add an Informational Promotion to your Smart Bar to highlight the product or category’s return.

Offer Title: IT’S BACK!
CTA: Shop Now
Landing Page: Product or Category URL

Leverage “In Stock & Ready-to-Ship” or “Buy Online Pickup In-Store” Product Attributes 
Shoppers quickly become banner-blind to notices at the top of eCommerce websites and cart pages announcing product shortages and delays. You can use this to your advantage by showing the inverse. Instead of highlighting delays of anticipated shipments, highlight items in stock and ready to ship or items currently available in store. Even if your company only shows in-stock items on your website, it’s worth adding a product attribute to hot sellers or gateway items to drive home the point to consumers that you have things ready for purchase.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
Use your product view filters to show a listing of products with a product recommendation recipe of “For You” or similar (or Most Popular if personalized recommendations aren’t available) and filter out-of-stock items out of this view. Then, use an Informational Offer to drive traffic to this URL.

Offer Title “In Stock & Ready to Ship”
CTA: Shop “Get it Fast”
Landing Page: In-Stock Recommended Products URL (For example, website.com/products/?type=foryou&instock=true

Highlight What’s New
Merchants often use Product Recommendations to highlight new items on their websites. With shipping delays throwing off intended product launch dates, it’s essential to make shoppers aware of what’s new to your site since their last visit. If you don’t already have a page on your site or a filter on your product listing page dedicated to new items, consider adding it now.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
Use your product view filters to create a view of New Items. Make note of the filter’s URL. Create an Informational Offer to drive traffic to your What’s New view.

Offer Title “Just Arrived”
CTA: Shop “Shop New Items”
Landing Page: New Item Filtered View URL (For example, website.com/products/?type=new)

Recommend Swaps
Consider proactively putting together product substitutions for the products that are likely to be out-of-stock during the peak season.

Suggesting product swaps for out-of-stock items can be accomplished by product recommendation recipes such as “Viewed This, Bought That” or by using custom content containers. If your most popular Nike shoe is out-of-stock, have a product swap content block on the Nike category page for organic search traffic to rapidly identify a replacement.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
If one of your tried-and-true fan favorites is out of stock, proactively make shoppers aware of a swap by adding an Informational Offer to your Smart Bar.

Strategic Promotions Play #2: Lean Into Loyalty

Now is a great time to introduce signup incentives for your loyalty program. For example, you can offer bonus point incentives for a shopper’s first purchase after joining your program.

You can also let stock levels guide which items to offer double or triple points on. Instead of limiting loyalty incentives to popular items which may be in low stock, you can use double or triple points to move overstock items that are on hand and ready to ship.

As you focus on building your loyalty program, you should also keep in mind that roughly 50% of the loyalty signups you gather this time of the year will go dark after December if they don’t continue to be engaged beyond the end of the year. Start thinking about your post-holiday reactivation strategy now to keep this newly acquired group engaged beyond Q4. 

Strategic Promotions Play #3: Highlight Price Points Instead of Sales

Instead of talking about what is going on sale, lean on promotions to drive product discovery. Gift shopping by price point is prevalent this time of year. Instead of highlighting discounts, drive shoppers to your product view pages bucketed by shopping price tiers such as “Gifts under $20,” “Gifts Under $30,” etc.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
Instead of a dollar or percent off a category, try highlighting a price point in your next Offer. For example, instead of offering “15% off Sweaters” use an Offer such as “Sweaters for Her Starting at $49.” This will work especially well in tandem with our machine learning, which will reorder offers based on browsing.

Strategic Promotions Play #4: Build your SMS & Email Lists with Early Access Offers

Many times merchants think that in order to acquire new SMS or email subscribers they have to give something away such as a percent off or dollar off a purchase. However, Early Access Offers perform especially well this time of year. In an Early Access Offer, you can grant shoppers early access to existing pre-sales and other deal announcements in exchange for joining your list(s).

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
Pair a Data Required Promotion with a Hidden Smart Pages Category Page. First, create a Hidden Category Page with Flash Sale Offers. Next, create a Data Required Promotion to drive traffic to the page.

Offer Title: Snag Early Access
Offer Type: Deal
Landing Page: Thrive Hidden Landing Page of Offers

Strategic Promotions Play #5: Don’t Fight with Rising Shipping Costs

Shipping costs into and out of fulfillment centers will inevitably increase this holiday shopping season. You can head off these costs by encouraging shoppers to Buy Online and Pickup in Store with increasing focus on BOPIS options as you near your shipping cutoff dates.

You can also avoid a one-size-fits-all free shipping threshold. Instead, strategically increase your free shipping threshold minimums as you approach the holiday peak.

Lastly, you can use Promotions to highlight in-store experiences you’ve recreated online. Online experiences are one area of your business that won’t see an increase in shipping costs this season.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
Use Informational Offers to drive traffic to your online experiences. If you offer Virtual Try-Ons, Personal Shopping Appointments, or Virtual Styling Assistants, use Thrive Offers to help your shoppers discover these experience-based services.

Or, Thrive Customers, Try This Play: Use In-Store Offers with Apple Wallet to drive traffic back to your brick-and-mortar locations.

Strategic Promotions Play #6: Talk Up Your Product’s Durability & Sustainability

For certain items, reduced stock levels are causing shoppers to consider factors such as durability and sustainability before making a purchase. You can satisfy their need to feel like they are making a lasting purchase by bubbling up product attributes about how long-lasting your product is or about the importance of sustainable sourcing.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
Use your product view filters to highlight sale items with 4-5 stars based on product ratings. Then, use that URL to create an Informational Offer driving shoppers to “Shop Sale on Top-Rated Items.”

Also, consider pulling quotes from customer reviews to highlight product durability. Voicing your durability and sustainable sourcing principles are great to include in Offer content.

Strategic Promotions Play #7: Always Protect Your Codes

We wouldn’t be experts in Promotions if we didn’t take this time to remind you always to protect your coupon codes from unscrupulous affiliates. Whether you use code gating in your eCommerce shopping platform, single-use codes, or limit when and where codes are displayed, Q4 is not the time to let your guard down on protecting your codes.

In particular, we highly recommend you pair Thrive with your SMS and Email platforms to prevent code gaming in acquisition campaigns.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
Pair Single Use Codes with Hidden Category Smart Pages for extreme code protection. Whether you are using email to surprise and delight your most loyal segment or are sending an SMS reactivation campaign, use Hidden Category Pages and Single-Use Codes to ensure your juiciest Offers don’t get into the wrong hands.

Strategic Promotions Play #8: Pay Attention to Organic Keyword Strategy Even if You Aren’t Being Overtly Promotional This Holiday Season

Even if you don’t put a single deal, coupon, or offer on your website this holiday season, shoppers will inevitably type variations of “Your Brand + Black Friday Deals“ or “Your Brand + Cyber Monday Deals” into search engines to determine when, where, and how they shop. If you don’t have content on your site for these search terms, your shoppers may end up on affiliate websites claiming to have coupons, deals, and offers for your brand. In some cases, these affiliate sites might direct the traffic to your website (for affiliate credit) or, even worse, to a competitor website (to get commissions).

We recommend that even if you don’t have specific Black Friday deals or Cyber Monday discounts, you create a better user experience for the deal-hunting segment of your audience by creating Informational Promotions (such as “Gifts Starting at $15, or other Informational Promotions listed above) content for these key shopping periods on your site.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
Use Smart Pages to create a dedicated landing page for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Then, add keyword rich content and Offers to these pages. Search engines will then be able to show your Offer and Deal count for these key shopping periods in a format shoppers have grown accustomed to seeing when hunting deal sites for deals.

Strategic Promotions Play #9: Get Creative with Content

Lastly, pop-up shops may be one way to highlight the urgency of limited-time-only offerings without having to offer an outright sale.

Just like store layouts move and change, so too can your website content. Adding a pop-up-themed collection of products can give you something to talk about without being directly promotional.

Create a dedicated pop-up shop page (such as Cozy Sweaters), or play around with the filters on your product view page. Then, add navigation to this limited duration pop-up shop.

Thrive Customers, Try This Play:
Driving traffic to pop-up shops are great for Informational Offer content (“Shop the Cozy Sweater Shop.”). Pop-up shops are also great for gathering data that can inform your other marketing efforts. Try packaging your product offerings into a collection (such as Gifts for Her) and use an Informational Offer in your Smart Bar to drive traffic to the collection. You will quickly see what catches your shoppers’ attention, and you can use this data to adjust your upcoming email and SMS messaging based on what’s resonating with your shoppers in real-time on your website.

Conclusion
If you are looking at the calendar with disbelief because you still can’t lock in your promotional strategy for Q4 due to stock shortages and fulfillment issues, know that you are not alone. Many merchants are in similar shoes zigging and zagging their way through a complicated season. Hopefully, some of the above plays will give you something to talk about with sale-hungry shoppers this holiday season, even if you’ve tightened the reins on outright deals and sales.

If you’d like more information about any of the Thrive Customer Plays listed above, contact your Customer Success Manager or email sales@thrivecommerce.com to learn more about becoming a Thrive Customer.