The Black Friday Phenomenon – Time for a Rethink?.

Simon Brennan
Author: Simon Brennan
VP Sales

Love it or loathe it, the Black Friday phenomenon isn’t about to disappear. Post-Thanksgiving reductions have been a big deal in the US since the 1940s. But it’s only during the last decade that – spearheaded by Amazon and Asda – the UK has caught Black Friday fever.

But are the discerning consumers of 2018 still excited by the concept of Black Friday discounts? Are the deals actually any better than at other times of the year? And, set against the backdrop of the online shopping growth and High Street woes, how can retailers ensure that their Black Friday bargains stand out (and boost yearly sales figures)?

Retailers’ opinions may be split, but Black Friday is here to stay

In 2017, 91% of UK retailers participated in Black Friday, offering some form of deal or saving. Figures demonstrated an increase in spending compared with Black Friday 2016.

What’s more – as retailers compete for attention and spend – discounts aren’t only available between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Because the UK doesn’t have the same Thanksgiving anchor as the US, many are beginning their discounts the week before, or even at the beginning of November, to capitalise on consumer willingness to spend.

And while some retailers publicly declare their scepticism about the value of the day in the context of annual sales, for others it’s an opportunity not to be missed. For example, Dixons Carphone believe that Black Friday offers a chance to gain market share and give customers ‘real deals’ – while Fat Face’s view is that it’s bad for business and customers, and is merely shifting pre-Christmas sales into November (and at discounted prices).

But whichever side of the fence you fall on, the figures demonstrate that retailers are overwhelmingly opting to get involved.

But are consumers shopping for the sake of shopping?

But what is actually attracting consumers? Is it the idea of huge savings? Or do we participate in Black Friday sales only because everyone else does it, shopping purely for the sake of it?

According to Which? many Black Friday deals aren’t all they seem: 60% of discounted products are actually available for a cheaper price at other times of the year. Yet while consumers have cottoned on to retail marketing strategies over the years, the enduring popularity of Black Friday proves that we’re still not able to reduce the lure of a brilliant discount…or are we?

Stats from Black Friday 2017 demonstrate that shoppers are overwhelmingly opting for online experiences. £1.4bn was spent on online sales, an 11.7% rise from 2016 (with footfall in shops falling). What’s more, savvy consumers are researching to find the best deals – before, during and after the day itself – and conducting their shopping in a way that suits them

So how should retailers take advantage of this trend?

Brands need to get creative – and personal – to meet customer expectations

There’s no denying that it’s been a difficult year for retailers. John Lewis have rebranded. Marks & Spencer’s profits have plunged by 62%. We’ve bid a sad farewell to Toys ‘R’ Us. And Coast has now entered administration.

What’s more, a recent study – conducted across the US, Europe and Australia – found that around half of consumers say that brands aren’t meeting their customer experience expectations.

Set that against that backdrop, it’s difficult to believe that the generic discounts typical of Black Friday will be beneficial for retailers in the long term. So what strategies should you adopt to entice customers to your deals and boost their loyalty through the Christmas period and beyond?

Let’s recap. We know that the majority of shopping is done online and that customers today are less willing to put up with crowds, long queues and questionable customer service. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t personalise your Black Friday experience.

Stuck for ideas? How about letting them know that an item they’ve previously viewed on your website is now available at a 40% discount? Or – as Apple did last year – giving away a gift card if you purchased certain products?

We’re not denying that consumers love deals and will hunt down a Black Friday bargain. But customers today are very much in the driving seat. So if you’re looking for ways to delight them – and ensure their loyalty for the long term – then personalising Black Friday might just be the answer.

Black Friday must be part of the broader experience you offer your customers

If you focus on targeting and personalisation for Black Friday and Christmas primarily, you’re missing an opportunity to nurture that customer relationship for the rest of the year. So now’s the time to start thinking post-January sales. What can you do to engage customers on an ongoing basis? What further, related offers and services can you provide? Based on their purchasing history, are there new ways you can wow them in 2019?

In order to answer those questions, you need to take a broader look at your customer experience, and as we prepare for 2019, set new benchmarks for retaining and delighting consumers.

Learn more about how to set your business up for success beyond Christmas in our white paper, The Customer Centric Organisation.

Simon Brennan
About the author: Simon Brennan

Simon Brennan has more than 14 years’ experience in the customer engagement sector, working with a wide variety of companies from tech start-ups to FTSE100 organisations. He is an expert in improving corporate customer communication, using technology to supercharge internal processes and deliver increased sales. Simon has a strong track record of successfully delivering cross-channel communication solutions for Engage Hub's corporate customer base, across multiple divisions within an organisation.