Wednesday, 17 November 2021
The annual retail jamboree will soon be upon us – but is it time to revisit your sales and marketing strategy as consumer concerns evolve?
It’s the US import that crept into the British consciousness earlier this decade and dominates the airwaves, the advertising space and much of the retail industry for most of November. Love it or hate it, Black Friday is fast approaching and is set to be the biggest shopping day in the UK, with consumers splurging on everything from laptops to homeware. Research by consultancy PwC found that three quarters of retailers participated in some kind of promotional activity during Black Friday last year, while consumers planned to spend an average of £234 each between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
However, with more focus this year on sustainability and the environment, the mass consumerism associated with Black Friday can seem a bit out of touch with what’s happening in the world. Despite this, many shoppers still want a deal and businesses will still be fighting to attract that much-needed swipe on the debit or credit card. So how should businesses approach Black Friday this year and going forward?
Black Friday used to be confined to one day (this year it’s 29 November), but now Black Friday can feel like it lasts for a month as businesses get swept up in the shopping extravaganza and discount for weeks on end. Gemma Goldfingle, features editor at Retail Week, believes businesses should limit their Black Friday discounting period.
“Last year trading was weak throughout October so retailers started their Black Friday sales earlier in a bid to shift unsold stock. This meant all of November was effectively Black Friday and the event lacked the punch of previous years.” Instead, Goldfingle advises that: “Business should do no longer than a week of promotions for their Black Friday event to seem authentic.” Keep it short and effective.
Black Friday usually involves a wave of widespread substantial discounts for everyone, with many businesses using the event to acquire new customers. However, Suzy Ross, a senior retail adviser to Accenture, says it’s worth looking at whether they shopped again with you in the last year. So rather than chase new customers, look at giving back to loyal customers instead. Ross asks: “Is there an opportunity to reward people who are loyal to you consistently and give them something special?” And even if businesses still want to give their Black Friday deals to everyone, Ross offers a solution: “Could you offer something to your best customers first, so for 24 hours they have access to that deal and those prices before everyone else?”
Given the rise of shopping via social-media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, businesses are rightly using the platforms to engage with customers. However, rather than just offering a static image or text, Darren Hughes, managing director of social media expert the Digital Media Team, says: “Even if it’s just a three-second GIF, moving images are a lot more beneficial.” He also adds that “carousel ads [multi-image] have really come into their own in the last 12 months”. Users tend to engage more with carousel-style ads than with single-image ads, while the format also enables brands to share more information.
With so many deals on during Black Friday, companies need to serve up something different to their competitors. “Businesses should focus on standing out from the crowd,” recommends Goldfingle. “What will make your event unique and different to that of your rivals? Any discount or promotion needs to be special. Shoppers are savvy and know that if the item retailers claim is 30% off on Black Friday has actually been 30% off for weeks beforehand.”
With Black Friday sales leading to a surge in website visitors, businesses need to ensure they can manage this rush. “Error messages such as ‘we’re unable to process your order, please try later’ are legendary and messages of customer frustration clog social-media platforms,” says Ruth Harrison, managing director of software consultancy ThoughtWorks. Companies need to upgrade technology systems to be able to cope with such increases in volume.
“Customer disappointment at the checkout is completely avoidable and should not be an annual occurrence,” she says. “There is also the added headache for customers of believing they’ve bagged a bargain, only to receive an email from the brand a few days later, advising that their order has been cancelled. This is mostly due to out-of-stock situations and unsophisticated company systems unable to monitor sales in real time.”
Black Friday and the frenzy around it has led to customers changing their purchasing behaviour. By participating in Black Friday, your customers might hold off buying from your business as they wait for you to offer a substantial discount on the day. “There is a now a culture for discounting and it trains customers to wait for purchases,” says Ross. “It might be a short-term fix but you might be training customers to wait for deals. These events are profoundly altering and it’s hard for customers to come back from that.”
You could stand out by refusing to get involved. US outdoor retailer REI has closed all its stores on Black Friday since 2015 and refuses to process any online sales. On home ground, cosmetics brand Lush doesn’t participate either.
If you feel uneasy about the mass consumerism linked to Black Friday, you could consider associating your brand with a good cause. Virginia Norris, co-founder and director of comms agency Aisle 8, says: “Think like your customers and consider how you can make them feel good about their purchase at the same time as delivering them a great discount or offer. Consider offsetting the carbon used to deliver their item, or donating a portion of profit to charity. Partnering with an influencer or talent who your customers engage with and making a donation towards the charity they support so they share it with their followers can be a great way to communicate the message in a considered way.”
As a feel-good alternative, last year Pret gave customers 300,000 free drink tokens that could be given to someone in need while tea brand Pukka donated all website sales to a reforestation organisation.