DJ sets, dinner jackets and cheeky Nando's: Black Friday at retail HQ

Online retail sales growth in the UK for the forthcoming Black Friday period is expected to hit around 2-3% compared to last year, according to e-tail trade body IMRG.

The predictions for the eight-day period running from 25 November through to 2 December – incorporating Black Friday on 29 November – represent the lowest forecast IMRG has ever put out for a major online sales event. With total online sales not meeting IMRG’s expectations for the year to date, hopes for a significant revenue fillip are not high for this period.

Sales figure concerns and general cautious industry outlooks aside, though, this time of year tends to coincide with strange goings on at many retail head offices.

From dressing up to drinks with breakfast, and the use of digital screens to drive staff excitement, Essential Retail has collected some anecdotes from across the industry about what goes on behind the scenes at UK retailers at this time of year.

Banging tunes and DJ sets

UK eCommerce business The Hut Group (THG), which counts MyProtein and Lookfantastic among its house of brands, likes to “go all out” on Black Friday, according to Matt Moulding, founder and CEO of the retail group.

“Our internal teams go all out to celebrate everyone’s efforts and ensure they’ve got all the provisions they need during this busy time,” he explains, adding that preparations start months in advance.

“The DJ sets and prosecco toasts throughout the day are always a highlight. We bring in various food businesses to cater for our staff and provide them with complimentary meals and treats throughout the day.”

He adds: “We have branded pick ‘n’ mix stations containing products from across our brands and partners, and product goodie bags. We also host brand-led events and competitions across all floors that everyone can get involved in.”

On Black Friday 2018, Lookfantastic sold a mascara every 1.6 seconds, and THG experienced a 40% year-on-year sales hike for the 20-26 November period. With that in mind, the party atmosphere at THG HQ near Manchester Airport is perhaps only to be expected.

As for online titan Amazon, 2018’s Cyber Monday represented its largest ever single-day of sales until its Prime Day in 2019 surpassed those figures. With 18 million toys and more than 13 million fashion items sold on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2018, for example, this time of year is so lucrative for the business.

Younger members of staff were dressed in ball gowns and tuxedos at its London HQ during last year’s cyber weekend, as the country manager read out regular updates on the PA system about product performance and overall trading. It’s effectively a celebration of commerce over the course of the week.

Online fashion house Asos, meanwhile, has just introduced large digital screens to its Camden head office, as part of a refit, and staff can expect these to display sales performance – including real-time updates of where the transactions are being made around the world – to help build excitement this Black Friday.

A little different around here

Rob Feldmann, CEO of discounted designer brand e-tailer BrandAlley, says special breakfast plans for staff are being cooked up for Black Friday, which will be followed up by a team lunch courtesy of the senior team.

Prosecco will be on the agenda if the company has a particularly good day, he adds, although as an off-price retailer all year round, BrandAlley views Black Friday sales as “less important” to overall business performance compared to other retailers.

“One of the most important things relating to whether a business succeeds or fails is whether its staff go the extra mile to help you,” Feldmann notes.

Explaining the importance of catering for them in terms of support and perks, he says: “I’ve seen over the years how staff can pull together and get you through tough times.”

Moulding agrees with that sentiment, saying: “We like to ensure we’re rewarding our staff for their ongoing hard work and commitment throughout the working year.

“However, Black Friday really stands out because it’s a celebration of the retail industry. We like to go all out across the entire weekend to celebrate our sector.”

Meanwhile, the CEO and CIO at one London-headquartered retailer, which wishes to remain nameless to maintain an element of surprise, will be doing a Nando’s run on Black Friday for all staff.

Over recent years, retail has seen the rise of click & collect, rapid home delivery, and new third-party pick-up points. There’s no indication that delivery-by-c-suite is set to be added to the menu of online fulfilment options for customers of this retailer just yet!

“I can tell you about war rooms where you wished some folks showered more frequently, ceaselessly watching graphs indicating the health of servers and stock movements"

When the sun goes down

One senior digital product and technology stalwart, who has worked for three large eCommerce businesses, including in the UK and the US, admits she has not yet worked at a company which found Black Friday all that fun.

“I can tell you about war rooms where you wished some folks showered more frequently, ceaselessly watching graphs indicating the health of servers and stock movements, laying in stocks of Xbox games, and being the referee for FIFA [a football video game] and other intensely competitive games,” she notes.

“Then there’s being on the phone with people around the globe tracking down errors in code and misplaced stock, making runs for food, water and Red Bull, and coming in the day after and shuddering at the mess from the night.”

Based on those reflections, maybe it’s not such a party season after all. Ultimately, in retail, it all comes down to a healthy bottom line, though – that is the end goal for all this activity at this time of year.

Online sales growth for the Black Friday period 2018 – the eight days from 19 to 26 November – was “underwhelming” at +6.8% year on year, according to Andy Mulcahy, strategy & insight director at IMRG.

The hope for this year is that a later Black Friday itself, coinciding with many people’s pay days could be beneficial in terms of consumers’ willingness to spend.

“As demand [in recent months] has been low, many retailers will also be carrying a lot of excess stock, meaning that there may be notably more deals available; a greater variety of offers could stimulate more purchases,” Mulcahy notes.

The impact such sales activity at discount prices and the effect of continuing markdowns have on overall retailer profitability remains to be seen. For now, those fears have been put aside, and the celebratory atmosphere at retail HQ is ramping up a level.