Like the Titanic, talking to strangers on the tube and rewriting history, there are many things that don’t cross the Atlantic well, and it just might be that we’re adding Black Friday to that list.
A very American import that some lay squarely at the door of Wall Mart and Asda, Black Friday has become increasingly prevalent on our island over the last three years, and while there is clearly a lot to learn from the commercial skills of the land of the free, 2018 has seen both retail and consumers question the wisdom of Black Friday and its evil sibling Cyber Monday.
I’m waiting for the stats on email “unsubscribe” buttons being clicked. I would bet that many a database took a hit over the last couple of weeks. “Black Friday Fatigue” has become a thing. My inbox has been overloaded with “amazing”, “spectacular”, “unmissable” deals, and many of those will be the last thing I choose to hear from those respective stores (so long as they are GDPR compliant) as I lost patience with retailers who I had previously agreed to engage with.
The truth is that many of those super-duper offers were neither super, nor duper. Even before Which released their report stating that 60 per cent of the deals they tracked were available at the same or better prices at other times during the year, there was mounting anecdotal evidence that consumers were less enamoured with this year’s offers.
From the other side of the fence, what do participating retailers get from these bonanza days? Black Friday started out as an opportunity for stores to add some bonus sales in the lull before Christmas and especially for bricks and mortar to fight online promotions, particularly Amazon. Add to this November traditionally being one of the worst months for retail generally and especially for the sporting goods market, the chance to make some sales at the cost of a little margin is understandably attractive.
However, there are now increasing signs that consumers see Black Friday week (or more) as the kick off to their Christmas shopping, using the heavy discounting to snap up presents they would otherwise have purchased during December in the build up to the festivities.
So surely here is the learning for all of us. If consumers are just buying the goods they would have bought anyway, but at a lower price, it’s certainly not retail and manufacturers who win, but consumers.
And the broader point that giving something away for nothing is detrimental to the retailer not only on that immediate sale but for every potential subsequent purchase. The consumer becomes conditioned to buying at a discount. Black Friday has created a consumers’ market for the period concerned, damaging sales for the weeks following (check John Lewis figures for the first two weeks of December for example). Continued sale offerings can create this environment on every other day too, just ask the subscribers to Gap’s email list if they ever purchase at full price any more.
We should be fighting to even out that inequality. There is nothing wrong with a promotion, with an action that draws attention to what is on offer over the longer term. Even in the short term, if a consumer feels she is getting greater value or increased service, then she will be more likely to choose the store and the brand again in the future. If that consumer is always concerned that the purchase they are considering will be available at a better price tomorrow, then why should they ever purchase?
There is a chance to make good from the publicity without sales. “Giving Tuesday” has gained some traction. Organisations (including retailers and banks) have drafted off of Cyber Monday, appealing to the public’s better nature by encouraging us to give to charity or to offer clothes to the homeless or other benevolent activity.
More commercially, US outdoor giant REI famously closes all its 150-odd doors and encourages its staff to “OptOutside” for the day. 2018 was the fourth year the company has done this, so they clearly believe that there is advantage in doing so.
REI and all the others see that there is benefit that can be taken from increased consumer activity around Black Friday, but it’s not about low prices and a fluorescent yellow sticker on a bargain TV. As with all retail, it takes a better idea and maybe some principles to win the consumer long term.