Author Bio: Sophie Summers is a freelance copywriter with a background in the Arts, an extensive behind-the-scenes knowledge of luxury fashion and retail, imminent traveller and writer of “motions-emotions”. 


Sounds like an event of apocalyptic proportions, doesn’t it?  And depending on which side of the counter you’re on, that’s not a million miles from the truth.

We’ve, most of us, seen the images of consumer stampedes in stores across the country in November 2014 – barely a thought for the black eye delivered in a frenzied scramble for a cheap TV set.

Yes, Black Friday has taken the UK firmly in its grip and, much like our cousins across the pond, it’s not about to put us down gently any time soon.  Terrifying as it may sound, the annual event is an unrivalled opportunity for retailers across the UK and the earlier you prepare for combat the better the advantage.  So, here’s a brief rundown of what to expect and how you can come out on top.

What’s that coming over the hill?

The term “Black Friday”, coined in the US as early as the 1940s, was believed to be a nod to retailers returning to profit as the Christmas shopping season breathed back into life for another year-end.  This was usually the Friday following Thanksgiving and many of the larger retailers and department stores offered hefty discounts, putting them “back in the black”, so to speak.  There’s another theory about traffic jams, but this one seems to make more sense in retail terms, so we’ll stick with it.

Black Friday didn’t quite become the spectacle we know today until 2002, when it took the title in the States as the most profitable shopping day of the year and has reigned champion with a little help from its pal, Cyber Monday.

Black Friday seemed to sneak up on us Brits – a veritable Trojan Horse – taking retailers by surprise in 2010 when Amazon.co.uk slashed its prices the day after US Thanksgiving.  It wasn’t long before other merchants jumped on the bandwagon and, in 2014, it became fully cemented in UK consumer tradition, with retail giants such as John Lewis and ASDA going hard on reductions, both in store and online.

Scenes of violence ensued.

Christmas shopping trends – a beast of a different shape

Let’s talk about “Christmas Creep”.  Not to be confused with an unsavoury Santa impersonator or the Grinch, this is the early onset of the festive sales period – you know, that feeling that Christmas comes earlier each year?  Well, now it does – thanks to the Black Friday weekend.

A few years ago it was all a bit last minute.  A mad dash to the stores a few days before the main event to grab what you could off the shelves.  Then the madness of Boxing Day sales – which had people queueing from 5am in the depths of winter, freezing half to death in their newly gifted coat.  They also wanted that cheap TV set.

That trend is certainly changing and, as Retail Times notes, Boxing Day’s significance in the yearly calendar is lessening;

“Black Friday is changing the shape of the Christmas trading period… [it] has now formed into a wave. This starts with uplift in footfall on Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday, then a trough with no major increase from week to week throughout December, rising to a final peak over the last week before Christmas… Boxing Day is becoming a less important trading day in the same way that New Year’s Day did years ago”

So if you want to trade your best peak period, it’s all geared towards pre-Christmas these days and, whether you are bricks, clicks or both, you need to be prepared long before that key November weekend.

Now, some eye popping numbers from last year and some words of wisdom for this year’s extravaganza.

A few stats from 2015

 

  • Black Friday was the UK’s biggest ever day for online sales – Amazon.co.uk quoting 7.4 million items sold
  • More than £3 billion was spent online and in stores in the UK over the Black Friday/ Cyber Monday weekend
  • A sales uplift of more than 200% on the year was reported
  • Cyber Monday boosted online traffic by a sizeable 60%
  • At least 15 established retailer websites went into total meltdown…

How to win the war in 2016

So now that you have sight of the gargantuan about to come bounding over the mountain, fear not, you can be ready for it.  With a few seasons under our belt now, the Guardian notes how UK retailers can better cope this time around;

  • It’s all about online:  So make sure your site is ready!  If you don’t have an online outlet, the new trend suggests you need to compete even harder to win sales so deals need to be tempting and visible to bring consumers through your door.
  • Set out your stall: it’s no good inviting everyone to your Christmas “do” and then forgetting to bring the cocktail sausages, so make sure that you have plenty of what you think/ know will be your big sellers.
  • Stress test your site: if total website failure can happen to the best of them, it can happen to you.
  • Consider a trickle, not a deluge:  some retailers have taken a cautious approach to discounting, opting to slowly introduce deals instead of thrusting their bargains upon consumers on the morning of Black Friday.  This, potentially, avoids overload (online and in store) and immediate sell-through of stock.
  • Be on hand to help your customers: with increased demand comes increased potential for something to go wrong.  Sales also create a sense of panic in consumers, so they may need a little extra reassurance – even on the little things.

With less than six weeks to go, it’s time to consider your own battle plan now.  Prepare properly and you’ll be able to bask in victory, Black Friday defeated, and healthy sales margins to show for it.