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PEAK 2020 Shops prepare to reopen ahead of Christmas; how shoppers bought and how retailers used digital marketing on Black Friday

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InternetRetailing rounds up the latest news, insights and trends on how retailers and customers are responding to peak trading this year. In recent years pre-Christmas shopping has been at its highest over the Cyber Weekend of Black Friday to Cyber Monday, but the shape of this year’s shopping could well be different since English non-essential shops are now closed until tomorrow (December 2) under a second Covid-19 lockdown, and until December 11 in Northern Ireland, while in Scotland non-essential shops are closed in 11 Tier 4 areas including Glasgow. Non-essential shops are currently open in Wales.

Shops to open as long as they like from tomorrow – and through December

Non-essential retail shops can open from tomorrow in England following the end of lockdown and the pressure will be on to make the most of the few weeks remaining in the peak trading season in-store. Last week we highlighted some of the ways that retailers are preparing to do so safely

Now communities Secretary Robert Jenrick says retailers will be able to open as long as they want in December and January.  Usually, businesses have to apply to councils if they wish to open outside of 9am to 7pm. But while the government presents the strategy as a boost for the high street, industry commentators are not so sure.

Jesko Perrey, senior partner and global leader for marketing and sales at McKinsey & Company, says this will not save retail. “Longer opening hours will not be the panacea to retail survival. A number of shoppers will welcome the extended opportunity to browse festive aisles, but many others will revise their holiday shopping rituals due to health and safety concerns. The path to a retail recovery is a synched omni-channel strategy. One that can continuously flex to the changing market dynamics.

“Retailers should consider ensuring the right gifts are in the right place at the right time – across physical and online. The 24-hour trading extension will mean an adjustment in stock placement for many retailers. It’s about having a deeper view of each product line and how it is performing across each channel. And critically, how each product line is expected to perform based on the changing Covid-19 restrictions.”  

And David Jinks, head of consumer research at ParcelHero, says that footfall to stores did not recover at the end of the previous lockdown, soon falling by 58.4% in the weeks following reopening, compared to the previous year.

He says: “Christmas means shoppers’ return to the High Street will be stronger than the brief uptick at the end of the previous lockdown, but far below the traditional December boom. At the end of the last lockdown, 70% of shoppers were ‘not comfortable’ about returning to shops, according to research from consultants EY. The latest ONS research, released on 23 November, found that 46% of Brits remain ‘actively scared’ about contracting coronavirus when going outside. Cautious consumers will be doing their best to avoid busy shops over Christmas.

“It stands to reason, therefore, that faced with a choice between staying safe and warm shopping online or braving the winter weather, most shoppers will choose the former. That’s why we predict town centre footfall will be over 50% down on last year, while online will grab just over half of all retail sales for the first time.”

Black Friday footfall

The number of people visiting shops rose across the UK during a Black Friday that was expected to take place largely online, new data suggests. Footfall rose by 8.7% on Friday, compared to the previous week, according to business intelligence company Springboard. That’s well ahead of the 2% growth seen last Thursday but visitor numbers were still 56.9% down on the same time last year. 

Footfall rose by 4.8% across last week as a whole. The biggest week-on-week rises were seen on UK high streets (+6.6%) and retail parks (+4.9%). Springboard says that last week marked only the second time since late August that footfall had increased for two successive weeks.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “Footfall activity in UK retail destinations last week was clearly influenced by Black Friday, despite severe COVID restrictions across the majority of the UK which rendered it even more online focussed than in previous years. For the first time since the last week of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and the bank holiday in late August, footfall in UK retail destinations rose for the second consecutive week from the week before.  In addition, the increase in footfall on Friday was nearly double the average increase over the previous five days.”

Across the four nations of the UK, footfall rose in England by 8% week-on-week (WOW) but fell by 59.7% compared to the same time last year. In Wales it rose by 6% WOW and fell by 32.7% YOY, in Scotland it fell by 19.6% WOW and by 50.8% YOY, and in Northern Ireland it rose by 11.3% WOW and fell by 33.8% YOY.

How retailers used digital marketing

Over Black Friday brands pushed more than 86m notification messages to customers via mobile apps – 90% more than last Black Friday, according to data from the Emarsys platform. They also sent 834m emails – up 21% on last year. 

Real-time event triggers powered by the Emarsys platform (digital campaign triggers based on individual customer behavior) were also up by 177% to 189m, while segment executions (campaigns aimed at different audience segments) were up to by 29% to 14.6m.

Sara Richter, CMO at Emarsys, says: “With parts of the UK and many other countries under lockdown and physical stores closed, brands have had no choice but to nail their digital promotions this Black Friday, or risk losing out big time.

“Seeing the opportunity in front of them, retailers left nothing to chance and harnessed the power of martech to personalise the experience to ensuring customers were targeted with the right messages at the right time through the right channels — perfectly in line with consumer habits, demands and preferences. “Consequently, AI and personalisation have played a bigger role than ever before and Emarsys is proud to have helped retailers step up to the challenge.”

How shoppers paid on Black Friday

The use of ‘pay later’ services such as Klarna and ClearPay more than doubled on Black Friday 2020 compared to a year earlier, according to payment service provider Mollie. 

It looked at data from 101,000 merchants across Europe, and primarily from Germany, UK, France, the Netherlands and Belgium, and found that online transactions grew by 56% compared to the same time last year. Last year, sales were 36% ahead of the previous year. Sales were also up in the four days leading up to Black Friday (+58% YOY). It found that the use of ‘buy now, pay later’ services more than doubled from 1% of all payments in 2019 to almost 2.5% in 2020. Shoppers also used mobile payment methods at about the same rate. The proportion of sales using mobile payment methods came in at 0.25% in 2020, up from 0.20% in 2019. 

“There is a lot of pressure on consumers’ wallets at the moment, which is making people look to payment methods that offer them financial security,” says Ken Serdons, chief commercial officer at Mollie. “It makes sense that fintechs like Klarna, who have performed phenomenally well this year, have been so popular this Black Friday. The increase is in-line with this growing trend towards more flexibility in how consumers pay for goods.”

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