We Need to Talk About Black Friday

We Need to Talk About Black Friday

“This year will be different.”

There you are, addressing the company at the 2016 Q4 annual kickoff, smiling. You’ve just finished showing the campaign slides for this year’s Bosses day promotion - “inspired by Michael Scott” - followed by the video that will launch your Halloween sale. The interns in front smile, high-five and nudge each other as they appear on screen. The veterans stand out back grinning and nodding along.

Your hairline dampens and cools.

“The agency has been working with the server company, we’ve invested in extra backups, and we’ve hired a gold star partner to wait on standby.”

Jamie in the back looks at his watch and sips his coffee. Heat runs up your spine.

“We’ve got a great marketing plan, our deals are unbeatable and this is going to be our best Black Friday yet!”

Your weight shifts, your finger taps your leg. Nobody notices.

They erupt into applause and begin drinking. You step away from the podium and hear all of these unfamiliar faces talk about how awesome this year’s going to be. On one of the desks, a piece of paper titled “Revenue Pool,” catches your eye, with numbers that appear to be the final Black Friday revenue.

“Funny,” you think, grinning to yourself, recalling how you and your closest friends were at the same desk with a similar paper tracking just how much you’d need to make to stay afloat not long ago.

As you look up, you notice Jamie out back glance in your direction, mutter something to the others, and slip out thinking nobody noticed.

“This year will be different.” You think to yourself silently.

But deep down, you feel it…

It’s Not Going to be Different

All the preparations and last minute phone calls and thousands of extra dollars couldn’t prepare you.

11:57 pm Thursday. Thanksgiving 2016.

Large television screens illuminate key performance metrics and real-time communications. Social. Revenue. Uptime. Customer Service. The walls are lined with glowing windows to critical areas of your online business. This was a good investment. This will make the difference.


Your team is ready. Everyone is settled into their stations. The final launch email is queued up on the screens, and you reflect on just how many people it took to make this one email possible; How many different concepts and revisions you must have looked at to get this one perfect piece of correspondence.

You think about how many Slack messages and ad buys and social posts and press announcements have lead up to this one email, and you’re incredibly proud of all of the work it took to get this one single piece ready to go.


You check Twitter from your phone, and your loyal customers, many of whom you still know by name, share their enthusiasm. “Refreshing the page,” @Berg says, “I hope they don’t sell out!” You pull up your gold star agencies phone number just in case.

Everyone inches closer to their desk and gives each other one last congratulatory look before becoming fully immersed into their screens.

Laptop fans, taps and clicks fill the air as you scan the room “Warriors,” you mutter, admiring the sharp, disciplined intensity in everyone’s eyes. “Fucking warriors.”

12:00 am Black Friday, 2016.

The email launches. The website switches to the Black Friday design. The customers on Twitter are happy. Everything is going exactly as planned. “Everything is going to be fine,” you think to yourself as you look around, noticing your team seems to have breathed a sigh of relief.

Only hours earlier, you and this same small group were passing potatoes, poking fun at Obama’s Dad jokes during the Turkey pardoning, erupting with laughter and giggling at how naive you all were last year. You couldn’t help but feel washed over with gratitude that these people stuck around to help build your vision. These people, you thought, get it.

Hours pass. Early morning turns to morning, your team looks engaged but worn. No sooner do you think “We’re going to make it!” the rest of the world wakes up.

The server response time log pulses, the weight of the traffic pressure closes in on your website like a submarine diving into the deep unknowable abyss.

You’re eyeing the response log. It spikes. Tap, tap, tap. Resolved.

It spikes again. Tap, click, tap. Sigh.

Your palms moisten. You remember how you promised Jamie this year wouldn’t be like last. How the training and the 30 extra servers would guarantee you were prepared. An image of your 5 oldest friends sitting across your desk invades your thoughts. “We’re out.”

Those words echoed through the furthest edges of your mind, keeping you awake for months, before leaving a deep scar on your heart. Funny, you haven’t thought of that for awhile. You push the image out of your head.

Everything’s fine.

Throughout the morning, the spikes get higher and closer together.

Your throat tightens. Your chest pounds.

Around noon, the server log matches tempo with your own heart. Then you see it. Fear. The look of absolute terror in Jamie’s eyes.

The log flatlines.

The sound of a ringing phone tears through the quiet buzz of laptop fans and the room explodes into a whirlpool of sound, light, and movement. Customer service reps desperately negotiate with angry customers, DevOps agents hammer at their keyboards. Phone lines blink, text on the screens blur together, and everyone’s voice collides in an incomprehensible mix of chaos and panic. Your temples throb. Your breath quickens. You’re caught in the undertow of activity, desperately searching for a familiar face to anchor onto.

Jamie yells from the other side of the room, “Get on the phone with the agency!”

“We’re doing everything we can!” they say on the phone. The gold star partner and server company say the same. 

“Why can’t I checkout!?!” says @Berg on Twitter as a wave of complaints batters your customer service department. “Did my card get charged??” “I don’t want to miss the deals!” “Got through the checkout but no confirmation!” “What’s going on?!”

Your own inbox floods with emails from your earliest customers and investors alike.


“Why is this happening?”

“I trusted you.”

“I’m never shopping with you again…”

You’re paralyzed. What can you possibly say? The sound fades away from the room as the light in these incredibly talented people’s eyes dims. Eventually, they stop racing, trying to salvage the day, and instead their bodies become lifeless and devoid of hope. None of the training, testing or protocols made a lick of difference. All that investment, all that time negotiating with the board, all of it - wasted.

All you can do, it feels like, is stare blankly at the stagnant revenue number that is well below the lowest guess on the office’s Black Friday pool, and wait.

Eventually, a limp cheer will signal the nightmare is over. But it doesn’t settle the pit in your stomach.

“What Are We Going to Do This Year?”

You got through holidays and New Years. Q1 2017 was a reasonable success, Q2 is shaping up to look pretty good as well - though you try to ignore that reporting didn’t come as honestly as it had in previous years.

You glance up at your laptop clock; Jamie should be in your office in 5 minutes.

“If the big brands crashed, what chance did we stand?” you remember rationalizing as your board of investors peered down the conference table at you. You’ll never forget the distinct wave of numbness that washed over you as those eyes searched every inch of you for an explanation of what went wrong.

“Focus. Jamie will be here any minute,” you say to yourself noticing your finger tapping.

“You’ll need to make some layoffs to free up capital…” one of your lead investors said bluntly.

Jamie’s blurry outline fills the doorway.

“I know it’s a big deal switching everything over,” you remember Jamie saying in a conversation at lunch around this time last year, “but they had some really impressive stats around performance and they try to make the transit…”

“They’re for ma and pa shops Jamie,” you interrupted, wishing now you had only listened. “We’re doing too much volume for them to make sense.”

“What are we going to do this year?” another investor said piercing you right in the heart. You wish you had a better answer then.

The doorknob turns. Jamie, looking worn yet energized, walks in holding a laptop and approaches your desk.

Jamie’s eyes have that burning intensity that reminds you of when you first started, and for the first time in God knows how long, you remember why you got into this in the first place.

The laptop opens. Jamie’s eyes glow and you notice a grin spread on your own face. Without speaking a word, you both know you’re onto something big. Something different.

Without ever breaking eye contact, Jamie slides the laptop in your direction and smiles...

“We need to talk about Black Friday”

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About the Author

Tommy Walker is the Editor-in-Chief of the Shopify Plus blog. It is his goal to provide high-volume ecommerce stores with deeply researched, honest advice for growing their customer base, revenues and profits. Get more from Tommy on Twitter.