Black Friday and beyond: How to retain seasonal customers

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are big in ecommerce for good reason. In 2021, sales through Shopify merchants topped $6.3 Billion - a 23% increase from 2020. Those sales and increased order volumes are something many merchants focus on, with acquisition rates higher than the rest of the year. This can often mean many don’t truly plan for retention in the new year.

The first few months of the year are often considered a low period for ecommerce. However, while acquisition may be lower than the months before, it’s a prime opportunity to build retention with those customers from over Black Friday weekend. 

Today we’re going to look at how you can bake a retention strategy into your post-purchase experience that will carry through into the new year after BFCM is over.

Black Friday, Acquisition, and Retention

There’s a key distinction between those customers who shop over BFCM and those who shop over the holiday season afterwards. The assumption is that most Black Friday customers are holiday shoppers, but that isn’t quite accurate. In one survey, only 43% of consumers said they planned to use BFCM to buy gifts for friends and family. That leaves a large portion who aren’t buying gifts. 

Plus 2/3rds of customers often end up making impulse purchases, and younger customers are more likely to buy something for themselves, so even if they are buying a gift, many customers will still go through your store experience from discovery, to purchase, to trying your products.

The customers over the holiday season after Cyber Monday are more likely to be looking for gifts. Retaining those customers isn’t impossible, but it is more challenging. They won’t experience your products, and they may not even have any interest in your brand beyond buying a gift for someone else. So while you should still have a retention strategy for these customers, it’ll be much easier to retain your BFCM audience. 

Creating a segment of gift customers is more complicated, some will buy products to their home to give to someone else. So instead, we’re going to look purely at retention from the perspective of customers buying for themselves. Much of what you’ll implement to retain those customers will also benefit gift buyers, so if there’s a chance at retaining them your store will be poised to do so.

Step #1 - Directly after purchase

The retention process begins as soon as the customer places their order. What you do directly after purchase is going to set the tone for their post-purchase experience, and it’s important to get it right. 

Keep up communication via email and SMS

Especially in November and December, customers appreciate more than just the standard transactional email flow. To really add to their experience, you should not only add more information to the emails you send, but also send more. The additional communication will be appreciated, and it will mean fewer customer support tickets for common questions.

For example, include information for any potential BFCM related delays. The volume of orders over the weekend may be much more than your fulfillment team is used to, and this will inevitably cause orders to be dispatched later than usual. If your FAQ on your site says orders are dispatched within 24 hours, and a BFCM customer doesn’t get a dispatch notification within that time frame, they’ll be frustrated. Include information about potential delays, then also send a separate email with estimated dispatch dates. 

Other information you may want to send includes:

  • Returns and exchanges - Are there any unique policies or extensions for the holiday season?
  • Customer support - What options do customers have for support? Self-service and helpful links should be prioritized.
  • Product use guides - Especially if a customer is new, send them information about the products they ordered that they may find valuable.   

Add real-time tracking to enhance the experience 

Global supply chains and couriers are pushed to their limits over November and December, which can make it frustrating for customers waiting on orders. Whether or not the order is a gift, they’ll still want to know where their order is and when to expect its arrival. Typically, they’ll only get notifications when the order is dispatched, and then when it has been delivered. However, you can make their experience better with one simple tool - real-time tracking.

What this means is that no matter where the order is, they can track its whereabouts. If you use a specific tool to offer real-time tracking such as Order Lookup, you can also add any notes to the order about delays, or other important information. Different couriers have different systems for tracking, which can become confusing for customers if they’re tracking multiple orders from different stores. By employing a real-time tracking app, you can control how the information is presented to your customers, making it easier and clearer. 

Step #2 - After the product arrives 

Of course, the process doesn’t end once the order has been delivered. What happens when the product arrives is just as important, as now they start actually experiencing your brand and products. 

Provide a meaningful unboxing experience 

How an order is presented is almost as important as the product itself. It’s essentially a “first impression” before they get around to the product. With just over a month until Black Friday, it’s unlikely that custom packaging will remain an option if you don’t already use it as standard. There are however smaller ways you can add to the unboxing experience that won’t require much cost or effort. These include customized thank you notes, and QR codes that lead to product information or rewards. These small touches can help improve the customer’s perception of your brand experience.

Send emails that will enhance their experience

Sending emails shouldn’t stop as soon as the order arrives - there are plenty of other messages you can send that will enhance the customer’s product experience. These will keep up the communication channel and relationship with the customer, as well as giving you more useful data on the kind of emails each individual customer engages with.

  • Product care/use guides - Whether it’s a piece of tech, or a wool coat, customers want to get the most out of their new purchase. They’ll appreciate the effort of your brand giving them the information they need to take care of and use their new item correctly.

  • User generated content / Community content - Building a community can help to foster loyalty, so you want to introduce your new customers to that community as early as possible. If you’re a fashion brand, that may be showing examples of how other customers have styled a product that was purchased. If you sell coffee, then that might be recipes your community has come up with.

  • Returns and customer support information - 70% of customers favorably view brands who take a proactive approach to customer service. Send emails that give them more information about where to turn to when they have questions, or need to process a return or exchange.

  • Sending this information gradually from when the product arrives with the customer will ensure they’re well informed, and are engaging with your brand over time. 

    Step #3 - January of the following year

    Finally, when the craziness of the holiday season is over, it’s time to get into more direct retention tactics. You’ve given the customer a great post-purchase experience, it’s time to cash that in and lock in their loyalty. Prior to January, they’ll likely be more focused on holiday spending, so you’ll have more of their attention if you target them in the new year.

    Give them more information about loyalty and membership programs 

    Being rewarded for purchases is a bonus that many customers enjoy. The average consumer belongs to around 14 loyalty programs, and 57% spend more on a brand they’re loyal to. Fostering that loyalty goes beyond just having great products and a good unboxing experience, you need to offer that little something extra that makes it feel like they’re being rewarded just for buying something they wanted anyway. 

    In the new year, send more information about your loyalty and/or membership programs. How they work, how to earn points or move up tiers, and what they get in return. If it’s a loyalty program, let them know how many points they earned on their BFCM purchases, along with what bonuses they receive for those points. That may be something along the lines of “You earned 150 points on your order, here’s what you could redeem those for on your next order”. 

    As for membership programs, detail its costs and the benefits of joining, along with demonstrating what they could have saved or received had they been a member when they placed their order originally, i.e. “You could have saved $10 on delivery”. You can also offer a free trial of the membership program, so they can experience the benefits for free before joining as a full member.

    Offer a meaningful incentive 

    Discounts are everywhere, as are January sales. These likely won’t quite catch the attention of those new customers, if every other brand they shopped with is offering the same promotions.

    That’s why you need to be a bit more purposeful with the incentives you offer. Use the data you have about each customer to personalize the incentive they get in the new year - this will both catch their attention and make them more likely to take up the offer. If a customer over Black Friday ordered a specific product, then you may recommend a complementary product and offer free shipping if they place an order before the end of the month. Or if they ordered a gift related product as well as something for themselves, you could perhaps offer a gift card as a sort of “now here’s a gift for you!”. 


    Acquiring new customers is great, but retaining them is even better. By focusing on retention in the aftermath of BFCM, you’ll be able to build on the high levels of new customer acquisition over Black Friday weekend. These customers who grow to love your brand between Black Friday and the new year will become loyal, repeat customers who will ensure the success of your store year-round.