We’re going to say something you might not like to hear:

Black Friday isn’t about sales—it’s about building customer relationships and strengthening your brand community.

Controversial, we know. After all, ecommerce BFCM (Black Friday, Cyber Monday) success is measured by how many orders you’re getting and the number of dollars each of those orders is worth in the lead-up to Christmas.

The problem with that approach is that you invest huge amounts of time, money, and energy in a short-term-only gain. It doesn’t do anything to help you after the holidays. Do you build loyalty after Black Friday and Cyber Monday? What happens to each of those customers after you acquire them? Are they coming back to shop with you again, or are they placing an order passing through until next year– if ever?

Table of Contents:

Relationships > discounts

Shoppers want to invest in a brand. Think about your own shopping habits.

You don’t have grocery store brand loyalty because you simply shop wherever is most convenient or where the things you need are on sale. You don’t follow grocery stores or their founders on social media or care who shops at which one.

But the brands you advocate for, the ones where you want to own everything they make, those are brands you actually engage with. You follow them on Instagram and like and comment on posts. You open their newsletters when they arrive in your inbox. You see what influencers are touting their upcoming products. You check your VIP status to see how close you are to reaching the next tier.

You care about these brands because they care about things you value. One of the biggest concerns about ecommerce for customers today is the environmental impact that comes along with shopping. Customers want to shop with brands that care about sustainability.

Building relationships with customers will help you build a defense that is competitor-proof, discount-proof, and will survive the highs and lows of an ever-changing market.

Customers who have a real, authentic relationship with your brand don’t care that Black Friday is coming–they aren’t expecting 50% deals from you.

They’re excited for whatever you do next, no matter what it is.

A rewards program sets you up for BFCM and beyond

As ecommerce and competition grow, more customers than ever are looking at your small business, and you need to make sure they’re seeing the right things. Positioning your brand and customer community properly can make all the difference. Part of that community and relationship-building positioning comes from how you leverage a rewards program.

Your brand community creates a sense of belonging and makes it easy to develop emotional relationships with your customers.

A rewards program gives you the opportunity to exceed customer expectations with every interaction. These positive experiences lay a foundation for strong, emotional relationships that only improve every time they engage with your brand.

Acquire Engage Retain modelRewards program for BFCM–A graphic showing Smile’s acquire, engage, retain flow-chart model. The steps are, “1. Aquire (ads, referrals), 2. Engage (loyalty program, customer experience), 3. Retain (repeat customer, brand advocate)”.
Smile’s acquire, engage, and retain model.

Rewards are the perfect tool to target each of these community-building stages over BFCM to both improve the success of your program and deepen those all-important customer relationships. That means your program should already be up and running before the holiday season to make sure as many customers as possible can take advantage of it!

Let’s look at what you can do to make sure your program strengthens your brand community and, as a result, sets you up for success!

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Phase 1: Acquire and encourage customers to join

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are obviously one of the best times of the year to acquire new customers. People want to shop, so with exponentially more customers discovering your store, you have tons of potentially loyal community members at your fingertips. The key is to make sure they join your brand for the ride, and your rewards program is the best way to do that.

Run a launch campaign

Whether your program is new or not, your first course of action should be to let customers know or remind them that your program exists. Email is still the most effective form of customer communication, and sending a tailored message that outlines how your program works and what they can get out of it is the best way to get them excited enough to join.

The best part is that these emails don’t have to be complicated! Take this example from Re-leaf, with nothing but a simple title, a clear “join our loyalty program” call-to-action, and a branded logo, they’ve made it easy for their customers to discover, explore, and join their loyalty program and brand community.

This type of communication has a clear message on how to engage with and share your community. Following this will help you effectively communicate the benefits of your community with each of your new and existing customers to move them toward increased engagement.

Establish value with welcome points

One of your program’s biggest assets is the promise of additional value. While customers join your community for a sense of belonging, they can also be won over with the rewards you offer.

This is especially true if your program can guarantee a sense of instant gratification. Welcome points are the perfect way to do this because they benefit both you and your customer. When you reward customers for creating an account, you reap the benefit of adding more customers to your community to market to in the future, while your customers receive additional value for completing a simple action.

 Rewards program for BFCM–A screenshot of Mis Claire’s homepage with their loyalty program panel showing their “Ways to earn”.
Mis Claire’s homepage with their loyalty program panel.

You can see this principle at play with Malaysian clothing brand, Mis Claire’s claiRewards. Besides rewarding customers making purchases, it also offers a whopping 500 points simply for creating an account. These are enough points to redeem 5 MR (Malaysian Ringgits) off your very first purchase, making it easy for their customers to see the value in joining right away.

Advertise your welcome points in other places on your store to encourage account creation and make customers feel special during Black Friday Cyber Monday.

Brand your program

The way your program looks has a lot to do with whether customers will want to join or not. The colors you use, what you choose to call the program, and what your points or VIP tiers are named all have a huge impact on how well your program integrates into the rest of your brand experience and how well your customers respond to it as a result.

Rewards program for BFCM–A screenshot of Jimmy Joy’s homepage showing their loyalty program panel explaining how to join the program and their referral program.
Jimmy Joy’s homepage showing their loyalty program launcher. 

Jimmy Joy puts all of these pieces together with its rewards program. From branded icons to cohesive brand photography and color choices, every element of its program is perfectly tied to the rest of its web experience. This attention to detail, combined with the fun opportunity to collect “time tokens” makes its rewards program feel more like interacting with a friend. The program is the perfect complement to the web experience whether you’re a first-time visitor or not.

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Make your program visible

If customers can’t find your loyalty program, they can’t be expected to join it. Much like a launch campaign, making your program visible can go a long way to making sure that new and returning shoppers understand that you’re running a loyalty program and that there’s value in joining your community.

 Rewards program for BFCM–A screenshot of Oh Comadre Candles’ homepage showing their loyalty program launcher and “Comadre Club Login” call to action.
Oh Comadre Candles’ homepage showing their loyalty program calls to action.

Having your program’s launcher on every page is one of the easiest and most effective ways to make your program visible. Oh Comadre Candles does this with not one, but two calls-to-action on its homepage. New customers can click on the rewards program launcher to learn about the loyalty program and existing customers can log in to their accounts directly.

This puts your program in front of every customer and makes it simple and obvious for them to engage. You can make your program even more visible by designing a dedicated explainer page that outlines all the ins and outs of your program.

By making these small tweaks to your web experience, you immediately amplify your program’s accessibility and demonstrate how easy it is to join.

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Phase 2: Motivate customers to engage

With so many deals, exciting promotions, and new stores to explore, it can be difficult to cut through the noise to make your brand stand out without slashing prices. Luckily, your rewards program has the additional value your community members are looking for, without breaking the bank, giving you a number of ways to encourage all kinds of engagement.

Send regular points balance emails

Even though your customers are excited to join your brand community, it might not always be top-of-mind. In the hustle and bustle of Black Friday Cyber Monday, they have lots to think about, which means it’s up to you to let them know how and why they should re-engage with your brand.

Points balance emails are the perfect way to let your members know that your program has something special to offer them, especially after BFCM. Reminding your customers that they have points to spend (and more points to earn!) after the holidays is a great way to re-emphasize your community’s value and remind them why they joined in the first place.

Rewards program for BFCM–A screenshot of a promotional email from Ella + Mila with a points balance reminder in the header reading, “You-R-Beauty-Full Rewards Member. You have 300 points.” There is a link to click on this message that brings you to their website.
Ella + Mila’s promotional email with a points balance reminder in the header. 

You can also use these emails as regular reminders to re-engage. Take Ella + Mila for example. It includes its customers’ points balances at the top of every email it sends with a cute message reminding them about their membership. It reminds customers how many points they already have and provides a clear link to spend those points—no work required!

You can work points balance reminders into your current post-purchase email campaigns to create a more holistic rewards experience all year long.

While these emails aren’t overly fancy, they are highly effective at getting Ella + Mila’s Members to re-engage with the community and get excited about their next opportunity to earn and spend points.

Run targeted email campaigns based on customer data

Running a rewards program gives you access to lots of data that can tell you a lot about who your best customers are. From how often they earn points, to the types of actions they like to complete with your store, your brand community can tell you a lot about how and when to communicate with them.

You can capitalize on this valuable information by designing marketing campaigns based on which VIP tier customers are in or how close they are to a reward. This is particularly easy if you’re building your brand community with Smile (surprise, surprise!). With a number of different email integrations, it’s easy to build beautifully branded campaigns designed to get your community engaged.

screnshot of Hydrant's email to returning customers
Hydrant targets returning customers with a subscription CTA

Hydrant has done a great job of targeting its returning customers to convert their repeat purchases into a subscription plan. Hydrant emails past customers exclusive discounts and ways to stay connected to the brand. With fun colors and the promise of high value, these messages easily grab its best customers’ attention and get them to come back to the store to shop again.

This type of message is incredibly good at getting customers to return after BFCM. By offering even more value after the fact, you can turn your BFCM momentum into the perfect starting point for ongoing engagement from your community’s best, most loyal members.

Only send targeted emails that deliver additional value. Otherwise, you run the risk of providing a poor customer experience that doesn’t bode well for future engagement.

Offer bonus points

Everybody likes to get a little something extra, especially when the holidays are approaching. Your customers and loyalty program members are no exception and will jump at the opportunity to earn even more bang for their buck.

Bonus points are simply additional points you give to your customers–as simple as that! They typically include 2x - 5x the points per purchase. Although you can issue these special points at any time, they’re most effective when they’re distributed in the context of a bonus points event.

That’s what makes bonus points events so successful! When you offer community members more points for every action they complete, you increase the sense of instant gratification and validate their decision to join your community in the first place. With more points in hand and even more rewards up for grabs, it will be easy for your community members to understand why they should stay engaged long-term and entice new members to join your community.

ECS Coffee runs regular bonus points campaigns that allow customers to redeem points for additional discounts and other bonus rewards. This 5X the points campaign it ran is a great example of offering additional value to your customers. Through a number of email, social, and onsite messages, it created a buzz around its program and the opportunities getting engaged could bring, taking advantage of the scarcity principle to make its program even more valuable.

Running bonus points events during BFCM increases the buzz around your program and helps new and returning members alike find even more reasons to engage to take advantage of this limited-time value.

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Phase 3: Make your program valuable to share

The final phase of community building is sharing. You need to mobilize your existing retained customers to help attract and retain new members by incentivizing the referral process. Without these peer-to-peer recommendations, your community’s growth will falter, making this an unbelievably crucial stage.

Reward customers for referrals

This is both the most obvious program strategy and the most effective. Countless studies show that referrals are the most trusted form of marketing, making your existing community members your most powerful marketers. By rewarding them for referring friends to your brand, you effectively cut down on your acquisition spend while also expanding your reach to those you might not interact with otherwise.

Referrals are particularly good at extending your BFCM success. Once one of your members has a positive experience and shares that with someone else, it organically and sustainably continues to grow your community. This connects the join and share phases of your community’s growth and sets you up for ongoing success.

Rewards program for BFCM–A screenshot of Boozy Club’s homepage showing their loyalty program panel explaining their referral program and Boozy Club VIP program.
Boozy Club’s homepage showing their loyalty program panel explaining their referral program

Boozy Club is a fantastic example of the power of referrals. With a unique service like alcohol delivery, it knew it had to rely on its existing customers to get the word out to new members. By leaning on its existing brand advocates, it was able to grow its community exponentially and save money on ads—regardless of the time of year.

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Introduce social rewards

Social media is one of the most powerful referral tools out there, and the best part is that it doesn’t take much to encourage your customers to use it! Since it’s already such a huge part of most customers’ day-to-day activities, all it takes is a small incentive to motivate them to share your brand with their expansive networks.

Rewards program for BFCM–A screenshot of Colorful Black’s Instagram profile
Colorful Black’s Instagram profile. 

This incentive can take many shapes and sizes. For Colorful Black, a big incentive is an opportunity to be featured on its “Vos Avis” story feature on Instagram which shows customer reviews and opinions. By highlighting its community’s personal Instagram posts, it invites each member to join the conversation around the brand, putting their experiences front and center for others to see.

You can use this type of social reward to encourage your community members to share your brand with others during and after the rush of BFCM. You can also retain your customers by offering points for following your brand on social media or sharing your posts on their personal profiles. These seemingly small actions all add up to create a big web of powerful brand advocates who are all engaged and passionate about spreading your brand’s message far and wide.

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Send post-purchase messages

If you’re going to refer a friend to a brand, it’s almost always because of the complete customer experience. At every stage, the brands we love most go above and beyond to enrich every interaction we have with them, adding value at every possible opportunity. This is particularly true of brands who send post-purchase messages thanking us for our business. Anytime we receive an email like that, we immediately file it under the “awesome community we’re happy to be a part of” category!

You can make your customers feel the same way by thanking them for their business. With so many other brands to choose from in the flurry of BFCM shopping, taking the time to acknowledge each individual order can quickly turn an ordinary purchase into an extraordinary one.

screenshot of reviews and user-generated content example
Examples of user-generated reviews for Icemule Coolers

In a deep dive into predictions for Black Friday our friends at Loox noted how UGC in the form of photo reviews will be more vital than ever. By strategically asking for this customer content via a post-purchase message, you can capitalize on the customer's happy moment and build an arsenal of images that support trust and an in-store feel.

screenshot of email from icemule ecommerce brand
An example of a post purchase thank-you email from Icemule

Likewise, receiving an email like this from the folks at Icemule, would immediately create a new happy moment and put a smile on your customer’s face. From the fact that it was sent on the founder’s behalf, this email immediately brings the experience with its brand community to a new level. Now, the experience while reading this will be a positive interaction with the team at Icemule, increasing the likelihood of keeping a long-time customer.

Simple messages can turn a one-time Black Friday Cyber Monday customer into a lifetime brand advocate of your community.

Send post-purchase messages to guest checkouts to thank them for their purchase and let them know they’re missing out on the fun of being a member of your community.

Smile.io's Impact on BFCM

It’s no secret that those with a loyalty and rewards program, brought in more repeat customers, increased revenue, and built a foundation to get customers back after the BFCM and holiday season.

In 2022, more than 100,000 merchants were rewarding customers with Smile and during Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) there were over 6.5 million shoppers placing orders from brands using Smile loyalty programs.

Last BFCM season, a whopping 53 million orders were made on shops using Smile from November through December 2022. And 6.9 million of those were made over Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend (25-28 November). That means 12.8% of all holiday orders were placed over just four days!

No matter which loyalty program metrics you look at—total program members, reward redemption rate, or value generated‚—we had some brands knock it out of the park. 

One Southeast Asian brand reached 115K program members with a redemption rate of 47.93%, 3.5 times higher than the industry average of 13.67%. Another Colorado-based lifestyle brand reached over $1 million US dollars in referral traffic revenue. Like we said—loyalty and BFCM are the dream team.

Loyalty and BFCM

When you use rewards to expand your brand community, you make value-add marketing the foundation of every customer experience. By shifting the focus from your brand and your desire to make more sales to building great customer experiences, you make it more appealing to join, engage with, and share your brand.

Putting each of these strategies into play will set you up for colossal success this holiday season and allow you to continue reaping the benefits long after BFCM is over—without having to run multiple week-long sales and run your profits into the ground for the sake of the holidays.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 2022 and was updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on September 28, 2023.

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