Proceed to Checkout: The Unexpected Story of How Ecommerce Started

Proceed to Checkout: The Unexpected Story of How Ecommerce Started

From trading cattle with your neighbor, to buying pizza online—it’s clear that commerce has changed tremendously over time.

But what was the catalyst for it all? How did something like ecommerce become this $1.915 trillion industry?

In celebration of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we decided to play detective to find the truth behind the history of ecommerce. We wanted to uncover the first product to ever be sold online.

Our findings were pretty surprising.

We found that one of the first things ever purchased online, was a large pizza from Pizza Hut in 1994. Just recently, Pizza Hut celebrated the 20th anniversary of that online transaction by giving all medium and large pizza orders 50 percent off when purchased online.

While it’s true that pizza was one of the first things purchased on the internet—there were actually other transactions made online before the inception of the Internet (as we know it) even existed.

In the 1970s, Stanford students used Arpanet (an early packet switching network and the first network to implement the protocol suite TCP/IP) accounts to engage in a transaction with students at MIT. They used the network to quietly arrange the sale, and purchase, of the first product ever sold through telecommunications—marijuana.

The key ecommerce pioneer, however, wasn’t Pizza Hut or Stanford students—no, it was actually someone purchasing a Sting CD on the 11th of August 1994. It was the first ever ‘secure online purchase’, or ecommerce transaction, when it was sold by US retail platform NetMarket.

Since that seminal transaction, commerce changed forever. Little did that Sting fan know, his transaction paved the way for ecommerce as we know it.

Black Friday Deal

In true Black Friday fashion, we’re running a promotion on The Stockroom—Shopify’s collection of products to help you start your business..

We’re offering 25% off storewide, and giving away free tote bags with purchases of $60 or more.

Give the Gift of EcommerceThe Stockroom sells thing like:

  • Shipping supplies – Everything you need to ship your products at a discounted price.
  • Office Supplies – Motivate yourself with our office supplies. Notebooks, posters, and decor that will keep your hustle strong.
  • Photography Tools – Take beautiful product shots with our photography tools.
  • Entrepreneurial Apparel – Clothes fit for an entrepreneur’s lifestyle. We offer comfortable apparel that looks good enough to wear to meetings and bars.

We hope these products help you as you continue your entrepreneurial journey. We’re rooting for you!


8 Awesome Black Friday Email Campaigns You Can Steal This Holiday Season

As a marketer and business owner, it can often be difficult to come up with great emails with eye-catching images and actionable copy. That’s why I like to draw inspiration and ideas from other successful marketers and businesses.

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Free Ebook: How to Grow Your Ecommerce Business with Email Marketing

Whether you’re just getting started or dreaming up your next big campaign, this email marketing guide will provide you with insights and ideas to help your business grow.

I’m going to share eight awesome Black Friday email campaigns that you can steal and start implementing into your business. In each example, I’m going to break down what it is, why it’s so effective, and how you can implement their ideas into your holiday campaigns.

1. The Simple Sale Announcement Email

CanvasPop simple Black Friday announcement email

Subject: Black Friday – 40% off everything!

What it is: A simple but well-executed email from CanvasPop announcing their store-wide Black Friday sale.

Why it works: This email is all business. It clearly announces the sale and has a focused call-to-action. Sometimes, keeping things simple is the best way to go.

How to implement it: Take the simple approach to your Black Friday and Cyber Monday sale announcements. Have a clear subject line with the sale discount, and include a call-to-action in your email that brings customers to your homepage or page with the products that are on sale.

2. The Bold Imagery and Animations Email

Quirky promotional emailAnimated GIF Black FridayBlack Friday email template

Subject: Don’t wait ’til tomorrow! Take up to 50% off our most popular inventions right now.

What it is: Quirky uses a quirky image animation to announce their Black Friday weekend sale.

Why it works: I don’t often get animated GIFs in my email, let alone one as fun and entertaining as this. This email really stands out from other Black Friday sale announcements that will be barraging customer inboxes.

Also, all the important information is immediately clear. Free shipping, the discount, and the day the sale ends are all there in plain sight.

How to implement it: Start using animated GIFs and very unique imagery in your Black Friday emails, especially if it matches the tone of your brand.

Again, keeping your most important information above the fold is important.

3. The Free Gift Email

Storq Black Friday email template

Subject: Black Friday + Giving Tanks

What it is: Storq created a free gift coupon instead of offering a store-wide sale.

Why it works: Storq uses Black Friday as an opportunity to increase the average order value in their store. Offering a free gift is an enticing way to get customers to your store on Black Friday.

The email design is also simple and effective. The coupon code really stands out and the instructions are clear and easy to follow.

How to implement it: You can still participate in Black Friday even if your business doesn’t typically discount or you can’t afford to lower your prices. Black Friday gives you a reason to contact your customers, so email them with any offer you can create that weekend.

If you can’t lower your prices, consider offering a free gift with a minimum purchase amount. You caneasily do this within Shopify or with an app from the Shopify App Store to help.

Keep your emails simple and don’t overcomplicate your offer. When it comes to copy, less is often more.

4. The Last-Minute Extended Sale Email

Black Friday announcement email template

Subject: EXTENDED! 50%. Off. Everything.

What it is: Julep extends their Black Friday weekend sale into Tuesday.

Why it works: Not everyone will have the opportunity to check out your Black Friday sale. Extending the sale last-second (and running a sale when competitors just ended theirs) gives customers another chance to purchase from your store.

This email is also effective because it’s unexpected. If you’ve been consistently warning customers about the impending end of your Black Friday sale and then spring a last-second extension, it’s more likely to stick out in people’s inboxes.

Lastly, the email is well designed. The three most important elements in this email contrast well against the rest: “Extended 48 hours,” “50% off everything,” and “use code cyberwow.”

How to implement it: Consider extending your sale and surprising your customers. You can even offer a new discount for the extended sale to get customers off the fence.

Don’t forget to make the most important elements in your email stand out, too. Use Julep’s email design as inspiration.

5. The Black Friday Giveaway Email

Black Friday giveaway contest email

Subject: Blacked-Out Friday

What it is: Huckberry turns their Black Friday sale into a giveaway.

Why it works: Giveaways and contests can inject even more excitement into a Black Friday sale. Huckberry is giving their customers more incentive to shop on their site during Black Friday by giving each purchase a random entry into their giveaway.

Huckberry also includes more copy in their emails than most stores. Huckberry is very keen on conveying messages and telling stories in their emails, even on Black Friday.

This email in particular is too long to show in this blog post, but below their Black Friday sale announcement are stories, including the harrowing trip to Antarctica mentioned at the top of the email.

Despite being Black Friday, Huckberry hasn’t changed their established tone. Huckberry continues to deliver interesting stories, even in their most promotion-heavy emails.

How to implement it: Run a contest alongside your sale or give every customer that makes a purchase the chance to win a prize. Check out the giveaway apps in our Shopify App Store to help you put this together.

Finally, don’t diverge from your original messaging or style. If you’ve been delivering great content or stories with each email, that doesn’t need to change for Black Friday. Find a way to weave your Black Friday emails into what you’ve been doing well previously. Make it organic.

6. The Black Friday Humor Email

Black Friday humor email example

Subject: Sweats + Shorts = THE SCHWORTS

What it is: Chubbies stays consistent with their tone and branding and uses humor to promote their Black Friday sale on schworts.

Why it works: This email looks a lot different than the a typical Black Friday sale emails. First, the subject line is great. Next, the image of someone lounging on their couch pouring food down their mouth after Thanksgiving is really funny.

There isn’t a lot of copy in this email but it’s still effective at conveying why you need their comfortable shorts. Chubbies also shows you their shorts looking comfortable instead of only telling you that they’re comfortable.

Chubbies also chooses to focus on one product to promote their Black Friday sale instead of announcing a store-wide sale. This is far more effective since leaving customers with too much choice can be overwhelming.

How to implement it: Have fun with your marketing. If it suits your brand, experiment with unique subject lines for your emails and use humorous images.

You don’t need a lot of copy in your Black Friday emails to convey a message. Don’t just tell your customers your shorts are comfortable, show them in an entertaining way.

Lastly, you don’t need to promote several products in your Black Friday email. Promote your Black Friday sale with one product (or a few) instead. Consider choosing your best-selling or most interesting product and promote it on Black Friday to drive traffic.

7. The Scarcity Email

Black Friday scarcity and urgency email sample

Subject: Woosters Almost Sold Out! Black Friday Prices + Free Shipping For A Few More Hours!

What it is: Greats gives their customers a Black Friday status report on the shoes on sale.

Why it works: Greats uses elements of scarcity throughout the email. “Moving fast,” “Almost sold out,” and “No time to be on the fence” creates a sense of urgency. Even the subject line has urgency in it with “Woosters almost sold out!”.

Of course, Greats’ personality shines through in this email as well.

How to implement it: Learn to create scarcity in your email marketing, especially on Black Friday. Create urgency and use your emails to remind your customers that your sale will be ending. Also, when your products are selling like hot cakes, tell people!

8. The Against-The-Grain Email

Everlane charity on Black Friday email example

Subject: This Is Not A Sale

What it is: Everlane uses Black Friday as a platform to raise awareness and money for workers in China.

Why it works: The subject line is strong and piques people’s curiosity, encouraging them to open the email to learn more. You don’t often get emails on Black Friday letting you know “this is not a sale.”

It isn’t a bait and switch either; Everlane goes against the grain and promises to give 100% of their Black Friday profit to their factories in China to improve working conditions.

This gesture also helps build Everlane’s brand. It also has the chance to be picked up by news sites social media since it’s unique and generous for a time of year where businesses are focused on profit.

How to implement it: If you’re tired of running the same Black Friday sale every year, or your customers have grown to expect the same from you every year, change things up. Consider making this year’s Black Friday all about your customer or someone else in need.

It could be your opportunity to give back a little while also creating a positive brand image for your store.

Over to You

If email marketing isn’t a large part of your growth strategy, take the time to learn why it’s important for your business. If your email list is small, start building it now to make the most out of Black Friday. You don’t need a gigantic email list for your Black Friday to matter, but the bigger your list, the better. With the right amount of engaged subscribers and awesome, well-crafted emails, your business can have a great Black Friday.

Want to crush it this Black Friday? Check out the 26-point checklist I put together to position your store for success this holiday season.

If you have any questions or Black Friday email ideas you’d like to share, leave a comment below. I engage with and respond to everyone.

The Procrastinator’s Guide to Black Friday Marketing (Plus Examples You Can Steal)

Your Black Friday and Cyber Monday planning should have started months ago. I feel you, fellow procrastinator. I’m editing this post mere hours before it will be published.

But have no fear—you can still pull off an epic BFCM sale with only a few weeks to go. From one last-minute junkie to another, a tight deadline is a great motivator.

Don’t let the rush pressure you into a bad decision, though. If you’re a small business, competing with retail giants on price shouldn’t be your goal. The deal-seekers will always chase the lowest prices. This is not your audience. As an independent merchant, however, you can still participate—and have a stellar sales weekend—by employing a little creativity.

You already have the tools. It’s a matter of packaging them into a compelling campaign. And trust me, you also still have time. 25 days, to be exact.

Here’s your 3-step guide to planning and executing a flawless Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotion in under a month (on top of all of your other superhero feats):

1. Plan

Are you ready?

Is your store in a good state to handle a surge in sales? Shopify has your back when your store floods with traffic—we’ve survived the flashiest flash sale without a blip—but the rest is up to you. Do you have the inventory? Do you have the infrastructure in place to handle an uptick in customer service inquiries? Can you ship everything on time?

If you answered “yes”, let’s get rolling!

What’s your offer?

While customers expect a deal on Thanksgiving weekend, you 👏  are 👏  not 👏  Wal-Mart. Drastically slashing prices just isn’t feasible for most small businesses.

There are other meaningful ways to participate in BFCM and still reward your customers without making a huge dent in your bottom line. Win-win.

How much will your discount be? Will it apply to everything or specific collections or products? Are there other ways to reward your customer without killing your margin?

There are several options, including:

  • Unique coupon codes for specific customer groups
  • Site-wide sale with a universal coupon code
  • Sale products or collections (no code required)
  • Gift or gift card with minimum purchase
  • Free shipping

Jcrew Free Shipping


You can implement and communicate your plan in a number of ways. If your offer itself isn’t a “door crasher”, your approach can still create some buzz. Make it creative and interactive, inspire urgency or anticipation, and consider exclusive loyalty offers.

Here are some ideas (with real examples from other retailers) to inspire your own campaign:

Gift guide or gift giving themes: remind your customers of the impending holiday season, and the urgency to start shopping. Link to holiday-themed or gift-giving collections. Studies show that consumers are eager for holiday content as early as Halloween (that’s today!).

BFCM Gift Guide

Timed deals: create excitement with new deals released every hour or at different intervals throughout the weekend.

BFCM Brooks Brothers

Sneak peek or pre-sale: allow social followers and email subscribers early access to view or apply the deal.

BFCM sneak peek

“Door crasher”, early access, or limited-quantity promotions: reward early birds and create a sense of urgency, exclusivity, or scarcity.

Extend your sale: catch the procrastinators or anyone who missed the buying frenzy, and extend your deals through or past the weekend.


Release a new or seasonal product or collection: give current customers a reason to come back for new products that are also on sale.

BFCM Kate SpadeGift with purchase: add the element of suspense by offering a “mystery gift” with minimum purchase.

BFCM Ulta Mystery Gift

image: Ulta

Gift cards as gifts with purchase: give a $10 gift card (valid only after January 1st) to customers who purchase over $100, for example, to extend the relationship with customer through the holidays. 💡 TIP: now might be the right time to update the look of your gift cards with seasonal themes.

Run a contest or giveaway: use Shopify’s integration with Gleam to generate anticipation for your promotion and build your email list

bfcm hhgregg

Establish Terms

What are the terms and conditions of your offer? How will you communicate terms clearly to your customers to avoid disappointment or customer service nightmares?


  • Establish clear start and end dates and times for each offer.
  • What is the discount? Is there a minimum order value to be eligible for the deal? Set conditions on the Create Discount page.
  • Are there any excluded products? Clearly identify these terms in your fine print.
  • Is the offer exclusive to certain customers or regions? Targeted email communication is best for this type of deal.
  • If you’re offering free shipping, are any countries excluded? This is also a good time to set up your shipping calendar: cut off order-by dates to receive products in time for Christmas.


Discount Codes Shopify

BFCM Holiday Shipping Calendar

images: J.Crew fine print, Shopify Admin Discounts Codes, Sock it to Me shipping calendar


Create a content calendar for your campaign that accounts for every step. When will social posts and emails deploy? What will be scheduled automatically and what tasks will be implemented manually. Do you have a team? Who is responsible for what?

Set up your sale collections to launch on time using Future Publishing.

Be sure to schedule email and social communication throughout the campaign—teasers, reminders, and “last chance” notifications.

BFCM last chance teaser email

2. Execute

Assets & Copy

Create and schedule all of your emails, blog posts, and social content up front to free up your time to manage the influx of sales and customer service inquiries during the busiest shopping season of the year.

What assets do you need to create? Consider:

  • Website: home page, landing page, banners, pop-ups, collection headers
  • Emails
  • Social: network-specific posts
  • Retail: do you also run a physical storefront? What are your in-store signage needs?

If you’re not a designer (or don’t have the budget to hire one), there are plenty of free, beautiful graphics and photos, plus tools to put them all together.

Layer type over free stock images using a tool like Canva, try Shopify’s slogan generator to help inspire clever copy for your campaign, and create graphics from scratch using a free Photoshop alternative like Gimp.

💡 TIP: keep your imagery and messaging consistent across all channels, but optimize copy to suit each social audience or customer group.

BFCM Holiday Images

Royalty-free stock photos by Unsplash

BFCM Canva

Create social graphics with Canva

Set up Your Store

To discount only certain products in your shop (with no code required), set sale prices by adjusting the regular and “compare at prices” of those products, then create a Black Friday/Cyber Monday collection with automatic conditions. Alternately, you can use an app like Product Discount to easily apply deals to products by brand, type, or collection.

For a site-wide discount, you can opt to create generic discount codes that customers apply at checkout.

If your deal is free shipping, either add a free shipping rate or create a shipping discount code.

What other apps can you integrate with your store to help your campaign? Try:

Install a live chat app to help alleviate the customer service crush, and respond to support issues in real-time.

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Be at your best this Black Friday and Cyber Monday!

Get our 26-point checklist of everything you need to cover to ensure your BFCM weekend is a success.

Download BFCM checklist

Set up Your Email Marketing Campaign

Last year, email marketing accounted for 25% of sales on Black Friday sales and 22% on Cyber Monday. As a small business competing for sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, email is a powerful tool. It can get expensive to stand out in the noise of BFCM. Why not focus instead on a repeat business from a captive audience: your customers and subscribers? Use BFCM as an opportunity to reward existing customers, maintain relationships, and improve loyalty.


Subject lines on an average day are critical to email marketing. They’re even more so as email volume hits its holiday apex. Take a minute to remember your own inbox last Thanksgiving. I bet it looked a little something like this:

BFCM inbox

image: Econsultancy


Promote it on Social Media

Consider both organic (loyalty offers for existing fans) and paid content. Remember that the paid space is competitive on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so be sure to target your campaigns wisely to get the biggest bang for your buck.


  • Ask customers to share or tag friends
  • Offer exclusives to each social channel, using unique codes to help direct your decision making next year. Which platforms converted better? Where should you throw your efforts?
  • As with email efforts, schedule posts throughout the campaign
  • Remember: customers use social media as a customer service channel. Stay on top of your mentions and DMs throughout the weekend.
  • Design catchy but on-brand graphics that don’t cheapen your profile—especially important for lifestyle brands

Instagram Sale

Additional Reading:


Even if you’ve automated everything from go-live sale prices to social posts and emails, make sure you’re on hand to check that everything deploys smoothly and on time.

Shopify 24/7 Support is on hand to help you through the busy weekend—luckily most of us are in Canada and we’ve long since digested our turkey feast.

💡 TIP: Submit your offer to deal aggregator sites like SlickDeals or RetailMeNot.

3. Reflect

Before executing your campaign, be sure you understand how you will track its success. Results will help inform future marketing efforts.

Split test email subject lines, track the success of discount codes, and use UTMs to track referral sources to your sale collection or landing page.

When your deal expires, look at the results: was it worth it? What worked? What didn’t? Where is your money best spent in 2017?

Additional Reading:

💡 TIP: Have a follow-up strategy to keep existing and new customers engaged beyond BFCM.

Anti-Black Friday Campaigns

Many merchants elect to not participate in Black Friday or Cyber Monday in a traditional way or even at all. When we visited merchants across North America last year, we discovered that small businesses approached the weekend much differently than their massive chain counterparts.

Here are a few ways to (not) participate:

Small Business Saturday

This Saturday focuses on supporting small businesses—almost the antithesis to the winding lineups outside of Best Buy. Appeal to consumers looking to support small and local businesses for their holiday shopping: tell your brand’s story in your campaigns.

BFCM SmallBizSat

Giving Tuesday

While everyone’s in a turkey-gluttony coma or suffering buyer’s remorse, this is the time to draw customers to your store with the promise of regaining a little good karma. Typically on Giving Tuesday, “offers” are in fact in the form of donations to charity or 1-for-1 campaigns.

Giving Tuesday

Charity Partnerships

Outside of Giving Tuesday, extend the good-deed-doing through the entire weekend by partnering with a charity in line with your business or values. Last year, Goods Shop found that their customers embraced the donation-over-deals approach and “no one left empty-handed”.

BFCM Charity

Opting Out

Probably the most famous example of Black Friday push-back is Cards Against Humanity’s annual stunts—in 2015, they sold “nothing” at $5 a pop.

Outdoor gear retailer Rei, is riding the second year of its #OptOutside campaign, in which they close their stores and encourage their employees and customers to spend the day, err, not spending. While the chain may not be generating a cent that day, the hashtag yields 1.8 million Instagram results—valuable brand reach that keeps on giving beyond BFCM.

OptOutside Campaign

Despite the trend of backlashing brands, shoppers in 2015 still spent $4.45 billion during Black Friday and Thanksgiving—25% increase over the previous year. The point: it’s not going anywhere.

Plan Ahead: BFCM 2017

You may have been late to the game this year, but there’s still time to change your feet-dragging ways. Use your learnings from your 2016 efforts to start planning for next year.

Target has a permanent landing page dedicated to Cyber Monday, welcoming visitors year round to sign up for upcoming Black Friday alerts and exclusive deals.

Cyber Monday Target

While your own efforts don’t need to be as extreme, it’s a reminder to start planning much earlier. In the spring, start by building your email list, planning inventory purchases, and banking content in anticipation of the impending holiday.

Don’t let it creep up again! 389 days will pass quickly for a busy entrepreneur.