Black Friday & the nonsensical ‘do we, don’t we? debate

Our recent YouGov research into consumer attitudes to Black Friday reveals the day is now as firmly entrenched in the UK psyche as much as Bank Holidays. 

A huge 98% of UK shoppers are now aware of the phenomenon and over 7.5 million UK shoppers plan to not only participate in the event but to alter their sleep patterns around it. Five million won’t go to sleep until they’ve shopped and a further 2.5 million will set an early alarm. A fifth of UK shoppers will power through their Christmas shopping during their lunch hour.

Which goes to show that Black Friday – love it or loathe it – is here to stay.

That’s why I find the question – which I’m frequently asked – about whether I’m ‘for or against’ Black Friday, futile. It’s like asking whether I’m ‘for or against’ Sunday opening, or free delivery.

It’s not something to be ‘for or against’ it’s just a given of the retail landscape now – a way of driving sales in a tough retail climate. As such I can’t help seeing the ‘Should We? Shouldn’t We?’ debate around Black Friday involvement as being as much of a gimmick as the day itself. 

Any brand that uses solutions to capture attention and drive sales – from free delivery and returns through to ‘try before you buy’ payment methodologies like Klarna and AfterPay and subscription based ‘all you can eat’ delivery propositions such as ASOS Premier (which offers unlimited next day deliveries for £10 a year) is engaged in Black Friday type activity. They’re just not centred on a particular weekend, with a catchy name.

Ultimately when you drill down, Black Friday is nothing more than just another device to drive sales, even if, as is the case with many of these other initiatives, that means sacrificing profit margins in the process. 

‘Free’ delivery will always be loss making (someone is footing the bill) but it works. 

ASOS recently announced they have 1.3 million Premier subscription members; the type of brand loyalty it’s hard to put a value on in today’s market. The fact that Premier membership is up 53% year-on-year is arguably one of the biggest contributors to ASOS’ continuing success.

Similarly, Black Friday might hit retailers maximum profit margins, it might not be popular with traditionalists and it might have taken away some of the ‘magic’ of the Christmas shopping experience. But it does two things very well: It drives sales (it is now comfortably the single most popular shopping event of the year) and it stimulates new customer acquisition, which is even more important than the short-term revenue. So we all have to work with it.

But ‘work’ is the key word here. Because while many assume that Black Friday must be a Christmas gift come early if you’re in the pick-up drop-off (PUDO) or delivery sectors; it’s actually far from ideal.

Imagine you ran a pizza restaurant that comfortably sat 100 people in two covers, but you were told that for just one night a year you had to serve 1000 regular and several hundred new customers, in one two hour window, with no dip in service standards. That’s what Black Friday is to us. The extra infrastructure, people and capacity required involves an amount of effort that is disproportionate to the additional income. 

But ultimately, to continue with the pizza analogy, if your customers are regular customers and you have a chance to win some new ones, you want to make them happy, and you don’t ask yourself if you’re ‘for or against’ the idea. You just embrace it for the longer-term benefits it opens up and make it work…