This year’s Black Friday is predicted to lead to the UK’s first £1 billion online shopping day. A relatively new phenomenon in the UK, Black Friday is on track to become a permanent fixture in the UK's pre-Christmas calendar, driven by the increasing global popularity of online shopping. It has pushed the Christmas sales period into November, providing consumers with a longer period for shopping, which retailers – both large and small – can take advantage of.

For retailers, Black Friday provides a good opportunity to increase sales volumes dramatically and gain new customers - provided that planning is in place. The halo of online sales around Black Friday is something which smaller retailers in particular can take advantage of. Some outlets have held back on Black Friday discounts because they are concerned it will impact their business by having to offer huge promotional reductions - but these retailers are simply missing a trick. By putting marginal reductions on top-selling products, retailers will see their volumes increase, given the days around Black Friday have a higher volume of traffic than many other periods of the year as customers look for bargains.

Black Friday also allows retailers to reach new customers who are surfing online for deals because of the ‘halo effect’ of increased traffic to websites. If targeted correctly, offers can draw customers in to make purchases they wouldn’t normally make. Last year, feelunique promoted a substantial discount on ghd hair stylers, drawing new customers onto the website who subsequently saw other reduced deals and made a first time feelunique purchase.

Although Black Friday can be a chance to tap into new customers, lack of preparation by retailers can make Black Friday a challenge rather than an opportunity. Here are our top five tips to make the sales period as successful as possible:

  • Plan for the unexpected: Spend time making an accurate assessment of predicted demand and make a detailed plan to cope with it. It’s important when drawing up the plan to make contingencies for over or underestimates on demand and, once the plan has been agreed, ensure that everyone across the business is aware of it and the role they will need to play.
  • Address infrastructure: Infrastructure needs to be reinforced to meet the massive increase retailers are going to face. Looking back at last year’s data is a first step in making sure that the same mistakes don’t occur again. September and October is the time to conduct functional and load testing; and to ensure that websites, in particular the most-visited pages as well as your chat functions, are able to handle sustained high demand. Setting up proper monitoring around your site’s wider technology performance is important for ensuring that any problems that arise during the course of the sale are understood. Gaining full visibility around how the environment is responding enables you to better make proactive decisions that can fix problems before they become a detriment to system functionality.
  • Have open conversations: It is imperative that conversations with your logistics company are open and honest. Be clear about the volumes that you are expecting as it can be difficult to arrange extra capacity at short notice if larger than expected number of orders are received. At this time, more than ever, having contingency plans in place to ensure your customers receive their purchases on time is crucial. It’s important for retailers to work with couriers who have the expertise to implement contingency plans in case of unexpected events during the busy period. Retailers should even consider engaging with multiple carriers to develop a more flexible approach to the delivery network.
  • Manage customer expectations: Retailers should manage expectation. Instead of over promising to customers, be realistic about what you can deliver. If you want to retain your reputation, it is important that quality customer experience should not drop even at this time of heightened activity. One step is to consider relaxing the delivery promise to customers; for example by withdrawing next day delivery and extending standard delivery by up to seven days. If delays do happen, communicating this with consumers is key alongside the relevant compensation. Providing a bad customer experience during the busiest time of year can cause irreversible damage.
  • Stagger promotions: To ease the burden around Black Friday, retailers should also focus their attention on the time leading up to the event. Bottlenecking can be avoided by spreading discounts and offers out over a few days, rather than focusing it all on Black Friday. Marketing teams should also be prepared to pare back any discounts planned for after Black Friday – if backlogs are occurring, it is better to deal with the orders that have been placed instead of aggressively pursuing sales which cannot be met. Communication is critical between the marketing and operations teams and if new promotions are being unveiled, the operations team needs to be in the loop so that that they can monitor appropriately and inform the marketing team to scale back promotions if necessary.

Black Friday is here to stay. Previously, customers did not buy until payday but times have changed: people spend during this period regardless of the promotions they come across because they associate Black Friday and the days around it with discounted spending. If prepared, retailers can capitalise on the phenomenon of Black Friday and increase their sales volumes instead of buckling under the strain, putting your customer relationships at risk, and by extension, your bottom line.