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How to stay ahead of the pack this Black Friday

As the countdown to Black Friday 2016 begins, Drapers looks at what retailers expect from this year’s discounting extravaganza.

black friday 2015

Black Friday is still a relatively new event in the UK. The American discounting day, which occurs on the last Friday of November, is approaching its third year on British shores and retailers are still trying to get to grips with the unpredictable concept. Scenes of chaos as shoppers stampeded into stores and fought over bargains in 2014 convinced many consumers to stay at home and shop online on Black Friday 2015. Although this was an annoyance for businesses that had invested in additional staff to open shops early and close late, pure-plays and retailers with strong websites benefited.

However, some websites suffered under the weight of demand. John Lewis was among those to experience technical difficulties November 27, losing an estimated £2.8m in revenue when its website crashed between 3pm and 4pm.

With just four months to go until this year’s event on Friday November 25, retailers are already preparing for the increased website traffic and added strain on delivery systems that Black Friday brings.

A strong online offer will be even more important this year, says Shop Direct’s group product director, Matt Dixon: “Black Friday has overwhelmingly become an online event and this year will be more about mobile than ever before. We believe it’ll get bigger and better in 2016, and we’ve planned for this in mind.”

He continues: “Our preparation is months in the making and it has to be. It means things like preparing personalised mobile marketing so we grab  customers’ attention; website load testing to make sure we can handle the huge volume of site visits we’ll get on the day; and working with delivery partners so we’re able to keep our promises to customers.”

Womenswear etailer Pretty Little Thing has also strengthened its website for 2016.

“Extensive work has been carried out to improve our overall site stability and delivery service. We have also introduced advanced merchandising tools in order to help strengthen and improve the customer journey experience over Black Friday,” says marketing manager Nicki Capstick. 

Promotions are also likely to start earlier and last longer in 2016, continuing a trend from last year, etail association IMRG predicts. Editor Andy Mulcahy expects the average Black Friday campaign to last for around seven days, as retailers opt for a week of deals rather than a day-long flash Sale or long weekend spanning Black Friday to Cyber Monday.

“This year, the online-only retailers are telling us they will be offering discounts for eight days and the multichannel retailers are going for six. This is because weekends are coming into play. Multichannel will do better over the weekend because people can get to the shops, so online will compete by extending their campaigns over the previous weekend.”

The real challenge for retailers ahead of Black Friday 2016, Mulcahy adds, will be knowing when to start discounting: “Many retailers are competing for the same customers, so they don’t want to go on Sale after their competitors. But they don’t want to go too early either and risk consumers waiting for their competitor’s Sale the next day. The quality of retailers’ campaigns is really going to matter this year, as other sectors such as leisure join in the Black Friday noise.”

Black out

Jigsaw was one of the few who chose to stay out of the scrum in 2015. The company set out its reasons for not taking part in a defiant manifesto on its website, using the tagline “reduced by nothing, standing for something”. Supermarket Asda also cancelled its Black Friday plans last year, despite leading the charge in 2014, reporting that customers had said they did not want “to be held hostage to a day or two of Sales”.

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Jigsaw chief executive Peter Ruis tells Drapers he does not expect other retailers to follow its lead, despite a positive response from customers: “I fear that because of Brexit, we will see even more of a bun fight this year. Because of what’s happening with the referendum and the dollar, people will have put prices up to an artificial level and then will discount to the real price, which will confuse customers.”

For most retailers, there is no doubt that Black Friday is here to stay. But the debate on how and where resources are best spent is entering a new phase as consumers increasingly favour online deals over shopping in store. Retailers will need a clever campaign, robust systems and websites able to keep up with heavy traffic, to kick off the festive period on a high.


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