In a pre-internet age, before Black Friday existed there were the traditional “Santa Claus Parades”, which started in December 1905 and symbolised the start of the holiday season. Thanksgiving was always celebrated on the last Thursday of November but in 1941 this was changed to the fourth Thursday instead, to guarantee another week of shopping before Christmas. The following day is often a holiday, falling between thanksgiving and the weekend.
The term “Black Friday” is hotly debated. Some say the phrase originates from retailers where their hand-written sales ledgers and accounts moved from being written in “red” (we’re making losses) to “black” (we’re making profits). Others credit the expression to the Philadelphia police who were struggling to manage crowds, in between the holiday shoppers and people exiting a major football game ‘the roads were clogged, it was like a sea of ants, cars, people, chaos! Every street was blocked, this Friday was black with traffic”. The term now indicates major sales and bargains for shoppers as this became a day to start Christmas shopping in the US and on the last few years, it’s moved to the UK.
This year Black Friday arrives on 27 November and it is every bargain hunter’s favourite day of the year, when retailers offer huge discounts on a whole variety of products to try and persuade customers to part with their cash and make a start on their Christmas shopping.
The impact is that internet retailers often struggle to keep up with demand on Black Friday and more and more businesses are extending the offers, many of which can be found online, often a day before Black Friday and up until the following Monday after Thanksgiving.
Your digital marketing strategy needs to cope with the chaos that Black Friday can bring your way and we have tried and tested methods to make sure your business survives. This guide to Black Friday explains what happened last year and how to avoid failure.
How UK retailers adopted Black Friday in 2014
Looking back at 2014, some websites adapted for the day with special banners, usually black. John Lewis ditched the penguins in favour of an all black landing page, but the link to the homepage failed to load. They tried to mitigate the situation by inviting shoppers to telephone!
Curry’s and PC World used twitter in 2014 for ‘special surprises’, one of which was an auction for an LG mobile phone that they usually retailed at £439.99, although this was available online at £194.39 in one store, but they had no stock.
It was likely that many shoppers opted for the comfort of desktop, tablet and mobile shopping. Many of these shoppers were frustrated as websites failed to function; Curry’s had a challenge as so many people visited their online site, the website started a queuing system, but this also failed to work. In some cases Curry’s asked shoppers to queue for 23 minutes before they could access their website!
As a result, we saw a trending hashtag on Twitter aimed at the retailers #FailureFriday. Ouch!
Supermarkets also jumped on the bandwagon with ‘special offers’. Tesco included an invitation to get amazing deals ‘in store’ as well as online. However, Tesco Direct pleaded with shoppers for their patience while the website tried to load.
Asda focused on in-store only deals. However in some places, encouraging people to shop in store created additional issues with shoppers fighting for items. Greater Manchester Police turned to twitter to ask for calm, following several arrests of over-enthusiastic shoppers.
EBay encouraged its sellers to participate and offered deals for a ‘limited time only’ instead of specifying a start and finish time.
One company stood out as not participating in the Black Friday event – Marks and Spencer. Their offer focused on ‘4 magical days’ and was one of the few sites which didn’t crash.
How can you use Black Friday – tips for retailers
If you are considering Black Friday as a sales device for your online or offline store, your digital marketing strategy needs to cope with the chaos that Black Friday can bring. Here are 4 steps to take right now, to make sure you’re not part of #FailureFriday.
1. Reward loyal customers about Black Friday offers early
It’s important that your regular, repeat customers know what they can expect from your brand, so make sure you tell them about it via social media and your email newsletters. Let your customers know the details before the event. You could
- Pre-register VIP customers for offers.
- Organise a dedicated landing page, and even a mini offers site, outside your main website, so it’s less likely to crash.
- Understand what you can deliver for Black Friday.
- Look at last year and see how your business has performed in the past, to identify which products would be perfect to promote during Black Friday.
- Make sure you have stock available.
- And ensure you have plenty of secure delivery options in place, such as click and collect, Amazon Lockers, deliver to Argos, deliver to local post offices.
2. Prepare your systems for Black Friday
There are a variety of analytical tools out there that can help you understand the behaviour of your customers.
- When are your peak shopping times?
- Is more bandwidth needed?
- Do you need more staff manning telephones for queries?
- Can you engage more staff on social media sites keeping customers informed?
Ideally your social media networks should be adapted to reflect what’s happing. Explain the rules of engagement (we have a team of x here to answer your queries) and give customer service telephone numbers, don’t hide them.
3. Ensure your apps are updated before Black Friday
The mobile platform has become the most commonly used method of browsing and it’s likely that many of your customers will use this method to find the bargains they’re looking for. Ensure your apps reflect the desktop site and can cope with orders via mobile. This Christmas will be year of the mobile order. Are you ready?
4. Integrate online and offline retail offers
If you are encouraging people to visit a traditional store, get ready.
- Use a ticketing system which is much fairer to allow people through the door, in an orderly way. Some of the tickets could be ‘golden tickets’ with extra benefits.
- Recruit for a few days, all your retired staff. They know your business, they’re sensible and they can help manage the chaos. They can help with queries, provide calm and refreshment.
- Entertain the crowds. If you’re going to get crowds, entertain them while they queue outside the door. Work with community groups, rock choirs or local organisations to mobilise Christmas cheer. A happy crowd is less aggressive and the experience is better for all.
- Open more checkout facilities. Ensure when people have claimed their goods, the payment mechanism is easy. Why is Apple the only store to offer ‘people tills’ where members of staff walk around the store and can take payment?
- And while they’re queuing to pay, dish out Christmas cheer! Goodies and gifts as a thank you.
- And this year is the first time people will need to pay for plastic bags at checkout. Why not give away cotton re-usable bags to ease the pain?
What’s your experience as a customer? #FabFriday or #FailureFriday – do share @AnnmarieHanlon