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GUEST COMMENT Black Friday Fortnight: the consumer trends shaping 2021’s ‘Peak’

It feels like an unbreakable rule that Black Friday becomes a bigger shopping frenzy every year. Even a global pandemic didn’t curb this enthusiasm, with 2020 sales increasing 28% YoY in the weeks leading up to Black Friday. 

While the love for a good deal didn’t change, the way shoppers snapped them up did. Months of accrued savings found a perfect outlet in a tidal wave of online discounts and offers from brands scrabbling to get their online shops in order.

So, will pandemic-induced habits endure in 2021? Can the reopening of stores spark a return to the high street? Unknowns like this, combined with the supply chain crisis currently sweeping across the world, are making it difficult for marketers and retailers to get ahead for Black Friday.

Now it’s crucial that retailers keep their finger on the pulse – closely looking at both consumer trends and the wider socioeconomic climate – if they’re to make a success of the peak season. 

  • Steady online ‘constant commerce’

2020 was a watershed moment for ecommerce. Even as stores reopened and consumers returned in earnest, online sales remained significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels with ecommerce up 24% in July 2021 compared to 2019.

The data shows that ecommerce will remain steady up until the end of 2021, with retailers anticipating yet another online surge on November 26th, i.e. Black Friday. We’re more likely to see the bedding in of ‘constant commerce’ as the immediate choice, convenience and around-the-clock availability enable a more serene bargain hunting experience. 

This will vary on a country-by-country basis – with consumers doing a mix of online and in-store shopping where the Covid-19 situation is stable, while those under lockdown measures will lean heavily on ecommerce.

International marketers especially will need a well-rounded, omnichannel strategy if they’re to reach all audiences.

  • Earlier – and earlier – browsing habits

Marketers must also be mindful consumers are researching and considering purchases earlier than ever before. In the UK, for example, the path to purchase begins an average of 15 days before Black Friday, with only US consumers starting the path to purchase later (14 days).

Looking across Europe, this becomes even more extreme, with the average path to purchase beginning 18 days before Black Friday in France and 24 days in Germany. Further afield, the average consumer beginning the path to purchase in Japan is a staggering 34 days before Black Friday.

The seasonal shopping experience is also broader than ever before with shoppers discovering products across a plethora of channels, such as: search engines (39%), physical stores (33%), brand websites or apps (32%), retail websites or apps (29%) and online ads (26%).

This adventurousness has led to over half (53%) of respondents discovering a new form of online shopping they like – such as purchasing in apps or click and collect – which they plan to carry on using.

  • ‘Last minute-ers’ still need stores

Led by the fact in-store shopping and click and collect services enable consumers to get around shipping delays, footfall is expected to be up year-on-year. Equally, tradition still holds significant sway at this time of year; in New York, heading to Macy’s to see its annual window display is an event in itself. Similar to Harrods and Harvey Nichols in London, or Galeries Lafayette and Printemps Haussmann in Paris. 

As ‘Peak’ reaches its finale, physical stores create an essential window for last-minute shopping. Across the US, in-store sales shot up 160% one week before Christmas last year, while online sales returned to October levels. 

The so-called Great Reopening is a solid indication some consumers will be eager to renew in-store experiences, with Europe’s in-store sales having already increased by as much as 338% following the lifting of lockdown restrictions in July.

So what can marketers take away from these trends? Firstly, the enduring online focus has embedded longer paths to purchase. Thinking through how digital marketing and advertising will move audiences through the consideration phase is key. As consumers get closer to Black Friday and Christmas, making sure loyalty schemes and transaction data is being collected and applied will guarantee a better customer experience into the early months of 2022.

Only when commerce data is used to gain the right insights into consumer behaviours and journeys, will advertisers be able to meet consumers across channels, stand out from the crowd and seize Peak sales opportunities.


Nicolas Rieul, managing director of Western Europe at Criteo

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