Sector trends

Seven ideas to ring up the sales on Black Friday

The annual retail jamboree will soon be upon us – but is it time to revisit your sales and marketing strategy as consumer concerns evolve?

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. According to research by consumer marketing firm SaleCycle, 70% of UK retailers intend to participate in Black Friday this year. Meanwhile, separate research by price comparison site Finder says consumers plan to spend an average of £275 each between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

However, with more focus now 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?

1. Stick to a short and defined timescale

Black Friday used to be confined to one day (this year it’s 26 November), but it now feels as if 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 it's wise to limit the Black Friday discounting period. “Business should do no longer than a week of promotions for their Black Friday event to seem authentic,” she says.

2. Reward your loyal customers

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 with you in the last year. So rather than chase new customers, look at giving back to loyal customers instead. Suzy 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, Suzy 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?”

3. Jazz up your imagery on social media

Given the rise of shopping via social-media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, businesses are rightly using these 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 suggests making use of carousel ads as users tend to engage more with these than with single-image ads. The format also enables brands to share more information.

4. Be unique – and make an impression

With so many deals during Black Friday, companies need to serve up something different to their competitors. “Businesses should focus on standing out from the crowd,” recommends Gemma. “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 if the item retailers claim is 30% off on Black Friday has actually been 30% off for weeks beforehand.”

5. Invest in systems that can manage a spike in traffic

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.”

6. Understand the long-lasting impact of Black Friday on your business – and decide if it’s for you

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 Suzy. “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.

7. Drive a positive PR story

If you feel uneasy about the mass consumerism linked to Black Friday, you could consider associating your brand with a good cause. For example, ethical casualwear brand Everlane has a fund that donates its Black Friday profits to non-profit organisations that clean the oceans. Meanwhile, outdoor clothing brand Patagonia has subverted the entire event since 2011 with annual campaigns to highlight the environmental impact of the fashion industry that have increased customer loyalty and helped it to donate millions pounds to climate-friendly causes.

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.”

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