Newspapers such as the Telegraph and The Mirror are already promoting the best Black Friday “deal predictions, stores to watch and shopping tips” and chucking words like “shopping bonanza and “online mayhem” to really ramp up the expected shopping frenzy. Is this just journalistic hyperbole or is Black Friday still something keeping retailers awake at night? We spoke to Moda In Pelle, Schuh and M&Co to get their view.
In 2014 Black Friday had a dramatic impact on sales and many retailers were caught off guard affecting their ability to cope and react to the sudden surge in demand. Retailers upped their game in 2015 ensuring fewer outages and less frustration from shoppers. It still wasn’t plain sailing however. In a weekend that saw shoppers spend more than £3.3billion, it was reported that stores such as Tesco, John Lewis and Argos still suffered from outages as their websites struggled to cope with demand. Argos created a virtual queuing system to try and manage the flood of traffic. Will they need to do the same this year or will they have increased capacity to help manage the increase in demand?
ASDA, who along with Amazon were instrumental in bringing the Black Friday campaign to the UK in the first place have opted out altogether. This has been blamed by some for the poor financial performance in the 13 weeks preceding January 1st 2016. It will be interesting to see whether they will choose to opt out of the event for a second year.
Jessica Wibberley, Head of E-Commerce at Moda in Pelle, agreed that the media play a big part in building hype around the event which marks the beginning of the winter sale season, joking that the media hype is more likely to cause stress than the actual realities of managing sales throughout the period.
Jessica shared that Moda in Pelle take the long view when it comes to Black Friday and integrate it into their overall sales strategy in the run up to the Christmas and New Year sales period.“In 2014 Black Friday had a big impact on sales, however this didn’t continue into last year, which at the time felt disappointing – until we looked at the full period, where sales were actually better overall”.
Jessica pointed out that this is preferable when it comes to managing traffic online and strategy around marketing during peak periods incorporates this; “Staggering the release of promotional emails over the sale period helps regulate the flow of traffic to the site during peak trading times”.
Jessica shared her thoughts on this year’s Black Friday, predicting that sales may be affected by where in the month it falls in relation to most UK paydays. “This year Black Friday and Cyber Monday fall several days before the traditional UK payday, which could have affect sales”.
We spoke to another shoe retailer asking Sean McKee, Head of Ecommerce at Schuh, whether he felt Black Friday was still a big deal in the retail calendar. “Definitely; it’s as big as the media makes it look and since it began it has substantially impacted customer behaviour”.
Sean went on to share that he begins planning for Black Friday in July and that on the day trading can be 10 or even 12 times bigger than on a normal trading day. He also pointed out the importance of a multichannel approach, noting that in order to fulfil customer expectations for click and collect, in-store staff need to be prepared for the impact of increased online sales on in-store staffing levels. Sean admits that resourcing can be a challenge across the board, with a short period where resourcing needs to increase dramatically; “We are currently load testing the site and creating crisis conditions to ensure we’re as prepared as we can be”.
The impact on Schuh’s web traffic can already be seen a few days before Black Friday actually begins as savvy consumers start to browse for the products that they will go on to purchase once the sale begins. Sean has been with Schuh for over 15 years and as such he’s experienced first-hand the changes in the way people shop since the advent of ecommerce and then Black Friday. Sean believes that the impact of Black Friday goes beyond a spike in sales across a few days in November and has dramatically impacted customer shopping behaviour throughout the year.
Simon Dawes is the Merchandising Director at M&Co, one of the largest, privately-owned fashion retailers in the UK. Simon sees both positive and negative aspects of Black Friday and is careful to incorporate these into the M&Co operational strategy.
The benefits or positive aspects include “getting customers in the “spending” mind-set, driving footfall and online traffic”. He adds “it’s also a good way to get retailers to think on their feet – making sure that they are competitive both in-store and online, with compelling offers and clever marketing or promotional techniques”. However, Simon recognises that if retailers aren’t careful in their approach it can result in “desperation in retailers and a blanket approach to slashing prices, which leads to a domino effect on price and margin and a knock on effect across the retail sector”.
Simon takes a strategic approach in the lead up to Black Friday, “developing offers well in advance and buying product especially for promotion.” He goes on to talk specifically about what M&Co offer their customers to differentiate from other retailers; “We’re especially reaching out to our loyal customer army, giving them deals and discounts and rewarding them for their continued and growing faith in us”. Like Jessica at Moda in Pelle and Sean at Schuh, Simon’s approach for M&Co takes a longer term position rather than focusing on slashing prices for a one-day trading spike.
Tips from top retailers:
- Offer specific discounts and deals to your regular customers for long-term loyalty. Simon Dawes, M&Co
- Stagger promotional emails to regulate flow of website traffic. Jessica Wibberley, Moda In Pelle
- Develop offers well in advance and buy in products, especially for promotion. Simon Dawes, M&Co
- Think about maximising sales across the whole period rather than focussing on one day/weekend of trading. Jessica Wibberely, Moda in Pelle
- Think carefully about fulfilment, only sell what you’ve got and prepare in-store staff for the impact on click and collect. Sean McKee, Schuh