Christmas in Retail: Black Friday Bonanza?

Black Friday, a strange phenomenon from the UK perspective, has become a widely-discussed fixture of the retail calendar over the last couple of years. But without knowing how it will play out in 2016, how can retailers take advantage of the potential sales?

The prominence of Black Friday has slowly risen in the UK over the last decade. Championed by US firms such as Wal Mart and Amazon, many UK retailers have come to embrace it over the last couple of years, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Without being too British about it, the day was marred in 2014 by unseemly tussles between people desperate to get hold of discounted televisions and sporting goods while harassed, over-stretched staff tried in vain to keep things calm.

In response, in 2015 security was beefed up, but people stayed away, and the evening news was filled with images of empty shopping centres and journalists asking where all the people had gone. Learned experts explained why Black Friday would never be a feature of the retail calendar again.

It’s possible that they are right. In a nutshell, Black Friday evolved in the US for the specific reason that our cousins over the pond celebrate Thanksgiving on a Thursday and as a result sometimes have a free day on the Friday. Retailers noticed an opportunity to shift some stock and a consumer phenomenon was born.

A riot at the salad bar?

Thanksgiving’s not something that we have in the UK, but the end of November, when people have their December wages in their pockets, is a good time to get customers thinking about Christmas.

The problem is that this year we don’t really know how Black Friday will play out. Will there be hordes of frenzied consumers desperate for every BOGOF that retailers can offer? Will servers collapse under the weight of thousands of online clicks? Will parcel delivery firms be able to cope with the massive extra demand?

Or will it be a more subdued affair, with bored journalists interviewing team members in over-staffed shops?

Hard to tell. But there is a way to hedge your bets.

Offering a loyalty discount during the final week of November can get people thinking about what they need to sort out before Christmas. If you’ve got an up-to-date customer email list or are active on social media, it’s a good opportunity to try and open up a dialogue and start to encourage people onto your website or through your doors.

You don’t even need to overtly mention Black Friday in your offer, you can simply send it out at around the same time and let people join the dots themselves.

With electronic reward codes, if Black Friday doesn’t take off, it won’t cost you much more than the design, but if it does take off, you won’t be scrambling around trying to print extra vouchers to make the most of the opportunity. Either way, you won’t be paying for the distribution, storing or shredding of obsolete vouchers if Black Friday turns out grey.

While setting up an electronic customer loyalty system can sound expensive, in reality it can be done cost effectively and with relative ease, even for smaller independent retailers. 

One of the key skills for a retail business is making the most of an opportunity. Black Friday, the last week in November, whatever we come to call it, definitely represents an opportunity. The relative ease with which e-rewards can be implemented and finessed gives retailers a good chance to take advantage.