Black Friday: not a one-size-fits-all for online retailers

We’ve all seen the standard footage beamed across the world in years gone by: throngs of people pushing and shoving outside a shop, stampeding through the door when it opens; fights breaking out as angry shoppers wrestle over that last garment left on the rack.

Once just a one-day event on the US calendar that left the rest of us scratching our heads in bemusement, Black Friday has gone on to become a global phenomenon.

The event is now synonymous with discounts and promotions, and one of the biggest sales days of the year for many retailers. UK online shoppers spent a whopping £1.49bn last year alone, up from the £1.39bn the previous year.

While bricks and mortar experienced a spending drop of seven per cent, the unstoppable rise of ecommerce saw online sales exceed 20 per cent of the total sales for the first time in 2018, with no sign of waning.

But that’s only part of the story. For some, it has become so successful it has turned into a week-long or fortnight shopping frenzy - or even a Black November month. Savvy retailers are coming up with more innovative ways of staying ahead of their competitors to keep shoppers interested for as long as possible.

A number of media outlets, however, have suggested that some retailers have upped their prices months before the big event discounts, and shoppers are asking why some products aren’t always set at the sales price if they can be heavily discounted during the event itself.

Consumer group Which tracked a number of products on Black Friday last year – monitoring them six months before the date and six months after – finding only four out of 83 were actually cheaper during the promotion.

Such is all the months of planning and preparation that is needed to pull off a successful Black Friday, we ask three of our clients what it means to them and whether it’s worth it.

Black Friday is a BIG ONE for us’

Like many other online retailers, British beauty firm Latest in Beauty regards Black Friday as one of the biggest dates on its calendar. Last year, in just two days over Black Friday, the company equalled the revenue it would make during an average week of the year, with the week surrounding it in the top three highest performing weeks of the year.

Latest in Beauty Curated Party Box

Ecommerce and marketing director Dean Smith, said, “Black Friday is a big one for us, and makes up a large portion of our November forecast and overall targets. Customers expect it from us, so we have to make it exciting.”

Latest in Beauty begin planning for the event in September, opting for ‘mark downs’ which it believes get better traction than codes. The company started campaigning on Monday 25 November this year, ending on Black Friday itself.

Dean continued, “Black Friday is always in the master plan, but we begin properly planning in September, looking at what products we might have, what discounts we might do and how hard we need to push.

“Anticipation is key, so we begin the teaser campaign mid-November to drive excitement. We create unique designs for our Black Friday campaigns that differ from our normal sale design templates.  And this year, we are also launching curated product bundles.

“We keep Cyber Monday aside for a special, one-off promotion on our subscription service to give an even better all-round value for our customers.”

‘We expect a lot of traffic and sales but Black Friday is not the most important retail day for us’

 Saudi Arabia is playing catch-up to a lot of the world when it comes to how their shoppers and online retailers view Black Friday.

Pharmacy retail chain, Nahdi - the largest pharmaceutical chain in the Middle East and North Africa – is expecting a spike in traffic and sales, but note much larger interest in its promotions on other days of the year.

Head of omnichannel, Pawel Dabrowski, said, “Over here, no one had heard of Black Friday until about five years ago. Now, it’s getting bigger and bigger and Saudi is following the global trend.

“National Day for Saudi Arabia is more important in terms of sales for us.

“We will have some really strong promotions and expect double or triple the amount of orders and size of traffic during the main 24 hours. But I have worked for firms away from Saudi Arabia where Black Friday can mean 20 to 30 times as much traffic so there is much to catch up with.

“The majority of our business comes through the beauty segments and for us the female demographic is key and will be extremely important on Black Friday as always. We may have to upgrade our capacity when it comes to service infrastructure for the extra traffic.”

Nahdi moved on to a Magento platform earlier this year, teaming up with Redbox to create a brand-new digital ecommerce experience that would meet its growing status and needs.

Pawel believes the company now has the infrastructure and platform to cope with any large spikes in traffic that occur.

He added, “We experienced a lot of critical incidents with the old platform and set-up. The website, connectivity and payment systems would go down, or there would be issues with the checkout not working. We don’t have these problems anymore.

“Since moving to Magento earlier this year we have seen some major spikes in traffic and we were ready for them – we dealt with them very well.

“Retail is trying to make the most of opportunities such as Black Friday and you can see why online is a key part of this as you are able to reach shoppers much more quickly and easier than ever before.

“But right now, it’s a big day, not a huge day for us. I may be saying something completely different in December if figures rise a lot more than we anticipate.”

‘Our products are worth the price we charge for them. It’s an honest price and one that we believe is reflective of the care and love that have gone into them’

Clothing brand Seasalt Cornwall is one of a number of companies that bucks the trend, opting to abstain from any Black Friday promotions. The company believes its products and pricing speak for themselves.

Will Charnley, director of customer experience, strategy and innovation, said, “Black Friday is like any other trading day for us, we don’t do anything differently at all.

“We believe that the quality of our products do not warrant us going for straight discounting. We don’t want to reach a place where our customers think that something is worth one price one day and then 30 per cent less on another. Our products are worth the price we charge for them. It’s an honest price and one that we believe is reflective of the care and love that has gone into them.

“We feel Black Friday is a bit of a race to the bottom. We see why retailers get involved - to grab the attention of the customer - but we are lucky in that, as a family-run business, we see this as short-terminism.”

Is Black Friday right for your business?

In conclusion, while it may seem as if Black Friday is a shopping Utopia guaranteeing sales and extra revenue, it’s far from being a one-size-fits-all for online retailers.

Each retailer must do what’s right for their business, sustainability and future or come-up with their own unique twist on the event to make it work best for them.

There is a lot of pressure on online retailers to drop their prices during Black Friday and the surrounding days. Our advice: do your homework. You must decide if taking part in an orchestrated, global sales event is right for your business model. Like Seasalt, it may work better for your company to stick to your pricing model and concentrate on Christmas and Christmas sales instead.

But if it is right for your company, start planning early and ensure you give your customers some real value for money like the attractive bundles touched upon by Latest in Beauty’s Dean Smith.