Blog Post - James Webster, Sep 7 2018

Black Friday 2018: mobilise and personalise, or prepare to be fossilised

Black Friday 2018: mobilise and personalise, or prepare to be fossilised

As the summer season draws to a close, retailers are turning their attention to preparations for the critical festive period. And while it remains a relative newcomer to the UK retail calendar, there is no longer any doubt - the festive peak kicks off with Black Friday.

Due to fall on Friday 23rd November, a full month before Christmas, this year’s Black Friday could usher in the longest sustained period of sales discounting and promotional offers in retail history.

With four full weeks worth of trading and five weekends to go before Christmas, not to mention the fact that most businesses are likely to start their Black Friday campaigns in the week leading up to the day itself, it is no exaggeration to say that performance over this period could tip the balance in terms of annual outcomes.

By now, retailers both online and off should be at an advanced stage of planning for the Black Friday peak. As we move towards the crucial final quarter of the year, here are some tips and recommendations for making this year’s Black Friday campaign your best ever.

Key Takeaways from 2017

As always, the first place to start when developing your next Black Friday strategy is the main learning points from the previous year. For the past four years, Salmon, a Wunderman Commerce Company, has run its Peak Operations Room intelligence unit throughout the Black Friday trading period, working with some of the biggest brands in UK retail to provide robust, smart escalation paths across peak whilst gathering performance data first hand.

It is from this data that we can unpick key lessons to take into this year’s planning. The big insights we gathered were:

  • Black Friday is getting bigger and bigger, with orders on Black Friday itself up 64% year-on-year and orders throughout Black Friday week up 74%.
  • Black Friday is now a digital-first event, with online sales outweighing in-store sales. According to IMRG, total online sales reached £1.39bn on Black Friday itself in 2017, up 11.7% on the previous year.
  • Mobile is now the most important Black Friday shopping channel. 53% of orders and 66% of traffic came from mobile devices last year.
  • Black Friday is now a truly round-the-clock event. There may no longer be people queuing outside stores at midnight to grab the best deals, but online shopping means there is now a longer peak than ever before. Broke down into three hour chunks, between 6am and midnight, sales volumes on Black Friday remained consistent, varying by only a narrow margin from 13% to 17% of overall sales.

Planning for Black Friday 2018

So what does this mean for retailers planning their next Black Friday campaign? Well it is clear that we have reached a tipping point for digital commerce and for mobile. Looking forward to this year’s event, retailers simply have to prioritise digital and mobile in particular.

A digital-first approach means making the most of all available channels. Mobile might rank the highest in terms of sales, but last year 47% of online orders were still made on desktop, and you cannot completely discount your bricks and mortar outlets either. The challenge is how to integrate campaigns across all of them so you make the most of the benefits each brings whilst still providing a consistent, convenient experience for customers.

An important part of this is offering an ‘always on’ shopping experience. Preparing for peak used to be about having the staff, stock and logistical plans in place to handle a huge rush in footfall the first day of a sale. Now, as last year’s Black Friday figures show, there is barely any dip in online traffic between the hours of 9pm and midnight compared to between 9am and midday.

Spikes in demand are likely to be more sustained and perhaps more unpredictable, meaning you have to have your back-end IT systems, your merchandising and fulfilment operations optimised to cope over a much longer period. This requires more robust development and testing than ever.

Furthermore, it is revealing that orders grew more year-on-year over the course of Black Friday Week than on the day itself. Black Friday is now more accurately described as a promotional period than a one day or one weekend event, and it is only likely to get stretched out more and more.

From an operational sense, last year we saw several retailers caught out when they began to run out of stock later in the trading period. We also saw a 77% spike in basket abandonments early in the period, as shoppers decided to wait for better deals in the days to come. This in itself puts an enormous strain on product databases and checkout platforms, slowing sites down. This kind of behaviour should be factored into capacity planning.

Finally, the longer the Black Friday period runs for, the smarter and more agile retailers have to be about promotions. As mentioned above, the tendency over the course of longer discounting events is for consumers to wait on better deals, an expectation partially created by Amazon’s ‘Lightning Deal’ innovation.

Yet this is also precisely the approach retailers need to take to push conversions - instant, in-the-moment, miss-it-and-it’s-gone flash offers that convince customers to hit that check out button. It’s a challenging approach, requiring careful mapping out in intricate detail of what deals to trigger in different scenarios and at different times.

It also requires well-considered marketing support to ensure deals reach the right customers at the right time so conversions are maximised. This is where mobile comes into its own, not only offering multiple options for communicating deals in real time (SMS, apps, IM), but also providing opportunities to cross-promote other channels - e.g. sending SMS messages to promote an in-store event to shoppers in the immediate vicinity, or giving app users a ‘first look’ at a special discount on your website before it receives wider attention.

Summary: 5 Steps to Prepare for Black Friday 2018

1.Integrate your operations: Make sure your whole business, not just your commerce channels, are working in unison towards your Black Friday goals.

2.Prioritise mobile: Black Friday is now a mobile-first event, and you should be optimising commerce channels, check out functions, promotional campaigns and back-end resources to support mobile traffic.

3.But don’t forget your other channels: Multiple channels are better than one. Just under half of all digital sales still came through desktop last year, and if you have a store, use it to create winning experiences and fulfilment options for customers.

4.Don’t take your eye off the ball on systems testing: With more online traffic expected over a more prolonged peak than ever in 2018, you simply have to make certain your digital systems can handle what you expect, and then some more.

5.Get personal with promotions: Personalisation and segmentation of offers will be key points of difference over this year’s Black Friday period. Weaponise your data, integrate your CRM and get down to the nitty gritty of mapping out what offers you can make in which circumstances. The ultimate aim is to maximise conversions by hitting the right customers at the right point in their journey with offers they just cannot resist.