This post was written by guest contributor Alan Watson, Managing Director of Barron McCann.
The Christmas shopping period has always been the most important interval on most retailers’ calendars, but recently the importance of the end of the year has become elevated to the point that some analysts are questioning whether many retailers even need January sales. According to econsultancy.com, spending in 2013 jumped 44% from Thursday to Black Friday. In 2014, it jumped 144%.
Black Friday is decidedly not an easy way for retailers to make big additional profits toward the end of the year. Last year the event was characterised by general disorder and almost universal failure to properly meet consumer demands. It would’ve been disconcerting if the first nationwide Black Friday UK had not presented substantial challenges to retailers, but now that the paradigm has been established, it is absolutely critical retailers take comprehensive steps to prepare themselves for this year’s Christmas retail period. Following difficulties last year, Asda have actually announced their withdrawal from Black Friday 2015, joining other retailers (e.g. Oasis, Mothercare, Argos) who will be limiting or avoiding participation.
While the event as a whole is far more complicated, there are two basic elements to the Black Friday problem presenting strategic challenges for retailers – volume and exhaustion. Volume refers to the greatly increased levels of footfall, web traffic and demand for delivery, which are definitive of the event itself. For example, retailers like Marks & Spencer struggled with delivery demands to the extent that some orders were delayed by up to two weeks. Exhaustion refers to the new significance of Black Friday in the British retail calendar, and the impact it has on the months leading up to and especially following the event.
I advise retailers to plan promotions carefully, evaluating the best way to achieve a balance between volume and margin. Weigh the quick profits available over the Black Friday period against the potential of the December/January sales period. Consider discounting a smaller selection of targeted items instead of applying large discounts across a broad range of stock.
Volume, however, is the pressing challenge of Black Friday itself. We saw scraps over TVs in-store on the news, and websites for high-profile retailers crashed and remained offline for extensive periods, in effect being inadvertently DDoS’d by legitimate customers. Certainly preparing physical locations for very high levels of demand will be critical. I recommend retailers, especially in busy locations, consider enhanced training courses for their staff in order to equip everyone with the skills they will need to ensure the promotions run smoothly, as many of these skills are not necessarily required throughout the remainder of the year. Not sure about this? Most retailers do have very busy periods, however you could add seasonal staff not necessarily be equipped to deal with this madness!
I also strongly suggest that all retailers commit to an overall evaluation of their IT provisions in advance of the Black Friday period. It is technology that allows retailers to process and record the volume of sales they make day-to-day across their locations ensuring that all EPOS devices are not only fully functional but also up-to-date and protected against protracted periods of downtime by a reliable IT support and maintenance provider.
I also recommend that retailers – if they feel it could improve their ability to deal with this highly acute sales period – question the principle of Black Friday and investigate the possibility of spreading their promotions out over the entire week bookended by Cyber Monday and Black Friday so as to reduce the concentration of demand. There is nothing special about the event’s placement in our calendar and like most American imports Black Friday will likely be substantially modified for the British market. Whatever your provisions, whatever your ultimate approach, plan ahead and plan carefully: consult third parties wherever necessary, overhaul any suspect technology, equip staff with the necessary expertise and be ready to meet the Black Friday challenge head on and reap the financial rewards.
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