Transparency Report #34 – Is Black Friday Good for Merchants?

Welcome to the 34th edition of the monthly transparency report (for November 2017). This is a series where I share and discuss the more interesting events, projects, and learnings from the company’s day to day. Click here to see the previous reports.

First up, Black Friday… is it something you should participate in? Both from a customer’s point of view and also from the merchant’s?

Well, the former comes down to your personal preference and the way you do your shopping for the year, but the latter is a bit more complicated thing. On the one hand, if you have a product and you’re willing to provide a discount, you can probably make some good sales.

But does the math on that check out in practice? I hope to provide you with some details on that today.

Just to remind you, we took part in this year’s Black Friday in two distinct ways: (1) we had a Black Friday sale at ThemeIsle, and (2) we compiled a really detailed list of the best Black Friday deals for WordPress and “web things” right here on the blog.

I finally have some data on how it all went:

Results of our Black Friday sale at ThemeIsle

This year was the first time when we actually enabled a complete, site-wide automatic discount – applying to all purchases, no coupon code required. We also promoted this offer quite a lot.

Long story short, the sales were about double what they usually are.

However, let’s not get overly optimistic about this. Considering the money we spent on ads plus the support cost, it doesn’t seem like this whole craziness is worth the effort for us.

I mean, we will probably still have a promotion next year in place, but, at that point, we’re going to be doing it more out of people’s expectations (since some of our would-be customers might be waiting for the Black Friday week to make their purchase) rather than for any financial reason. Certainly, we won’t put that much effort into promoting those Black Friday deals.

All in all, I’m not saying that Black Friday is something to be avoided, but it all depends on your product. For instance, I have a friend running a similar business, and their Black Friday sales rounded at 10x the usual amount.

Though, I’m curious to hear from you on this one. In case you had your own Black Friday promotion this year, how did it go?

Black Friday roundup at CodeinWP – our learnings

Gathering the data on this one is pretty tough. But before we get into the specifics, let me just admit one thing:

Even before we went ahead working on this year’s roundup, we decided that we probably wouldn’t be doing any such post next year. Or, at least, not in its current form.

By the looks of things, too many other blogs jumped on the bandwagon this year and did the exact same thing. This makes our post just another deals compilation, and this is not something that we are aiming at. I like to believe that we’re always chasing a unique perspective and doing something that’s different.

On another note, compiling this post and keeping it updated on a daily basis (throughout the Black Friday and Cyber Monday week) was a lot – a lot! – of work. We were getting hundreds of emails, comments, and nearly 200 entries via our “submit your offer” form. In other words, everyone and their dog wanted to promote their Black Friday offer, and featuring them all required a lot of effort.

However, I’m not complaining here. We are glad that we were able to help a number of smaller companies and sellers – we listed everybody with a valid, good looking offer. Though, at the end of the day, it’s just too much work, all things considered.

We’ll certainly be doing something different next year. I’m thinking something along the lines of, “products we bought / are buying, and why.” It seems more genuine, and probably more valuable as well, since we do get to shine some light on the few deals that we really think are a once-a-year opportunity. For example, this year, I got the ES6 JavaScript course for the team and I would gladly recommend it to other people as well.

In case you’re wondering, here are the traffic numbers for this year’s Black Friday roundup post:

Black Friday stats

OrbitFox … “orbit what?”

I might have mentioned this once or twice in the previous reports. Basically, OrbitFox is our “Jetpack alternative” plugin. I thought calling it that made it easier to summarize what the plugin does, rather than trying to come up with any sort of an elevator pitch. But today I can finally share some more.

We’ve picked up some steam lately in the development process and found a potential interesting direction that we can take with the plugin. That being said, I’m still pretty confused as to how we should market it.

Under the hood, OrbitFox – the plugin’s official name – is a cool “WordPress enhancement plugin” with some helpful modules that are otherwise too small for their own individual plugins. These include things like social share icons, menu icons, a free stock photo finder, and our flagship feature – a Template Directory module.

What’s the Template Directory module?

In short, the module lets you easily import and edit a growing collection of landing pages and other page templates that you can use together with your theme.

In order to do that, we rely on Elementor in the background, but the user experience is really straightforward and simplified. To enhance what this module can do, we’re integrating it with another module with some extra Elementor add-ons.

Why I am so excited about it?

Imagine a collection of 100(-ish) free templates that can work with pretty much any theme AND with all the major page builders (can be Elementor, Beaver Builder, or Gutenberg).

For instance, you could have your website running on Twenty Seventeen (together with OrbitFox) and still be able to take advantage of all those cool templates. A true theme-agnostic approach. This should be easier to extend, edit, or reuse.

Think of it this way; you probably have a theme that you like for various reasons (be it typography, minimalist design, SEO, whatever), and you probably have your favorite page builder as well. So now, instead of having to rely only on what those two allow you to do, you can get OrbitFox installed, pick a template, and be sure that it’s going to integrate just right – both with the theme and the builder plugin, no matter what they might be.

What’s next?

The challenge for me now is picking the right direction to take with OrbitFox. Focus on templates – making sure that they’re as good as they can be? Or focus on Gutenberg – making everything compatible? Or maybe focus on providing as many modules as possible?

We aren’t still sure yet. However, the important thing is that we’ve successfully managed to take an almost useless plugin that we were forced into building as a result of the Zerif Lite theme suspension, and rebrand it into something that can be truly helpful.

In order to kickstart this, we went through with another acquisition. We acquired 10+ Elementor templates, including the designs by John of AnalogWP. John is one of the most talented designers that I’ve come across, and we are going to see how we can continue working together in the future.

So, go get OrbitFox and check it out! For now, it works perfectly with Hestia and Zerif Lite.

But what about Gutenberg?!

Yet again, Gutenberg is everything people talk about after WCUS. This is exactly what was going on roughly half a year ago during the WCEU season, too.

I shared my opinion on it back then, and nothing has changed since. If you’re a developer, the best thing you can do is:

  1. Experiment with Squarespace. Get in some Squarespace groups and understand how people use blocks.
  2. Use Beaver Builder / Elementor and understand how people use content blocks there as well.

Gutenberg is by no means a new concept if you look a bit more broadly at the direction that the website market has been going. It’s just an attempt to standardize a lot of the elements found elsewhere and adapt them to the broad WordPress ecosystem – not only trying to resonate with DIY people and website developers, but the general public as well.

Overall, WordPress themes as a whole have been declining in popularity for the last five years or so (look up the term “WordPress themes” in Google Trends), and Gutenberg will simply accelerate that.

themes trends

It’s hard to make a case against people preferring a light theme + a collection of reusable components or templates over a complicated multi-functional theme with loads of option screens.

The same thing can happen with plugins as well. It should be quite easy for a developer to build, say, a form block for Gutenberg instead of a standalone form plugin.

But don’t get me wrong, we’re not doomed in any way. These things will change gradually, and everyone involved will adapt. A potentially great thing can be that the WordPress market overall can grow bigger, attracting even more casual users. This can mean a growing market for direct client work.

If you follow my line of thinking, you can understand why I am leaning towards a platform-agnostic solution or SaaS. For example, hosting companies or backup solutions or even Jetpack will benefit from those changes directly. Same for agencies (which is also why we are looking for someone interested in restarting our agency branch at CodeinWP.com) and content sites (which is why we’ve been investing in our content offering so much for a while now).

Internal processes

Lastly, I wanted to follow up on our work processes and other internal stuff that’s going on inside the company (I mentioned this in the previous report as well).

Thinking everything through consumed a lot of my time this month, again. I’ve made progress with the team meetings, learned a bunch, and started working on some improvements. Namely:

💡

We’ve made a strong commitment to the idea of continuous learning. As I mentioned, I got the ES6 JavaScript course for the team, and also a Treehouse business subscription.

👨‍💻

We’ve just finished our winter “hackathon,” which was pretty fun (at least what the team said)! I consider this being a great way to share knowledge across teams and improve communication. We keep a simplified startup-weekend structure. Overall, I consider this being something that every tech company should do.

🏢

I might have mentioned this before, but our company setup is quite impossible, for lack of a better word. Basically, we have an office in Bucharest, with a big part of the team working from there. But apart from that, we also have the other half of the team working remotely – some Romanians, but also people from all over the globe.

The problem is that everything seems to be more office-centric since you have so many team members there. This might feel tough on the rest of the team who work remotely – they always get at least partly the impression that they’re not where the action takes place, if that makes sense.

For a counter example, if you have a company that’s fully distributed, that’s not a problem. Everyone is everywhere, and there’s no central, no HQ, so no feeling of missing out on anything.

We’re constantly experimenting and looking for solutions, but it’s not an easy task. Overall, I think that a diverse/distributed company has a higher degree of flexibility, which makes it easier to adapt to market changes. I wrote about that some more in the previous report.

🎂

Lastly, since I’m still impressed with it, here’s the birthday gift I got from the team:

cake

… Delivered right to my doorstep. I am grateful for the support the team has been giving me throughout the many experiments I’ve been putting into our workflows … and for the cake! 😀

By the way, in the next report, we should have some photos from our annual Secret Santa initiative. Stay tuned!

Okay, that’s all I have for you this month. As always, thanks for reading and for supporting us! Stay updated and get new reports delivered to you by subscribing here:

All edits and witty rewrites by Karol K.

Ionut Neagu

Love to travel, share and help others, I am working with WordPress at ThemeIsle.com. Passionated by Growth Hacking and the big things around me (trying to understand people, society, economy and our world ).
  • Hi Ionut, I wish you all the best for your birthday and hope you enjoyed that tasty looking cake. You asked to share our Black Friday experiences so here is mine. I want to mention right from the start that my operation is small and instead of WP themes I create and sell HTML templates on TF but I am a WordPress fan and I follow interesting blogs with valuable information like yours. So, for BF I’ve created a small campaign with 25% discount on all products which lasted for a week and was set to correspond to Amazon’s BF campaign time frame. I’ve promoted it on all my social channels with nice banners/message which I’ve setup on all my product pages, home page and on TF’s product pages. I also invested about $100 in Facebook ads during the campaign to get the word out targeting web designers in US and Canada. Didn’t have resources for anything else. Overall results? Fewer sales than a regular week. So not even close to my expectations. As soon as the week passed and I set the prices to their regular level, sales started to rise and reach the usual volume. The only improvement was the traffic on my website which of course dropped after the FB ads campaign ended. What I’ve learned is that it’s better to stick to my prices and invest all the resources in new products and features development (or any other “organic” marketing) instead of running discount campaigns and paying for ads. Your great article comes as a confirmation and I want to thank you for openly sharing your experience.

    • Hey Lucian, thanks! If you have to choose probably in most of the cases product development is more important and when you have a marketing department or limited resources is better to rather focus on more unique approaches vs black friday. Another disadvantage of BF is that everybody is bidding on ads increasing costs and there is soo much noise, still as I said I know cases that worked amazingly well 🙂