Black Friday – A Cautionary Tale From An Online Retailer

Editors’ note: This column has been removed because retailer Harry & David apparently threatened legal action against a former employee quoted in the article. The company apparently claimed that, despite her having been given permission to speak about these issues at a public gathering, in hindsight, the company doesn’t want them discussed. We like that former employee, so we’ve pulled it down for the moment as a courtesy to her rather than because of any demand that Harry & David made to us.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column | Top News


About The Author: is a news and information site covering search engine marketing, searching issues and the search engine industry. Special site announcements and occasional sponsor messages are posted by Search Engine Land.

Connect with the author via: Email


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Jacky

    I’m a minimalist. I have everything I need.

  • Bryant Garvin


    I love that you dug into how we as marketers have “trained” consumers to react, or behave in certain ways. I am really glad Christi shared the data and insights with you and allowed you to share them with us. There are so many times that people sound the fire alarm and then react without digging into whether there was really any true cause to be alarmed. Especially if you have no control over something… like say search query volume industry wide.

    I saw the training of consumers become a major issue, when working in-house at Choice Hotels. Hospitality Holding companies had allowed, consumers to expect better pricing through OTAs (online travel agents like Expedia), or last minute reservations. So consumers behaved differently than they used to several years ago.

    We definitely have to be cautious in how we react, and reinforce consumer behavior. I love that Christi and her team took the opposite approach of quickly jumping to “slash prices”, and instead offered a unique value that actually increased AOV instead of dropping it and Profitability.

  • Ronnie’s Mustache

    Every year these discount days are basically a frenzy, during which people go further into debt as they buy crap they don’t need. And they celebrate this!?

    What a sick society!

    (I’m in b2b…so bahhhhhhh-humbug!). ;)

  • Hamza
  • Brad Geddes

    Fantastic article, Matt. Thanks for sharing.

    It’s always nice to read some war stories to gain perspective this time of year.

  • Brad Geddes

    Nice Article, Matt. Thanks for sharing.

    It’s always good to read some marketing war stories this time of year to get some perspective.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Now that’s a philosophy we can all embrace! Thanks, Little Tree.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Nice ‘stash Ronnie. I do alot of B2B, too, but of course, the B’s sell other B’s the raw materials to make all the ‘stuff’, so we’re all in this together, even if not at the crowded markets…

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thanks, Hamza. Very interesting list. I thought that #7 was the reason behind the naming, too.

  • treb072410

    I totally agree with what you posted here Matt.. That is the way of thinking @disqus_8deyyXzfX0:disqus…

  • Matt Van Wagner

    super – I see you are building a new site. Keep me posted. Sounds like a good one!

  • Julian Thomas

    Matt, trying to change my email for authorship, I reviewed how this article was using rel=author links and actually found Google is showing no authorship/errors for this page:

    Verified by search – shows the publisher, but not you as author.


  • Hamza


  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thanks, Julian. I’ll check this out and get it fixed up.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Exactly, Bryant. We need to avoid the “Ready, Fire, Aim” syndrome in everything we do. Christi and her teams really did model out very good business decision-making and they deserve all the success they found. Discounting can be effective when applied properly, but it can be an addictive, and non-productive sales and marketing tactic.

  • Sam Owen

    Great article Matt!

    Talking of consumer behaviour changing – a friend working with a huge amount of online retail PPC told me that Thursday got higher numbers than Friday for them. Could be a sign that megastore Black “Friday” deals opening on Thursday evenings is pervading the online marketplace too.

  • Jenny Halasz

    Excellent article. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Matt!

  • Matt Van Wagner

    You’re welcome, Jenny, but the real credit goes to Christi Olson, who was so gracious with her time and case study!

  • JD

    Wow … Interesting that you took HD’s marketing plan and a published it from one of their ex-employees. Shame on both of you. Watch out Expedia.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thanks, JD. You’ve definitely raised an important and valid point, but we’re good here.

    Christi had Harry & David’s blessing to present the case study. It was first presented at SMX West (San Jose) in 2012 and it had been vetted her PR team and her VP at the time. The values shown on the slides that were shared were examples and not actual goals/targets.

    However, I’d also make the point that this holiday marketing plan is actually pretty common for retailers. It plays out along the timelines for other campaigns I’ve run over the holidays for other online retailers. The secret sauce, I believe, was how they planned, organized and managed their teams. All of us should aspire to replicate Harry & David’s discipline and textbook execution. I think Harry & David’s would be quite pleased to get this story out there – it could mean fewer panicked behaviors by irrational competitors.

    Thank you again for weighing in with your concern. I have been thinking of writing about ethical decision making for sales and marketing professionals. Your comment gives me renewed interest in the topic.

  • Jenny Halasz

    Oh I agree! And honestly, I was refusing to use Harry & David due to an issue a couple of years ago… hearing that they’ve got it this together on the search side makes me want to give them another try. Maybe they also have fulfillment straightened out… ;-)


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide