InternetRetailing rounds up the latest news, insights and trends on how retailers and customers are planning for 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 December 2 under a second Covid-19 lockdown. Non-essential shops are however open in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland
Less than two weeks out from Black Friday – which this year falls on November 27 – and more retailers are now launching Black Friday deals. Debenhams is today launching two weeks of Black Friday deals. The event starts today and continues until Monday November 30. Daily deals are available in a range of different categories. Today’s include 50% off some menswear and 30% off watches.
Amazon, meanwhile, has almost 10,000 early Black Friday deals available as it encourages shoppers to spread their buying across a longer period of time. The retailer, ranked Elite in RXUK Top500 research, is set to move into full Black Friday mode on Friday.
Mountain Warehouse has also launched Black Friday offers, encouraging customers to “beat the rush and shop selected offers early”, while Gap is launching its early Black Friday offers, with up to 50% off everything.
Amazon’s official Black Friday week, meanwhile, is scheduled to start on November 20 - although early Black Friday deals are already available.
Samsung says an online-only Black Friday presents real challenges for retailers serving customers whose expectations may not have changed. The retail brand is currently offering three Black Friday events to those who sign up to its mailing list. Samsung UK and Ireland online director Nick White says: "This year, Black Friday is set to be an online-only event for the first time, yet brands will undoubtedly face the same expectations from consumers when it comes to customer experience.
"One of the major enabling factors for sales in 2020 – not just Black Friday – has been convenience. We have seen the pressure the restrictions have put on our customers and the difficulty of navigating life from home. The least we can do to support is provide fast deliveries that bring people’s favourite products to their doorsteps in 24 hours or less.
"What’s more, brands can get creative in enabling online experiences for customers to bring the whole journey to life in new ways. For example, we teamed up with a partner called Go Instore to deliver live video-retail experiences to our customers, offering secure, one-way video consultations with our product experts.
"Providing this degree of personal support and counsel online has become a critical part of our proposition and will be pivotal to achieving success throughout Black Friday and the festive period."
IMRG is tracking 320 retailers through the Black Friday season and says that as of last week, 37 - or 11.5% – were already offering Black Friday deals. That’s up from 4% a week earlier and it’s likely that still more will have started peak trading events by the next IMRG update. Currys PC World, meanwhile, is offering a Black Friday price promise ahead of the event itself but has stopped short of launching its full event.
Those launching sales early are part of a wider trend towards discounting that has marked November so far. Data from sales aggregator LovetheSales.com found that the volume of online discounts has increased by 49% during lockdown as retailers cut prices in order to make up for sales lost in-store as a result of lockdown. It sees more retailers offering early Black Friday deals including Mango and Calvin Klein – both, notably, offering discounts only to signed-up shoppers. increased number of retailers have already offered shoppers early Black Friday deals this year.
Stuart McClure of LovetheSales.com said: “This is an unprecedented situation for retailers. Many shops would have earmarked the holiday season to drive sales and make up for the downturn at the beginning of the year, but a second lockdown has shifted priorities. Retailers are now pushing record levels of deals online and using ‘early Black Friday deals’ to entice shoppers to spend throughout November. We expect this to be the biggest Black Friday ever for online shopping.”
So can we expect more to join them? A study from SMS communications specialist TextAnywhere questioned nearly 700 businesses in the UK and other European markets and found that more than half (55.4%) of those in the UK and Ireland still planned to run their Black Friday campaigns as they had previously planned, despite the effect of the pandemic. That said, 36.5% of businesses in those markets planned to cancel them altogether.
Plans were still more variable in markets elsewhere in Europe, with less than half of businesses in Italy (48.7%), France (48%), Germany (42.9%) and Spain (31.6%) planning to proceed with their Black Friday campaigns.
Demi Edmunds, specialist at TextAnywhere, said: “While a national lockdown presents obvious challenges for brick and mortar stores, it does mean that e-commerce will take centre stage to an even greater extent than usual, so it’s essential that brands tailor their offerings to be easily accessible online.
“For many businesses, Black Friday is a great revenue driver but it’s important to remember that it is also a great way to build momentum as retailers head into peak season. With small business Saturday and various holidays closely following, it’s crucial businesses plan for the season as a whole to ensure they remain front of mind to customers throughout.”
Analysis from ParcelHero has found that retailers are bringing their final Christmas order dates forward this year – putting the onus on shoppers to be more organised.
Retailers will be looking to avoid overwhelming delivery systems and to ensure that parcels arrive in time for Christmas and that, says ParcelHero, means a reversing of the trend that has in recent years seen final order dates pushed ever later. It cites final order for Christmas delivery dates that are as early as December 12 (Dell and HP), closely followed by retailers including Liberty (December 15) and Selfridges (December 17). At the other end of the scale, retailers with their own logistics networks, such as Amazon and Argos, are promising same-day delivery for orders placed as late as December 24, joined by retailers including Net-A-Porter and Zara.
ParcelHero head of consumer research David Jinks says last-minute shoppers will be in for a shock this year. "In 2019, many retailers were offering Christmas orders almost up to the big day itself," he says. "This year, several are playing things much safer to allow for the lockdown logjam. That’s why ParcelHero’s now-traditional Christmas shopping online tool is live once again, showing the final online ordering dates of all of the UK’s favourite stores. We are sure it will play an even more essential role in saving last-minute shoppers from Christmas disaster.
‘Since March, retailers and couriers have been battling with what is, effectively, a perpetual Christmas peak. Once the ’real’ Christmas season arrives, retailers and their delivery partners will be stretched to near-breaking point. Last year, 387m of the 46m Christmas peak deliveries were online shopping orders. This year, retailers’ deliveries alone will put an estimated 592 million parcels in the system in the weeks before Christmas.
"This is why our final deadline tool is invaluable for tardy shoppers. It’s continually updated to include retailers’ own, last-minute changes. Some retailers’ online final order dates are surprisingly early. Normally, we would think they were being over-cautious but for 2020 we believe they are prudent."
Amazon is set to be the biggest beneficiary as this year’s Black Friday shifts entirely online in England, according to digital consultancy Wunderman Thompson Commerce.
In its Black Friday 2020 report, Let the online battle commence, it predicts shoppers will spend £5.5bn or 22% less than last year over a 10-week “mega peak” period as a result of the second lockdown in England. Some 43% of all peak spending will take place over the Black Friday period itself, it estimates, and Amazon will see about 65% of Black Friday spending.
Hugh Fletcher, global head of consultancy and innovation at Wunderman Thompson Commerce, says: “Black Friday has been and will continue to be one of the most important periods in the retail calendar. This distinctly online-first event will present many challenges – and opportunities – for brands, retailers and marketplaces with so much uncertainty in the market. Those businesses who have invested in their ecommerce operations properly look set to reap the biggest rewards, while those who haven’t will struggle to compete for market share in an increasingly digital shopping space.
“One of the digital natives set to profit most is, once again, Amazon. It delayed its summer Prime Day to October to kick off the 10-week sales bonanza, introduced Black Friday deals early and can offer shoppers’ convenience, reliability and diversity in its product range. With margins becoming thinner and the sector under duress, brands and retailers will need to ensure they are able to act quickly and deliver on customer expectations to ensure this year ends on a festive cheer.”
Most shoppers (80%) are planning to shop online this year, according to Accenture’s new 2020 Festive Shopping Survey, but that does not add up to spending more since 36% plan to cut their outlay compared to the previous year. That’s more than twice the 13% who planned to spend less at Christmas 2019. At the same time, just 13% plan to spend more, according to the study, which questioned 1,545 UK shoppers online.
Most (80%) of those who plan to shop online aim to get their orders delivered to their homes, and nearly 40% expect free and fast delivery this Christmas, despite fears that the infrastructure will be unable to cope with higher levels of demand.
Andrew Carlisle, Accenture retail consulting lead for the UK and Ireland, said: “This is a make or break Christmas for retailers - getting it right has become all the more crucial as the second lockdown starts to bite and modes of shopping become more constrained. While shoppers are clearly feeling the Covid pinch and are scaling back festive buying, the desire to spend and celebrate has not gone away as they become more discerning on where to spend their hard-earned cash.
“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, consumers are giving retailers little room for error when it comes to fulfilment delays or long queues to maintain in-store safety. There are, however, glimmers of hope for those retailers who are experimenting with new ways to overcome the pandemic once the immediate lockdown passes, through appointment-based shopping or harnessing technology for seamless in-store experiences.”
Responding to suggestions that retailers may be overwhelmed by online shoppers this Christmas as a result of the current lockdown, ecommerce solutions provider PFS says brands must act to put the right infrastructure and technologies in place.
Joe Farrell, VP of international operations at PFS, says that brands that fail to keep up with orders risk losing customers. He says: “According to PFS’ research, 64% of customers will stop using an online retailer after just three negative experiences. By putting the appropriate infrastructure and technologies in place now, as well as navigating unprecedented challenges, brands can capitalise on the opportunities this peak season has to offer. For example, closed stores can be turned into hybrid stores that act as micro-fulfilment centres to keep up with online order demand. Pop-up distribution centres are another flexible and low-cost option that can be rapidly deployed. Getting this right now, during this pivotal moment for ecommerce, will instil customer confidence and set online retailers and brands up for long-term customer loyalty.”
UK shoppers will turn online at Peak 2020, but they will spend less than they did last year, according to eMarketer forecasts. Analysts expect that both the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit-related concerns will have an impact this year, and shoppers will spend 10.2% less than they did in 2019 as a result.
eMarketer principal analyst Bill Fisher said: “Pandemic- and Brexit-based concerns about the economy may depress holiday spend this year, but another reason for the decline is the shifting of spending to earlier in the year. Our holiday season forecast only captures spending in November and December, but because people have been concerned about potential delivery issues closer to Christmas, plus they’ve wanted to spend what money they had while had it, a lot of spending happened in October (a late Prime Day adding extra impetus). Some people even began their holiday shopping in September.
“Ecommerce became a necessity earlier in the year, when a nationwide lockdown rendered all non-essential in-store shopping off limits. Habits that were formed then have stuck for many. Added into the mix is the current lockdown, and it’s thus no surprise that holiday ecommerce spending is set for a bumper year.”
Many UK shoppers who take part in Black Friday this year will be doing so online, as a result of Covid-19 and the second English lockdown, a new study suggests. Almost half (46%) of respondents to its survey said they would be taking part in Black Friday this year – including 70% of shoppers aged between 18 and 34. That’s likely to mean virtual queues, and 24% of respondents said they would be happy to wait for more than an hour in a queue for a £200 discount, while 4% say they will happily spend six hours waiting. Some 17% expect to queue while working.
Ecommerce platform Kooomo is offering tips for smaller retailers planning their Black Friday 2020 experience.
Kooomo chief executive Ciaran Bollard says, “The uncertainty faced by retailers throughout 2020 has made for difficult trading conditions. This has been particularly felt by smaller independent and boutique retailers who may not have previously had the infrastructure in place to rapidly adapt to sudden lockdowns or restrictions. With this in mind, retailers now have the opportunity to make up for potential losses during the peak retail period in the lead up to Christmas. Most have implemented digital strategies now and Black Friday offers the perfect time to reach your target audience and increase conversions.” See Kooomo’s ultimate Black Friday 2020 playbook for more.
Koomo’s six Black Friday tips for independent retailers