Goodbye, Black Friday. Hello, Black November (and early Christmas!)

Retailers closing their doors because of lockdowns; businesses pivoting to online strategies; changing shopping habits; staff shortages; driver shortages; summer ranges sold-out in winter; a petrol crisis: it’s fair to say, by any standards, it has been a turbulent couple of years for retail.

While the UK looks to have overcome the worst when it comes to the pandemic especially, if there’s one thing that’s certain in retail right now, it’s that nothing is certain.

Could there be another lockdown? What will happen if health passports come in to play like in other countries? Could issues concerning global chain supplies cause further shortages or delays of stock?

What does this mean for digital merchants when it comes to Black Friday and Christmas? Although online retailers will have already planned out their Black Friday and Christmas strategies, there are plenty of takeaways from recent trends that must be considered.

Here, Redbox explores some of the big talking points around this year’s sales season.

The rise of Black November

In 2019, online sales in the US on Cyber Monday broke all records, reaching $9.4bnaccording to Adobe Analytics. In the UK, Barclaycard said the volume of transactions had risen 7.2 percent year-on-year, with transaction value up 16.5 percent on 2018.

Last year, things looked a little different over the Black Friday period, with much of the world facing lockdowns, masks and uncertainty.

Yet Adobe’s analysis put the US spending up again – this time with $9billion spent on Black Friday and $10.8billion online on Cyber Monday, an increase of 15.1 per cent year-on-year, with the latter.

In the UK, sales unsurprisingly fell in-store by 10 per cent – with Barclaycard saying overall payments to retailers between midnight and 4pm on Black Friday had dropped by 16.7 per cent compared to the year before.

However, online sales tended to start a lot earlier – with many UK brands marketing their sales in October and beginning them in November and Christmas sales becoming part of a full-on November sales bonanza.

Redbox CEO Jonty Sutton believes online sales will begin even earlier this year, making way for a Black November rather than Black Friday.

He said: “Black Friday and Christmas almost merged into one last year and began early November - and I think we’ll see things starting even earlier this year.

Jonty Sutton, Redbox's CEO

“Many newspapers and tech outlets have been talking about what brands are planning for most of October. I’m expecting to see a lot more promotional activity and forward-planning earlier than normal and earlier discounting.

“One of the big trends we’ve also seen is customers doing their Christmas shopping earlier. It came forward to November last year and we saw that as people became nervous about not getting deliveries, they made their purchases earlier – even though the UK system stood up to the challenges.

“This year, there are similar concerns. Can the same level of demand be sustained? There are logistical issues all over the world that are having knock-on effects in the global chain.

“I expect it will more of a Black November, rather than the individual sales periods and I think this could be a trend that continues moving forward.”

Supply chain issues

If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it’s how intricately connected the global supply chain is.
The issues being experienced over the past few months are not just isolated problems, restricted to certain countries - they are being felt throughout the world and across every industry.

There are reports of certain types of wood and metal being harder to come by, so doubling prices and putting pressure on manufacturing costs; thousands of warehouse and delivery driver jobs remain open – leading to huge gaps in the chains; a short-staffed DVLA have a massive backlog of driving licences to process exacerbating the delivery problem; container ships remain anchored, with not enough workers at the docks to unload cargo, let alone drivers to move it on.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. And the supply chain issues run even deeper. The way we shop has profoundly changed – perhaps forever.

Some people had more disposable income from staying home and not holidaying, so spent it differently. Some put more money into their homes and gardens, for instance. Many families aren’t using their cars as much or socialising as much as they did pre-pandemic. Others have got used to ordering what they want, when they want, while working from home.

Many companies pivoted strategies to accommodate these changes, but with so many industries effected - and in so many countries - it has caused a ripple effect with people getting comfortable with this new way of shopping and living.

Aynsley Peet, Director of Ecommerce at digital homeware store Cox & Cox, spoke to Redbox earlier in the year about the huge changes he was seeing – that should have sounded alarm bells to other digital merchants.

He said: “People have been spending more time at home; they have more disposable income not having to pay travel costs to and from work or for expensive holidays. Instead, they are spending more on their gardens, creating home offices or changing their spaces to make them work better.

“Last year was a record year for us. Sales were up 70 per cent and traffic up 100 per cent year-on-year. Outdoor furniture went crazy this year, up 200 per cent during some periods. It was snowing in January and we were still selling outdoor furniture! It was beyond our wildest dreams to be selling these numbers in January and we were out of stock on lots of lines by March, although we have re-stocked for the summer.

“We have seen big demographic swings, with more younger customers browsing and buying. There has been a 500 percent uplift in the 18-25 age group, with many spending money buying new furniture and soft furnishings, painting the walls and designing the garden.  We had more than 100,000 extra followers in the last year on Instagram alone, which has been instrumental in driving a younger demographic to our site.”

Experts are predicting that the global supply chain could take two or three years to re-adjust. But, in that time, shopping habits are likely to have changed for good.

This may also mean some brands won’t reduce prices by as much as previous years during this sale season, as costs have risen across the board. Others may not want a huge rush on orders if stock is not easily available.

In the meantime, it is vital for brands to make it as easy as possible to determine which products are in stock and when delivery should be expected, early in the customer journey. Nobody wants to move through a number of pages to find a product is not available until the new year in the small print. Good communication is key during this uncertain time.

Opting out

With sustainability and environmental concerns back on the agenda, it’s not surprising to learn that some brands have started taking a stance against Black Friday altogether.

According to the Green Alliance, around 80 percent of items bought over Black Friday and the following weekend, will end up on landfill or incinerated.

Black Friday and Christmas sales are often targeted by environmental groups for package waste, carbon emissions and for fuelling consumer greed and the associated environmental issues this can cause.

Last year shoe brand Allbirds raised prices rather than slashing them, adding $1 to products on Black Friday and donating it, plus another $1 on top to charity Fridays for Future.

Icelandic brand 66°North, put 25 per cent of every online sale towards protecting the glaciers of Iceland, while Backpack brand Freitag shut down its online store on November 27th and redirecting customers to SWAP, an exchange platform it had built, encouraging shoppers to ‘re-use’.

With Millennials and Gen Z consumers the most connected AND most worried about the planet, you can expect to see many more retailers opt out this year as they listen to their customers’ concerns.

In conclusion

Whereas Black Friday and the Christmas sales season has traditionally been the perfect opportunity to slash prices and sell stock in bulk, this year, like last, is more of a balancing act for merchants.

Supply chain issues across the globe might mean certain products may not be available, or if they are, challenging waiting times on deliveries could be the norm.

Many customers will be content to wait longer to receive their bargains – as long as communication is smooth, they know when their products will arrive and promises of making it in time for Christmas are met.

This year, plenty of brands will start their Black Friday sales early again and with concerns over Christmas goods arriving on time, expect to see a much more fluid month of sales.

However, we may also be very close to a tipping point, when the thought of the Black Friday sales event becomes too political in the face of a sustainability and green backlash.

Could this be the end of Black Friday? Maybe not quite yet. But for now, let’s be ready to celebrate Black November - as the industry braces itself for a period of even more uncertainty.