There’s no doubt about it: Black Friday and Cyber Monday — or BFCM for the retail-savvy — have combined to become the single most important e-commerce event of the year.
Driving more online sales than Christmas, BFCM has become both a sales high point and a source of stress for e-commerce leaders: on top of having to drive sales in the short-term, retailers must shift gears in summer to ramp up their efforts in preparation for BFCM or risk getting left behind when droves of online and in-store customers arrive looking for deals in November.
In 2022, the lead-up to BFCM may be even more challenging than usual for retailers, who have spent the past two years weathering unprecedented disruptions: closures, supply chain issues, and ever-changing rules have taken their toll. And that’s not all — consumer expectations and shopping behaviors have evolved, with customers finding new ways to engage with and buy from brands (more on that later).
Now, just as a sense of normalcy is returning, economic uncertainty and record inflation are on the menu. It’s enough to make your head spin.
But not to worry—there’s also good news. Consumer spending remains strong and more people are shopping online than ever before. In this article, we’re going to explore how Black Friday and Cyber Monday have changed in the past two years and explain how retailers can prepare themselves with the tools and strategies that will give them the edge they need to win BFCM 2022.
Ready? Game on!
Two years of transformation
To get some context for BFCM 2022, it’s helpful to recall where we’ve been: two years ago, as countries around the world rolled out restrictions that largely shuttered physical stores, retailers went into overdrive to figure out how they would stay afloat and keep serving customers. It quickly became clear that online shopping would become the default for the foreseeable future, a realization that accelerated the growth of e-commerce (even though the trend was already well-established.)
Retailers had to adapt to a new reality — fast.
Overnight, investing in e-commerce infrastructure and omnichannel strategies became a top priority for retailers, rather than a consideration for the future. Brands that invested at the outset positioned themselves well for success, while those that didn’t suffered the consequences.
Today, physical stores are once again open, but e-commerce continues to grow at a rapid pace. And even with foot traffic rising, digital commerce — encompassing both traditional e-commerce and the new frontier of social commerce — remains a top priority.
But before we dig into how retailers can thrive during BFCM 2022, let’s take a quick look at last year’s numbers, which reveal valuable insights on how to score big this year.
BFCM 2021 by the numbers
Total online US consumer spending during Black Friday 2021 was $8.9 billion, down 1.3% year over year. Similarly, total online US consumer spending on Cyber Monday 2021 was $10.7 billion, also down 1.4% year over year—nearly identical to the dip in Black Friday sales.
Based on these numbers, the story of BFCM 2021 seems clear-cut at first glance: sales declined as retailers struggled to drive revenue growth. But the numbers also raise questions: if e-commerce was exploding during the pandemic, why were sales figures for Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2021 lower than the year before? How do these numbers square up?
The answer—we have it!—reveals what retailers need to know to win BFCM this year. Put simply, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have changed. The nature of BFCM is not what it was 10, or even five, years ago.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2.0
The numbers above don’t tell the whole story of BFCM 2021. When we look at total online US consumer spend for the entire month of November 2021, we see it actually grew to reach $109.9 billion—a net increase of 11.9% year over year. This sharp increase shows that people spent significantly more in Nov. 2021 than in Nov. 2020, even as sales figures specific to key Black Friday and Cyber Monday dates decreased.
The takeaway for retailers? BFCM sales are now distributed across the entire month of November, rather than packed into the BFCM weekend. This is an eye-opener. The essence of BFCM has shifted away from being a hotly anticipated mega-sales event, to a rolling tide of e-commerce activity that passes over the month of November like a cresting wave.
And big retailers weren’t the only ones to enjoy a strong BFCM month (as we should refer to it from now on.) Shopify merchants also had a great BFCM 2021, with total global sales reaching $6.3 billion US, an increase of 23% year over year. With 47 million unique shoppers having made a purchase from a Shopify merchant, and the average cart price above $100 US, Shopify merchants (including those who use a Shopify chatbot) did very well in 2021 — and they’ll probably fare even better in 2022. And if you are a smaller merchant, make sure to check out our 12 essential tips for winning BFCM this year (COMING SOON).
More sales, across more channels, spread out over time: this is Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2.0.
What does this mean for retailers?
With the BFCM sales season now starting sooner and being spread out across a whole month, retailers have to adapt their strategies to capture elusive sales from enthusiastic consumers just waiting to pounce on BFCM deals. This means rolling out a range of tactics: omnichannel, automation with AI, using cutting-edge tools to deliver memorable CX, and investing in a strong social commerce foundation. These are the essential factors that will decide who will thrive during BFCM this year, and who will miss out on the party — and with economic uncertainty growing, remember that this year’s winners will be well-positioned for success in the (potentially turbulent) year to come.
Capturing sales, improving service
As mentioned above, for retailers to stay ahead of the competition, pull in customers during BFCM month and bank more sales — all without getting overwhelmed by service requests — investment in digital commerce infrastructure is key. Well-prepared retailers will have their e-commerce and social commerce tools in place long before autumn. In a nutshell, this infrastructure and strategy should include:
A cutting-edge e-commerce website
Automation tools powered by AI
Robust customer service tools and processes
A commitment to delivering first-class CX across digital channels and meeting customers where they are
The last point is crucial: Having a great e-commerce store just isn’t enough to win Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2022. The future of commerce is social, and retailers need to jump in if they haven’t already.
Social commerce is 🔑 to winning BFCM
Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, alongside chat apps like WhatsApp, aren’t just platforms for connection anymore: they’re platforms for commerce. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that e-commerce experts often sum up the shift toward social commerce that is underway with the truism that social is the new storefront.
When your social accounts double as storefronts, they need to be open and ready to meet customers 24/7 — and having staff available at all hours of the day and night just isn’t feasible or economical. So how can retailers meet their customers where they are, any time of day or night?
The answer lies in the most powerful automation tool on the market today: conversational AI.
Conversational AI and retail chatbots
As you might have guessed, conversational AI is artificial intelligence you can talk to. What makes this technology so useful for retailers is the ability of retail chatbots to resolve customer FAQs, drive sales through personalization, and deliver outstanding CX — all without human assistance.
A retail chatbot makes it easy for brands to meet customers on their preferred channels, 24/7. By making contacting a brand as easy as texting a friend, AI chat has quickly become the essential component of any retailer’s social commerce and e-commerce strategies. Below we’ll explore the features that retail chatbots offer and see some examples of how top retail brands leverage conversational AI and social selling tools to help drive sales, lower costs and deliver world-class experiences.
Retail chatbot features
Conversational AI is great for delivering personalized experiences for users, and retailers can leverage this capacity to drive sales. By providing personalized product recommendations for every visitor, across all channels, custom chatbots can make product discovery a fun and intuitive process.
Appointment taker and video chat
A retail chatbot allows customers to easily book in-store appointments, taking one more high-effort task off the plate of support teams. For customers who don’t want to make the trip to a store, video chat makes it a breeze to connect with sales associates and get face-to-face help.
Tired of answering messages, emails and phone calls from customers wondering about the status of their order? FAQ automation powered by conversational AI can handle up to 80% of customer FAQs without human assistance, while delivering first-class CX.
Having a retail chatbot available to meet customers on every digital channel brings another benefit: centralizing all those messages in a single inbox. No more checking each channel and playing catch-up — just open one inbox to see everything.
Examples of retail chatbots
International fashion retailer Bestseller’s Quebec, Canada division was looking for an automation solution to help drive sales and handle low-value customer inquiries. After considering their options, the brands selected Heyday as a partner and together they developed a custom retail AI chat solution to ease the pressure on Bestseller’s busy customer care team.
The results were immediate. Between November 2020 and February 2021 (covering the peak periods of Black Friday/Cyber Monday, Christmas, and Boxing Day) the brand’s chatbot handled more than 38,000 conversations via Facebook Messenger, achieving a peak automation rate of 90%—and illustrating how Heyday is the ideal Facebook Messenger chatbot. As well, the chatbot triaged over 6600 emails, ensuring they were sent to the correct department. In January 2021, 76% of customers who interacted with the chatbot described their experience as “excellent” and the average response time to a customer inquiry during the same period was 1 minute and 31 seconds.
Art supply retailer DeSerres also experienced a huge upswing in e-commerce traffic and related inquiries in 2020. The brand chose Heyday as their conversational AI provider and rolled out a retail chatbot across web chat, Facebook Messenger, Google’s Business Messages and email channels. Within weeks, thousands of customer FAQs (especially around order tracking) were being handled by AI, freeing up the company’s customer service team to focus on higher-value interactions — and helping the retailer navigate a busy Black Friday and Cyber Monday season.
But lower costs and better service weren’t the only results DeSerres saw with their e-commerce chatbot. Thanks to Heyday’s centralized inbox that gathers messages from all channels in one place, managers gained visibility on specific customer issues that hadn’t been on the radar before and quickly implemented fixes. Just like that — poof, customer experience improved. And thanks to other features including product search and recommendation, an appointment taker, and a store finder, DeSerres helped guide their customers to engage with and buy from the company on their preferred channels, automatically.
Between November 2021 and March 2022, DeSerres’ chatbot:
- Handled over 108,000 conversations
- Achieved a 90% automation rate for engaged conversations
- Helped 95% of users track and find their order
That’s a lot of time and resources saved by DeSerres — and a lot of satisfied customers.
Social commerce + conversational AI = 🏆BFCM 2.0 🏆
If you’re a retailer starting to worry about how you’ll handle Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year, we hope this article brought you a bit of Zen — and a lot of practical info you can use to get prepared for the biggest shopping event of the year.
As we’ve seen above, social commerce is the new frontier of retailing; it’s where customers are, so it’s where brands need to be, too. And to scale up sales and service operations to efficiently meet the demand generated by thousands of customers — distributed across time zones and digital channels — conversational AI is essential. The examples above show there’s simply no better way to meet customers where they are, 24/7. And being there for customers fosters the loyalty that helps keep businesses thriving.
So: have a great BFCM (remember, it lasts for at least a month now!), keep giving your customers the experiences they crave, and reach out to us if you have a question (or several) about how to win this year’s race. — after all, BFCM 2023 is just around the corner.