Black Friday in WordPress is unstoppable, and this is what we learned in 2021

Our write-up of trends from Black Friday 2021 for WordPress and WooCommerce businesses.

The sales are done, the numbers are in, and the most frantic period in WordPress is done for another year. The Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale period becomes a bigger deal every year.

This year was no exception. This is our write-up of what we learned from Black Friday 2021 in WordPress.

What sales was everyone running?

We collated a list of 300 Black Friday sales from WordPress businesses. These covered every WordPress business and every sale we could find. We then analysed the data. Of the 300, 79% were WordPress and 21% were WooCommerce.

Here’s the spread of discount levels:

The mean discount level for Black Friday 2021 was 43%.

You can see from the chart that discounts cluster at 30% and 50%. Nearly half of all discounts offered were at one of those two levels.

As we discussed before Black Friday, 30% is our favourite default discount level. These discount levels get more interesting once we start splitting the data up.

We last had this data for 2019. This year’s dataset is nearly twice the size. 30% and then 50% are by far the most popular discount levels; previously 30%, 40%, and 50% were pretty evenly split. I don’t like 40% as a discount level, so I’ll chalk that up to Ellipsis’ influence 🙂

Discounts increase as prices go up

Discount levels go up significantly as prices go up: a product priced $100 was discounted on average 33%, but a product priced $250 was discounted on average 39%.

Higher pre-sale prices give you more room to discount, but this trend is a little surprising: you’d assume products priced higher deliver more value too.

B2B products have higher prices, higher discounts

You’d associate higher discount levels with consumer products, so we split products between B2B (business) and B2C (consumer). This is an important distinction between products we need to see more of.

The result was the opposite of what we expected: B2C products have lower prices but also lower discounts. The average discount for a B2C product was 41.9%, compared to 45.0% for B2B.

B2C products have, on average, a base price of $91 compared to $189 for B2B. This is what you’d expect to see:

This fits with our finding that discount %s go up as prices increase. It seems that hosting companies in particular were driving the larger %s. Hosts offered an average 59% discount, compared to average discounts of 40% for plugins, and 36% for themes.

We’ll dig more into the B2B vs B2C discussion later.

Lifetime deals are irresistible

Lifetime deals are irresistible for many WordPress businesses. 20% of the sales included a lifetime option. Lifetime deals can be fine when priced appropriately, but they’re often an addictive Faustian bargain that often shouldn’t be made.

“Hello Bars” and countdown timers are popular

“Hello Bars” for a notification across the top of sites were the most popular sale notification method, with 49% of stores running one. Countdown timers were also popular with 32% of stores using them.

Stores with a “Hello Bar”

Stores with countdown timers

Consumers are starting to complain about perma-discounts

Awesome Motive has always been shady when it comes to special offers. Whenever you visit their site – there is a last-minute deal. Black Friday is no different as they are offering a 65% discount on all their products.

The truth, their plugin prices with discounts are completely the same as before. There is even no $1 discount available.

Don’t get me wrong, I use many of their products myself and I like them. But, I would love to be treated like a human when it comes to promotion, marketing, and sales.

The Dark Side of The Black Friday Sales –

In his 2019 post Consumers Are Becoming Wise To Your Nudge, Simon Shaw explores why scarcity and urgency had started to perform less well on a client’s website. Their hypothesis was consumers were getting used to the discounts, so they didn’t see them as real. Two thirds of the respondents in the study saw discounts as “sales pressure”, and they responded negatively to this.

Their hypothesis was consumers are becoming used to “nudges” such as false urgency, and this was reducing their impact:

We hypothesize psychological reactance is at play [with fake urgency becoming less effective]: people kick back when they feel they are being coerced. Several measures in our study support this. A large minority (40 percent) of the British public agreed that that “when someone forces me to do something, I feel like doing the opposite.”

The study looked at urgency on hotel booking websites, which are notorious for scarcity and urgency tactics. They exist in WordPress too, though. Awesome Motive will offer you a 50% introductory discount on their products, every day – but often there’s only a couple of hours left! They do this because they can then double the price at renewal, and it (presumably) increases conversion rates.

WP Forms’ regular pricing page, with 50% off

It’s worth noting: whilst I’ve seen this many times before, and I’m sure you have too, I was getting the discount without the urgency whilst writing this.

Countdown timers in particular panic people into making purchases “under time pressure, people rationalise and behave differently. Time pressure limits people’s cognitive resources”. We saw earlier that 32% of WordPress businesses used these over Black Friday. I don’t have a problem with their use infrequently.

I understand the tactic from a conversion marketing point of view, but I do find the practice of perma-discounts incongruous with a mission to “help small businesses”. Consumer actions are far more powerful than my comments, though, and it seems consumers are getting wise to the nudges.

Whether enough consumers become wise to these nudges that we see changes, I don’t know. I suspect that any put off by such tactics will be masked by WordPress’ continued growth.

WordPress businesses are delivering on their sale promises

A consumer watchdog report in the UK got a lot of coverage last week: Which found only 1% of Black Friday deals were genuinely offered at a lower price than seen in the previous months. In WordPress we’re pleased to report that’s not the case. Of all the 300 Black Friday deals we looked at, everyone claiming to have a sale actually had discounts.

Selling digital products is a very different prospect to selling physical ones, and margins can be very high for WordPress products. With many costs such as product development fixed and support costs marginal, you can see why running a Black Friday sale is an irresistible prospect.

Is the natural conclusion of this that more sales, throughout the year, would deliver higher revenues? One of the drivers of a successful sale is the claim: “This is our only sale of the year. When the sale ends on Monday, it won’t be coming back.” Constant sale train your customers not to purchase unless there’s a discount.

A “hey this is our only sale of the year” explanation is a good thing for maintaining your ability to charge full price in the long run — Black Friday doesn’t exist in isolation:

Marketers should explain reasons for a discount so customers are less likely to expect future discounts that would let their IRP drop otherwise

Reference Price Research, Journal of Marketing

The likes of WP Fusion, who run one sale a year with 30% off and don’t discount otherwise, fits this perfectly. Consumers need to believe these claims, though, and this is where trust and integrity come in. If I believe the sale will end when you say it will, I’ll buy. If I have any reason to believe otherwise, my consumer behaviour changes.

I wish I could tell you that overreliance on tactics that break trust punishes you in the long run. If you don’t have enough marketing channels that will be true. If you do, sadly you can get away with it.

I don’t like excluding existing customers from sales

I kept an eye on what was going on with Black Friday in real time this year. One discount that caught my eye was LifterLMS offering 3 years for the price of 2:

This is 33% discount phrased as a non-price discount, and at $720 it’ll cost you a fair chunk of change. It’s rare to see this kind of discount, primarily because it’s a pain to do in EDD, WooCommerce, or Freemius. Chris Badgett confirmed they’re changing the subscriptions manually; it’s not a lot of work, and for $720 it’s worth it:

To me, the offer says more about LifterLMS than WordPress in general: this is a deal for your best customers that are getting great value from your product. You have to meet a number of prerequisites to be able to offer something like this, which many WordPress businesses won’t – not least being able to identify customers who’d fit this in your email software.

I do love that this is a special discount for existing customers. As we talked about in our post in the run up to Black Friday, you don’t want existing customers to feel or be left out. A bespoke discount (and a non-price one) is an excellent way of doing this.

Gravity Forms’ sale only applied to new customers this year.

Some WordPress businesses only made their offers available to new customers. This was difficult to analyse at scale as everyone uses different text, but it looks like about 10% of WordPress businesses limited their offers to new customers only this year. I really don’t like this: it punishes existing customers for buying at full price, and you lose the opportunity to get upgrades or licence extensions.

I may be reading too much into this, but I noted GiveWP limited their sale to new customers and 250 sales only. I don’t know how seriously the 250 limit was taken, but if it was a hard limit it wasn’t reached as the sale was extended an extra day.

That might be more conjecture than the information justifies, but I stand by the original point: most WordPress businesses have email lists primarily with customers on them, so a deal only for non-customers is tough to justify.

B2B and B2C are starting to look very different

There’s always been a slight distinction between B2B and B2C in WordPress. The likes of Kinsta have never done Black Friday sales, as we’re often reminded about:

Tom explained why for our Black Friday post two years ago:

We are not fans of discounting the service and we don’t want to jump on the bandwagon and offer crazy deals. Instead of offering a holiday sale, our team is focused on adding long-term value to our hosting plans…

We also observed that deals attract the wrong type of customer for premium hosting, they just want to test the service but not committed to move and churn among them in the first few weeks or months is 2-4x higher compared to the regular customers.

Tom Zsomborgi • Kinsta

Kinsta are the exception, though. Whilst some B2B businesses will never offer discounts (Ellipsis is in the same category), in general we saw a much clearer difference between B2B and B2C products this year. As we looked at earlier, prices for B2B products are over double their B2C counterparts, whilst discounts were slightly higher for B2B products:

Those base prices are really interesting. I’m sure many will tell you these prices are too low and could go higher. I’m sure that’s right!

In the coming years, we’ll see that happen. The segmentation of the WordPress market far beyond “WordPress” as a catch-all category is a trend and one that will continue for the coming years. This year’s Black Friday trends are another step in that direction.

Business purchases are less likely to be impulse-driven, so the higher discount does surprise me. We split the discount %s across categories for themes, plugins, and hosting to get a better understanding.

The average discounts for B2B and B2C plugins are basically identical, at 42% versus 41%. It is hosting that drives the higher discounts: B2C hosts offered on average 61% off, whilst B2B hosts offered on average 57% off. As Tom highlighted, many of those hosting deals come with a renewal at a higher price; even so, those are very large discounts to offer and it shows you the extent to which hosts in particular are extremely competitive for customer acquisition.

Next year will be even bigger

What is clear is the market for WordPress and WooCommerce products is continuing to grow at a rapid pace, and with that the sale period each year will become a bigger and bigger deal. It was easy to get a list of 300 businesses running a sale this year; in 2019 getting a list of 150 was hard.

New market entrants come alongside WordPress’ growth. More and more people are looking for WordPress solutions, and the unstoppable trains of Black Friday and WordPress are not going anywhere.

Black Friday is the one time of the year where marketing becomes urgent and important for people. The smart play is, of course, to take it seriously the whole year round. If you need to do that for 2022, drop us a note. See you next year!

Alex Denning

Alex Denning

Hey, I'm Alex! I'm Managing Director of Ellipsis. I'm @AlexDenning 👏

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