Little under five years ago, the third Friday of November was just a day like any other in the build-up to the fast-approaching Christmas period. Skip forward to 2017 and Black Friday is the most hotly anticipated day in the shopping calendars of consumers and retailers alike. Last year a whopping £7 billion worth of sales online and in store was recorded on November 25, as Black Friday provided the biggest consumer spending day of 2016 in the UK. And with sales figures expected to eclipse that total when things get underway again later this month, it is integral that all areas of the Channel are prepared to capitalise on consumers splashing the cash.
By its nature Black Friday is chaotic. Images surface every year of human pileups across the UK and the USA (which has celebrated Black Friday every year since 1993) and online retailers battle to keep their servers from becoming overwhelmed by the surge in traffic. And as Bobby Watkins, CCO at Verv points out, ‘the consumer has little or no time to prepare a shopping strategy’ which only adds to the chaos.
But the same cannot be said of retailers. The build-up to Black Friday, through to Cyber Monday, should – and would – have been identified as a top priority at the outset of the year. Watkins adds: “Channel players are becoming increasingly focused on the run up and digitally keeping the consumer informed of what might become available. My belief is that there will be four types of winner within the Channel. First of all, those with an amazing deal no-one can touch (product and price are the powerful elements of the mix) will do well. Online pureplay will also see success – the immediacy of Black Friday really lends itself to these guys. Thirdly, department stores with killer ranges – such as John Lewis, who as a destination Black Friday can be an event. And finally, those in and around shopping malls, turning the whole Black Friday momentum into an experience across retailing platforms.”
He continues: “Since the pureplay sites and market places will drive such a large marketing push, the independent and multi-channel retailers need to work increasingly hard to ensure that their fair share of the consumer spend is reached. On the offer side, the Channel needs to work together, speaking with brands, distributors and wholesellers for the best possible deals. The start point is having a strategy, applying goals and an action plan to deliver them.”
Singing from the same hymn sheet, Michael McLaughlin at GfK believes this year’s Black Friday will be the least chaotic (from a retailers point of view) ever seen with plans put in place months before the date swings around. “Black Friday 2017 will be a further refinement of previous years and therefore more considered,” he said. “Retailers and brands have more experience of the event under their belts and more data to review, all of which leads to better planning and implementation. Strategies have changed over the years, and it’s no longer a case of crazed discounting, but rather a strategic sales initiative, which managed correctly can see positive results on the sales and profit lines.”
The sales initiatives are likely to begin weeks in advance, with clever marketing campaigns targeting potential buyers. In fact, one of the most important things a retailer can do is ensure its digital marketing is readily available across all platforms. As Adam Simon, Global MD at Context, explains: “Mobility will play an increasing role in both shopping and purchase. All ads and promotions need to be optimised for mobile. The mobile phone is where the customer shopping journey begins, it is the portal for the research and is rapidly becoming a major portal to complete the purchase.”
It is not just in terms of marketing that the internet will play its part in this year’s Black Friday. Online sales are expected to surpass physical sales for the first time during this year’s event. With 48 per cent of last year’s Black Friday buys taking place online, GfK predicts that more sales will take place online than in-store for the first time in the event’s history.
However, videos of in-store pile ups can still be expected with better deals potentially found out there in the real world. “The chaos of buying in-store in previous years has been well documented, however this will not deter shoppers from doing it all over again,” Patrick Graff at Midwich says. “Although online sales will be popular, the general consensus is there are larger savings to be found in store.”
Other areas are also expected to be boosted this year, with Click and Collect purchases as well as mobile sales expected to be up on 2016 figures. As Stuart Ramage, head of Online Trading at Dixons Carphone predicts: “Customers tend to do their research in advance, have an idea of what they want to buy and will place an order online and either make the most of next day deliver or Click and Collect in-store. This year we’re expecting a continued increase in both online and in-store sales.” He adds: “We also expect customers to be purchasing products on-the-go from mobile phones, more than previous years. Last year mobile device traffic was up 14 per cent and we are expecting this growth to continue.”
With a few Black Fridays behind us now, both consumers and retailers should have a clearer idea about what to expect come November 24. Records will no doubt be smashed in terms of sales, cash spilt and profits made, as retailers up their game and consumers loosen their purse strings.