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Black Friday 2015: Big boom or big bust for British businesses?

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Last year, sales were 91.6 per cent higher in 2014 than 2013, and 2015 figures are expected to rise again this year, boosted by shoppers looking for Christmas bargains.

However, even many of the biggest retailers may not be fully prepared for Black Friday, let alone mid-sized and small retailers. 

Two high profile retail websites crashed last year due to overwhelming traffic levels, costing them both countless lost sales. 

But by using key pieces of advice, retailers of all sizes can look to avoid such pitfalls, and make the most out of this year’s Black Friday.

Firstly, it is vital that retailers keep up with changing marketing trends, and recognise which marketing channels drive sales most effectively. 

Paid search can be particularly successful in November and December, as well as on key shopping days; however, despite not converting direct sales, social media is also crucial to marketing campaigns.

Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can help boost a brand’s image and direct customers to their websites. 

That said, retailers must not only understand which channels customers are using, but also who uses each channel; for example, the habits of a Generation X shopper will differ from a Generation Y and likewise, the Generation Y’s will differ from the millennial’s.

By differentiating, companies can ensure that the marketing campaigns delivered across these channels are relevant and will resonate with the audience that receives them.

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Not only are customers using more channels when shopping, they are also using more devices. 

Larger screens are still preferred for completing transactions, as many websites are not yet adequately optimised for mobile devices, and businesses could be missing out on significant numbers of sales because of this.

A study by SMB Group found just 25 per cent of small businesses (1-99 employees) and 34 per cent of mid-sized businesses (100-1,000 employees) have deployed mobile-ready websites.

While larger screens are still preferred for completing transactions, 57.4 per cent of customers now browse retail sites on tablets or smartphones. Given that 39.2 per cent of sales are made on smaller screens, companies must be mindful of this and consider strategies to increase this percentage.

Despite experiential advances, mobile site users are still frequently abandoning transactions at the final stages of the journey due to poor mobile site optimisation, ecommerce functionality and unclear returns policies. With the average length of time users spend on sites decreasing, these issues become even more key.

It is crucial that businesses create a seamless experience for customers across multimedia devices; they must optimise websites for mobile devices to prepare for Black Friday traffic and other holiday surges, and ensure that transactions complete as quickly as possible. 

Facets as simple as removing the need to register before purchases, and presenting shipping costs upfront could make all the difference to a time-poor consumer. 

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Most importantly, businesses must make Black Friday a personalised experience for customers. When customers use email, ecommerce, mobile and social platforms they generate enormous amounts of data which can be used to understand purchasing behaviour.

However, unless this data is used to enhance their marketing campaigns, such customer insights are redundant.

According to a recent study, only 21 per cent of customers believe the marketing communications they receive are relevant, yet personalised campaigns are a tried and tested technique which can greatly help boost sales.

The vast range of tech, such as beacons and various other mobile apps on offer, provides retailers with the opportunity to create and sustain engaging dialogue with customers. In doing this, they can be sure to boost their chances of securing and maintaining Black Friday sales and creating brand advocates too.

In an era where local businesses compete with international online markets, it is vital that campaigns are exceptional, integrated, personalised and memorable – if not, thousands of substitute vendors can be found with the press of a back button.

By truly engaging with customers and earning their trust, businesses can profit greatly from this year’s Black Friday in the short-term, and potentially gain loyal customers for the long-term too.

According to a 2014 Volusion merchant report, while 64 per cent of SMEs claimed that the holiday season itself is important for their overall success, only 37 per cent claimed that Black Friday is vital to the final results of their holiday season. This makes sense considering how tough it is for SMEs to compete with larger chains when it comes to marketing budget and price points. 

The stats clearly highlight that there are opportunities to enhance an increasingly convoluted customer journey, build engagement at every touchpoint and be prepared for retail spikes and holiday surges. 

But, where preparedness is one thing, Black Friday doesn’t necessarily influence every holiday sale result for every retailer. On that basis, the key focus here is on the customer journey. 

Simon Porter is the vice president of mid-market sales in Europe at IBM

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