Do I need a Black Friday sale? How to decide when (and if) to discount your product

Should you run a Black Friday sale? Let’s break it down.

There’s no question that sales drive conversions. And conversions drive revenue. But that doesn’t mean that sales always make the most sense for your business.

Your average marketer will push you to run a sale because sales drive revenue, and big revenue results make marketers look good. Also, a lot of us really like the buzz we get when the virtual cash register starts ka-chinging off the hook like a bugs bunny cartoon. (Who doesn’t?!)

But any marketer that’s looking at the big picture—the whole business bottom line (and the good ones will be)—will take a much more nuanced approach to sales.

Why? Because sales aren’t just big happy pots ‘o gold at the end of your marketing rainbow. The most obvious reason is that revenue that is driven by a discount is, well, discounted. You’re literally cutting into your bottom line. 

But there are other reasons to think twice about running a sale:

  • Run too many and you can potentially train your audience to expect sales and wait for the next one rather than buying right now at full price 
  • By reducing the price too much too often, you risk devaluing your product in the eyes of your customers (price is a large part of the perceived value of a product)
  • Too many deep sales can start to feel like your company is desperate—and since we’re all sheep at heart, people tend to lose interest in something nobody wants

So… are we saying you should never run a sale? Hardly. Sales are a really useful tool in your marketing toolbox. Here are a few great reasons to run a sale:

  • You have a lot of inventory you want to move 
  • You are in competition with another brand and want to get people to discover/buy your product rather than theirs (this should be a short-term strategy only to make people aware of your product, however—the last thing you want is to get into a sale war with the competition)
  • You have a product line or a new product that you want to bring attention to.  Sales get people’s attention (and opening emails) better than anything else
  • You want to drive revenue to boost sales in a slow month or quarter for legitimate big-picture business reasons
  • You want to capitalize on a traditional sale period, like Black Friday, and capture some additional traffic by appearing relevant during a key selling season

OK, let’s say a sale makes sense for your business. The next question is, how much of a discount should you offer? That is going to depend on your product (or service), how much margin you have to play with, what the lifetime value of acquiring a new customer is, and a bunch of other factors unique to your business. But here are a few tips to help you figure it out:

  • Except in rare cases, don’t go too small. People don’t respond well to discounts of 5% 10%, or even 15% off. In fact, they respond so poorly that if you do decide to offer a low-value discount, don’t use it as the subject line in your email. We’ve A/B tested and found you need at least 30-35% to use it successfully in the subject line. (Note that discounts as small as 10% can be effective as a sale, if on the right (expensive) products and messaged correctlyit’s just not where you should start.)
  • Also, avoid going too big (we’re talking 50% or more off) unless it’s a sample sale, you’re pushing things on clearance, or it’s a veeery special occasion. Deep discounts can lower the perceived value of your brand… and aren’t really generally necessary to get people’s attention. 

We usually advise starting somewhere in the 35%-off range, and then testing it (want to read more about marketing testing?) to see if the amount is meeting your needs i.e. helping you do the thing you are trying to do with the sale without leaving too much money on the table.

But wait, you still haven’t answered the question about Black Friday sales!

Actually, I have, believe it or not. You should approach a Black Friday sale or Cyber Monday sale much like any other sale: do you have a business purpose (that makes sense) for running the sale? Rather than running a sale because everyone else is, ask yourself what you want to achieve with the sale… and go from there. That should give you your answer.

That said, Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday are somewhat unique in that people have been trained to buy during that period. This means sales work really well—better than usual—to drive revenue over that weekend. So if you do have a business reason for a sale, it’s often a good idea to jump on this particular bandwagon. 

In conclusion: should I run a sale?

To recap: run sales—including black Friday sales—strategically. Keep your business purpose in mind. Set your discount amount to whatever is the lowest amount that works to meet your business purpose. And don’t run sales just because other people are doing it. 

Because, ultimately, for your business to succeed, you need to be able to sell your product—at full price—to satisfied, engaged customers. If you need to rely on sales as a prop, you’re missing some key part of your strategy… and it’s time to look closely for what that is. 

Happy marketing!

Katie & Theron


Urban Sherpa Marketing Company is a boutique marketing advisory firm specializing in helping small to medium-sized companies jumpstart their growth. Offering everything from outsourced marketing director services to marketing training and hiring advisory, they love helping marketing teams grow and thrive.


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