Another Black Friday has come to an end, and while the UK may not be seeing the impact on the high street, the sales event is booming online: the average shopper visited a retail site over 38 times, nearly twice as many visits than they made last Black Friday.
In this 12-month period, customers have become ever wiser to the deals being offered. Despite this, it appears that some retailers are up to old tricks – and a recent study will only shake consumer trust ahead of a critical Christmas sales period.
In a recent report, Which? discovered that is was “repeatedly shown that deals touted by retailers on Black Friday are not as good as they seem”. Its home products and services chief Natalie Hitchins continued: “Our investigation indicates that this popular shopping event is all hype and there are few genuine discounts.”
After citing numerous examples of “sale prices” being replicated from discounts earlier in the year, Hitchins went on to reiterate a simple fact to consumers: “Time-limited sales can be a good opportunity to bag a bargain, but don't fall for the pressure tactics around Black Friday.”
It sounds like straightforward advice for shoppers, but it should be retailers, not those who visit them, that really take heed of this advice. After all, we said exactly the same thing this time last year.
In his piece for SHIFT last year, Matt Gardner said that “while consumers love Black Friday, they’re also more than aware of the true value of offers.” He continued: “It’s critical you ensure your offers are genuinely great deals; consumers are savvy enough to know if a deal is something that competitors – or even you! – offer at other times of the year, and labelling a rerun of this sale with a Black Friday banner will insult their intelligence – and undermine your participation.”
It’s these instances of disrespect that consumers are becoming all too aware of. With an increasing number of price comparison tools, cost trackers like camelcamelcamel, or thriving communities such as hotukdeals – which enjoys two million users in the UK alone – the risk is no longer that sales won’t be made during Black Friday; it’s that retailers will do themselves serious reputational damage ahead of an even more critical shopping period.
The most important Christmas in recent memory?
If retail projections are to be believed, retailers’ Black Friday strategies may be hurting them ahead of one of the most difficult times for British retail. While Christmas is usually a saving grace for many, GfK discovered a foreboding sentiment among British citizens ahead of the period.
At the end of October, the market research institute revealed that “UK consumer confidence in October fell to its joint-lowest point in six years amid continued Brexit uncertainty and ahead of the 12 December general election”. Client strategy director Joe Staton said this was “worrying” as strong consumer spending “has been the main driver of economic growth since the Referendum in 2016 against a backdrop of low inflation, low interest rates, low wage growth and high employment”. At the end of November, things didn’t improve – they “flatlined”.
While election years in themselves have little correlation with sales downturns, certain retail categories are more at risk when people feel put on the political spot. As this research piece explains: “Ultimately, shoppers still need to put fuel in their cars and food on the table. However, most exposed are ‘big ticket’ retailers selling furniture, consumer electronics and automobiles. Fashion clothing and accessories are expected to struggle as such purchases are tied to discretionary spending.”
While SHIFT believes that in the UK, it’s important to pull out all the stops to offer something during Black Friday, it’s better to offer nothing at all rather than advertising non-deals to get people through the doors. It all comes down to remembering the roots of British retail, even as new trends dominate the headlines.
Going back to what you, and your customers, know
Black Friday is a direct product of Thanksgiving, which takes place on the fourth Thursday of November in the US. The public holiday is extended by millions of Americans, who want to enjoy a four-day weekend and make the most of their time off. America infamously “treats paid time off as a perk rather than a right”; employees are entitled to zero days of paid leave, and while companies regularly provide it, the culture is simple: make the most of your time off when you can.
Here, Black Friday is just another working day. Boxing Day, however, is a public holiday and a shopping bonanza that’s stood the test of time, even as online shopping brings internet deals slightly forward in response to Christmas delivery cut-off points. On top of that, those who have most trust – and patience – with Boxing Day sales tend to come from older, less technologically able demographics that are more likely to leave their homes on the day itself to explore the stores they love.
Patience from retailers pays, too. With Christmas said and done, they can assess excess stock brought in for Christmas, make space for the next generation of product ranges and models, and provide what customers want: actual deals at a time when they’re looking to fill gaps that Christmas presents didn’t cover – or get complementary products to go with their newest acquisitions.
In 2019, trust is more important than anything
There’s a frank bottom line to adhere to in the future: if it’s impossible to provide new and valuable offers to consumers on Black Friday, simply wait until you can. A loss of consumer trust is worse than missing out on a Black Friday event which, because it’s new, Americanised and full of non-deals, is rightly treated with more cynicism than others.
However, if you can still make a mark on the day after Thanksgiving, offer genuine deals to consumers and build that brand loyalty ahead of a strong Boxing day offering. Given the current state of retail, this Christmas will provide a critical headstart for those who need a great 2020 to reverse their fortunes.