Comment: The UK is shopping smart for Black Friday 2017

In recent years, UK retailers have followed the lead of their US counterparts when it comes to Black Friday, offering in-store and online promotions and deals designed to capture the imaginations and wallets of consumers in the run up to Christmas.

This year’s Black Friday shopping extravaganza falls on 24 November 2017. As UK retailers prepare to gear up for the event, we conducted some research with UK consumers to look at how their behaviour and attitudes towards the event are changing.

The main finding was that consumer sentiment is riding high for the event this year in the UK, with an impressive 81% of respondents stating they intend to shop this Black Friday – compared to just 22% who anticipated getting involved last year and 30% who were on the fence. Previous scepticism about Black Friday being a marketing trick also seems to be falling with 37% of UK shoppers saying they’ve grown to like it more. 

Despite weak wage growth and higher inflation, UK consumers are defying expectations and continuing to spend – for these cash-pressed consumers, Black Friday may represent an opportunity to make big ticket purchases at discount prices and get Christmas gift purchases underway.

For consumers, Black Friday has become synonymous with special promotions not available at other times of the year. As a top motivating factor for 38% of UK shoppers, retailers will need to be sure they deliver on this key promise with enticing ‘one-off’ offers that are unique and differentiated – or risk disappointing consumers and switching them off from participating in future years.

Hunting for the right offers

As expected, steep discounting was the second primary motivation for consumers; 48% of UK respondents said they would be on the hunt for truly tempting offers. Interestingly, this expectation was down on 2016 figures, when 65% of UK consumers said the anticipation of big discounts was driving their purchasing intentions.

Personalised marketing is of course one of the ways that retailers can ensure shoppers get those ‘one-off’ differentiated offers. Events like Amazon Prime Day have prepared consumers to expect personalised marketing offers that relate to their known purchasing history and future likes and wants.

Asked what personalised marketing would most appeal to them, gaining privileged access
to additional discounts was uppermost in most consumer minds at 43%, with early access to Black Friday sales also high on the agenda at 38%.

Consumers are going omnichannel first

In recent years, Black Friday has been viewed as an increasingly digital shopping event. However, the 2017 research reveals that around one-third (31%) of UK consumers are planning to conduct their Black Friday shopping activities both in-store and online.

That’s a big jump from last year, when just 11% of UK consumers said they would divide their shopping activities equally between digital and physical channels. Despite this jump 19% still plan to shop online only, and 31% mostly online.

This attraction to mixing channels also follows through at an individual transaction level, where for 75% of UK consumers the ability to buy online and pick up in store is perceived as helpful. Retailers should grasp the opportunity presented by the fact that, when it comes to hunting down Black Friday bargains, consumers value the availability of convenient ‘buy online – pick up in-store’ omnichannel services.

Focused on specific categories

When questioned if the way they shop will be different this year, 48% say they are planning to shop across more product categories when making online purchases – furthermore, 36% say they have a higher budget to spend in 2017.

Despite a loyal core of consumers who say they are determined to head in-store to make purchases, 27% plan to shop across fewer categories in-store. Asked to evaluate what’s driving this change in their shopping behaviours, the relative ease and convenience of online shopping topped the list of reasons for 38% of shoppers.

This year’s reality

Consumer appetite for Black Friday in the UK has surged this year, with more planning to shop, in more categories, with more disposable budget. There is a clear opportunity for those retailers that understand how their customers shop in an omnichannel setting and therefore focus on creating shopping experiences that tie their online and physical channels together. We know from the research that consumers have a shopping list and are researching online already now, that means they are giving you clues about what they want. Retailers that can use that information to create personalised promotions and offers, stand a much higher chance of securing sales, and making Black Friday 2017 their biggest ever.

By Brian Elliott, managing partner at Periscope By McKinsey