You’ve seen the YouTube clips: crazed customers, blindsided employees, flying headbutts as crowds clash over the last pair of Nikes. It’s enough to make any level-headed person want to bow out of Black Friday altogether.

But before you do, consider the $3.5 billion consumers are expected to spend online on Friday, November 24th… or the $9 billion-plus set to fly out of their wallets between American Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.

Do you really want to leave that kind of cash on the table? Especially when, as an online merchant in the comfort of your virtual office, your chances of getting mowed down by a shopping cart are relatively slim.

In today’s post — the first in a new weekly series aimed at helping you prepare for retail’s biggest sales weekend — we’ll look at where Black Friday came from, where it’s going, and some things you can do right now to position your business for a bigger slice of the “BFCM” revenue pie.

*We’re also giving away an awesome resource at the end of the post, so make sure to read (or at least scroll) all the way to the end.*

Where did Black Friday come from?

Ask most people where the term “Black Friday” originates and they’ll say it refers to the time each year when businesses start turning a profit, going from “red” to “black.” That makes a lot of sense, given that Black Friday is arguably the single-most profitable day for many retail businesses.

But what if we told you Black Friday’s origins have more to do with loss than profit?

According to The Atlantic, the term was first used to describe two devastating stock market crashes that both occurred on Fridays, one in 1869 and another in 1873: “Calling a dramatically bad day ‘black’ became a familiar turn of phrase, especially when it came to Fridays.”

Later, factory executives revived the term to slap it on the problem of worker absenteeism the day after Thanksgiving, and Philadelphia police eventually picked it up again to describe the chaos that descended on their city for the annual Army-Navy football game.

None of these origin stories is all that cheery, and it would seem Black Friday’s checkered reputation has followed it into the 21st century, where every year stories of all-night lineups, door-crasher deals, and “Darwinian” behaviour dominate the headlines.

Where is Black Friday headed?

Perhaps optimistically, pundits are predicting “a slightly calmer Black Friday environment” in 2017, as more and more people opt to do their shopping from home rather than in-store.

In fact, 2016 was the first year that saw digital spending actually surpass real-life shopping: $3.45 billion online compared with $3 billion in stores, according to Adobe’s Digital Insights report.

The other big story from last year expected to make headlines in 2017: mobile. While mobile devices still aren’t the tool of choice for most shoppers (they accounted for 21% of ecommerce sales last November and December), it’s clear they’re driving conversions in other ways.

On average, American adults spend five hours a day glued to their phones, which means plenty of opportunity to interact with products and companies long before they get to the checkout. Even if these folks aren’t actively shopping (i.e. visiting ecommerce sites), they’re Googling, ‘gramming and texting — all activities that can influence purchasing decisions.

It’s also worth noting that Black Friday is no longer the exclusive domain of North American chain stores. Businesses of every size in every part of the world are jumping on the sales blitz. India and Kuwait have seen some of the biggest year-over-year growth, with 2016 Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales up 173% and 99%, respectively.

All this is to say it’s impossible to say exactly where Black Friday is headed, but it seems “up and to the right” (and all around) is a reasonable projection.

How can you prepare for Black Friday?

While it may seem premature to start planning holiday promotions—didn’t we just get through with back-to-school sales?—the truth is there’s no such thing as “too early” when it comes to preparing for the biggest sales days of the year.

Not sure where to start? Now is a great time to sort out big-picture stuff like inventory, staff and shipping. Pull up your analytics from last year: How many orders did you receive? Was there a product you struggled to keep in stock? What’s trending this year? Come up with some rough estimates, then talk to your suppliers and staff about ramping up production.

Speaking of staff, you may want to consider hiring additional hands (and minds) to support the holiday surge. If you need a few extra people to help fill orders, handle support requests, or keep on top of all your marketing campaigns, now is a great time to hire and train them up.

It’s also not a bad idea to do some advance planning for holiday shipping. Even if free shipping doesn’t work for your business January to October, it’s worth considering for Black Friday. One survey found that 90% of consumersranked free shipping as their number-one incentive to shop online more, while a survey of ecommerce merchants found that “free shipping… is the most effective promotion they can offer.”

Finally, the lead-up to Black Friday is the perfect time to build your mailing list. Invite visitors to give you their email address with a prominent call-to-action or popup on your homepage. (And in case you didn’t know already, our Shopify app Pixelpop has everything you need to create an enticing email signup popup, including festive holiday-themed designs!)

Looking for more ideas?

With Black Friday still two months away, you’ve got plenty of time to prepare for the spike in traffic and sales. The topics we’ve covered above are a great starting point, but if you’re looking for more, you should check out our free holiday eBook, The Shopify Merchant’s Guide to Holiday Engagement.

You’ll find chapters to help you with acquisition (email marketing, Facebook ads, organic social media), conversion (on-page engagement, promotions, landing pages), retention (loyalty programs, customer service, shipping and fulfillment), and lots of fresh stats and content for 2017.

We’ll be back with more Black Friday content next week—in the meantime, if you have any thoughts on holiday sales prep, or if you want to share your store’s strategy, we’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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