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Black Friday 2019 for Ecommerce

Written on 13th November 2019

Black Friday 2019 presents some tough problems for many retailers. This article covers a couple of the challenges, plus five potential approaches for ecommerce companies.

Black Friday itself is almost a week later than it was in 2018. In 2018 it was on the 23rd November. In 2019, it’s on the 29th – essentially a week later – basically as late in the month as it gets.

The positive of that is that for websites selling to consumers, a few more of your potential customers will have had their paycheque by the 29th than they would have last year on the 23rd.

There are a few possible negatives. Those negatives apply equally to you as to your competitors, and therefore there are also potential opportunities if you think things through carefully.

Year-on-Year Difficulties

If you report on year-on-year numbers, it’s likely November will be a tough month. That comes from 3 factors:

Firstly: The ‘week vs last year’ numbers for week 47 (18th-24th November) will be very strange. In practical terms that’s meaningless, but if your company runs on weekly numbers, it causes headaches both for forecasting, and in terms of answering questions about why numbers are up / down.

Secondly: The Sunday after Black Friday, and Cyber Monday itself (which is often a bigger day than the Friday) both fall in December. Again, that doesn’t mean so much practically, but it means that November looks ‘poor’ vs 2018, and any monthly forecasts need to be adjusted a lot.

Thirdly: For some retailers, having a little more time between Black Friday and Christmas is a real blessing. They shift older products early with a heavy discount, getting rid of old stock and accepting the margin reduction on them, and then have a 4 week run in to Christmas itself pushing prices back up a little, and focussing on newer merchandise. This year, that doesn’t really happen. Cyber Monday is December 2nd, leaving just 3 weeks until the Christmas delivery cutoff.

Competitive Pressure

With Black Friday being a week later, this creates a ‘ghost’ Black Friday on November 22nd. Consumers expectations have built up to the extent they hunt for deals in mid November almost by habit. It’s very likely that some retailers will seek to match that demand, pushing discounts much earlier this year as a result.

If you’re a business in a market with 2 or 3 main competitors, it’s therefore tempting to compete directly with that yourself: Every order from a competitor is essentially a ‘lost’ sale for your business. Every customer who switches allegiance theoretically costs you money to win back.

Deal Fatigue

If deals do arrive early, and the discount period extends right the way from the ‘ghost’ cyber week of the 18th November right the way through to the traditional post-Christmas sale period, it creates an environment where retailers can easily fall into simply throwing away margin for the entirety of their peak season.

Coupled with that, if potential customers see deals everywhere, the effect of all this discounting is diluted to the extent that it basically feels like retailers just have to throw out huge offers simply to be among customers’ considered shops.

This can be useful for bargain hunting shoppers, but damages the sustainability of the shops they love.

Potential Approaches to Black Friday 2019

There are basically infinite possible approaches to the Black Friday period. Here are just 5 you may consider, or may wish to use to analyse what your competitors are doing:

1. Opt Out Completely

This is a surprisingly common approach. If your competitors are all giving away their profit margin over a period, you may conclude that offering ‘weak’ deals is a pointless token vs their much stronger offers. If that’s the case, your options become: a) Go as heavily as your competitors, and throw away all profit yourself over the period – sacrificing it for customer acquisition and retention that will hopefully pay off in loyalty, or b) Opt out completely, choose to protect what margin you can over the period, and accept that your gross sales revenue will simply be lower if customers do head to your competition over the period.

The supermarket ASDA (part of Walmart) famously had riots as a result of their Black Friday sales in the past, and in subsequent years have chosen to opt out altogether. Instead they offered targeted seasonal deals across the whole period, beginning early November.

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2. The Charity Approach

An alternative approach is to – instead of giving cash away to your customers in the form of discounts – offer something to charity, or to positive causes, over the period instead. In theory the benefits of that are:

  1. Your customers are still enticed to purchase from you, as they want to be part of positive investment in good causes as much or more than they are self-interested in saving money.
  2. It’s alltruisitically positive, good for staff motivation, good for the world at large.
  3. Customers feel more positive about your brand, and choose to shop with you both over the period and in future, knowing that you are a brand that puts positivity ahead of simple revenue chasing.
  4. Life’s short – why not take the opportunities you can to simply do something good.

As one example among many: Patagonia gained a huge amount of coverage a few years ago by donating “100% of sales” on Black Friday to grassroots organizations.

patagonia black friday

3. Hold Firm

The ‘default’ approach: Treat Black Friday as you have done in the past. Don’t go out early simply because it falls later this year. Assume that some competitors will do just that, and that you may lose a bit, but it’s not worth diving down early.

If you do this, a ‘risk mitigation’ tactic may be to communicate what your Black Friday deals will be, or simply remind customers that they’re coming up but Black Friday is later. That in itself brings some risk – customers may then just wait & avoid purchases they would have otherwise made in the run up to the period. A way to in turn mitigate that may be to communicate that to your ‘non core’ customers (ie, those who are unlikely to buy from you other than special occasions / periods where you prompt them), but avoid communicating forthcoming deals to core customers, in case it puts them off purchasing till later.

4. Go Early Go Often

Another approach is to embrace the fact that there’s an opportunity to push out discounts before Black Friday. Take advantage of the ‘ghost’ Cyber Week the week before, and 

If you plan to do that, it’s likely important to ‘step’ your discounts, or run a series of promotions over the period. Pushing all offers at once so early may mean that your core customers have already seen everything you have to offer by the time the ‘real’ Black Friday comes around.

5. Offer Cherries to Pick

Esentially a variant of the ‘go early’ strategy: Rather than pushing out ultra heavy deals a week or more before Black Friday, pull out a series of headline deals that bring customers to your site, or encourage them to buy, but leave the majority of goods ‘off sale’ until later.

That has the twin benefits of providing ‘deals’ to communicate at a time when customers are actively looking for deals, and of protecting margin overall, and perhaps encouraging a mixed purchase of ‘deal’ products and ‘full price’ products so that every order at least offers some profit.

Summary

  • Black Friday is laaaaate in 2019.
  • That throws up a series of problems.
  • Most of those problems apply equally across the market, and therefore they also bring opportunity.
  • Thinking through this from your particular customer set, product set, and financial goals is likely to be one of the key factors in your overall performance this peak period.