Retailers must think differently this Black Friday to stand out online   

Op-ed

This year’s Black Friday Cyber Monday weekend will look very different. When we think of Black Friday, we conjure up scenes of mayhem: people camping outside shops and rushing through their doors as soon as they open, scrambling to get the best bargains. But with lockdown measures set to still be in place across the UK, retailers are gearing up for an online-only event.

The past nine months have been a time of immense change for the retail industry. Lockdown restrictions have meant the closure of physical shops for extended periods of time and even when they have reopened, footfall has remained much lower than prior to the pandemic. E-commerce has provided a lifeline for many businesses across the UK, enabling them to continue to trade.

As a result of this, we’ve seen a marked acceleration of trends that were already in train. In effect 2030 has arrived a decade early with a shift towards multichannel retailing brought forward by the pandemic. And retailers who had already embraced a digital-first strategy have been able to respond more effectively to the new operating environment. Others have seized the opportunity and pivoted their business to ensure they’d continue to be able to reach their customers while their doors were closed.

Despite the challenges 2020 has brought, the Black Friday Cyber Monday weekend is still set to be a significant moment for retailers to end the year strong. We recently surveyed shoppers on their attitudes towards this year’s event, revealing that average spend is set to increase by 53% to £376 up from £245 last year. And, of course, with demand from customers comes opportunity for retailers.

To take full advantage of the opportunity Black Friday presents, retailers need to make sure they are optimising their online presence. Here are three ways brands can give themselves the best chance to success this Black Friday Cyber Monday.

  1. Embrace an omnichannel strategy  

The pandemic has demonstrated the need for merchants not to become dependent on one single channel. Rather than rushing to the shops, this year consumers will be scrolling on their phones or tablets. Sales through social platforms have skyrocketed with more people using platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Facebook to shop. This is particularly the case for younger shoppers, who as a group are also more likely to engage with Black Friday: our recent shopper survey revealed that 59% of 18-34 year olds planning to shop online during BFCM will do so through their phone.

As a retailer, making yourself relevant to the customer of 2020 is all about selling your product or services through the channels they like to use. Gone are the days where your customer will come to you – they expect you to go to them.

  1. Stand out from the crowd

Shoppers have never expected more from the companies they buy from. The opportunities have also never been greater for them to explore and discover new brands, meaning competition is even more intense. Brands have to work harder to stand out and offer something truly unique to customers that they cannot find anywhere else. Shoppers aren’t just looking for the cheapest option. Closely watched tech analyst Benedict Evans’ most recent presentation on macro trends highlighted how internet searches for ‘best’ have outperformed ‘cheap’ in the past decade, with an acceleration of this trend during 2020 too.

One approach is to give back to the community. Goose & Gander, a unisex clothing merchant hosted on Shopify, will be launching an exclusive product this Black Friday, with a proportion of sales being donated to a local charity rather than focusing on heavy discounting. It is also an approach that is being taken by Birmingham-based streetwear brand Bene Culture who are using Black Friday as an opportunity to launch an exclusive product in collaboration with an up and coming musician, building on their brand ethos of giving creatives a platform.

  1. See Black Friday as a marathon not a sprint  

Unlike previous years, we are expecting the event to be spread across a much longer period of time rather than just a weekend, with some campaigns having already launched a few weeks back and likely to extend through to Christmas.

To fully take advantage of this, brands must think of different ways to keep shoppers engaged over a sustained period of time. Agility and flexibility are key to successfully growing any business and that has never been as important as it is now.

While the Black Friday weekend will certainly look different this year, there are still opportunities for retailers to drive sales in the lead into peak trading for many. Those who approach the event with fresh thinking and a customer-centric strategy will undoubtedly perform better than those who fail to respond to shifting consumer preferences. The changes in consumer behaviours that have been ushered in by the pandemic are here to stay.

Shimona Mehta, Head of EMEA at Shopify

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