Black Friday 2018 results; customers move online to seek the best deals but at what cost to experience and loyalty?

Steve Brockway

November 28, 2018

This year’s Black Friday did little to help already struggling shopping centres and high streets as shoppers surged online to look for bargains.

Early indicators suggest that Black Friday bought an estimated £7billion cash injection into the UK retail market, yet results show that footfall was down 5.4% and in-store spending declined by 7% year on year. It all leads us to suggest that – as predicted – many consumers headed online.

The extended Black Friday

We’ve continued to see a trend towards retailers extending Black Friday shopping events this year in a bid to manage demand and customer expectations.

Online retail trade body IMRG now refer to Black Friday as ‘Blackvember’.  Just four years ago, Black Friday discounting was specific to just the one day. Now, however, retailers are extending the period when deals and offers are available to help manage demand and avoid headline website failures witnessed in November 2014.

2017 IMRG data demonstrates the number of discounts available over the extended Black Friday period

It means that while Black Friday is still likely to remain the peak sales days, retailers are transforming the event into a week- or month-long campaign. In fact, 2018 Maru/edr results from two days before the big day itself found that over half (55%) of Black Friday shoppers had already completed a discounted purchase, the majority online.

Online shoppers are on ‘a mission’

The number one driver of online shopping is convenience. Shoppers take advantage of the ease and speed of online to find the best products rather than having to brave the crowds in-store.

Maru/edr track customer experience feedback over a number of leading retail websites. Of the 3,000 responses collected over the Black Friday weekend, just under three-quarters of online shoppers said their main reason for visiting was because they knew it was Black Friday. In fact, we observed a 30% rise in shoppers describing themselves as on a ‘purchase mission’ and who clearly had intentions to buy on-the-day.

This mission mindset led to a huge 80% of those who purchased over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend stating at least one item purchased was part of a Black Friday deal or discount.

Verbatim analysis demonstrates the number of Black Friday purchases driven by discounts and deals

The impact on customer experience

Year-on-year, brand advocacy across retail websites is down.

Our experience across the digital retail sector tells us that site speed, product information and product availability are key drivers of a great online customer experience.

Stock availability is a clear worry for Black Friday

Yet this Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend saw key performance indicators in these areas drop significantly, despite retailer’s efforts to spread demand over days rather than hours. In fact, out-of-stock items was one of the biggest drivers intended purchasers (1 in 5) didn’t buy on-the-day.

Retailers must be aware that discount events will impact the overall site experience and they must balance the need to please mission shoppers looking for a one-off bargain and regular loyal customers.

Giving shoppers the confidence to buy

While stock issues was one of the biggest drivers of non-purchases over the Black Friday weekend, a number of shoppers also cited product information as a key reason not to buy. In fact, Maru/edr results highlighted a clear decline in the satisfaction of product information over the extended sales event.

Detailed product pages is a core area for online conversion – well-structured product information gives consumers the confidence to buy. Our long-standing experience of the digital retail customer experience tells us that optimum product pages must include:

  • Clear pricing and availability
  • Sizing and dimensions
  • Photography that includes 360-degree view
  • Product descriptions, including materials
  • Ratings and reviews
  • Fulfilment options, costs and lead times
  • Returns policy reassurance – especially for both personal purchases and gifts

Given the majority of site visitors were on a purchase mission over the Black Friday weekend, it appears that the information and details available on-the-day failed to drive conversion. With our suite of digital feedback solutions, we can help identify barriers to conversion and prioritise action areas for improvement.

A gift that keeps on giving?

For those consumers on a purchase mission, just over a third stated they were purchasing discounted items as Christmas gifts.

It suggests that while Black Friday events are now a staple – and increasingly important – part of the Christmas retailing season, it does not appear to be impacting on ‘gifting’ sales. The majority of Black Friday purchases are for personal or household use.

Retailers therefore must have campaigns in place post-Black Friday to capture key gifting purchases – especially as 30% those who purchased less than anticipated over the weekend are waiting for payday to start their gift shopping in earnest.

Black Friday does little for future loyalty

Analysis tells us that consumers were using the convenience and ease of online to compare prices and hunt out the best deal – on Black Friday, price is much more important to shoppers than brand loyalty.

Customer experience remains key – while results suggest that there is very little opportunity to turn bargain hunters into returning customers, there is a very real risk that participation in Black Friday will risk disappointing your most loyal customer base.

Getting the balance between deals and discounts and the on-the-day customer experience has never been so important – while many will want to gain a share of the £7billion cash injection, they must not do so at the expense of long-term loyalty from existing customers.

Key learnings from Black Friday 2018

If Black Friday trends continue the way they have, Black Friday is going to become an even bigger online retailing event next year.

It is therefore vital that brands have the right strategy and plans in place to cope with such a demand and manage the expectations of both loyal customers and mission shoppers. Retailers wanting to participate in the event need to understand that Black Friday will attract a spike in visitors who are less loyal to a brand – there is therefore limited opportunity to drive return visits and a greater risk of disappointing your most loyal customers.

  1. Don’t forget about your most loyal customers

    While selling out of a seasonal line is often a positive in retail, what’s the hidden expense if the majority of items have been purchased by bargain hunters who have no interest in any future loyalty to your brand? Instead, consider targeting your most loyal, high-value customers with exclusive previews and early invites to offers

  2. Continue to manage event timings;

    Black Friday is no longer just a one-day event putting retailers back in control. Make the timing of discount work for you and your customers so demand is managed adequately. And don’t forget about the rest of the Christmas trading period – only one-third of purchases were for gifting so continue to plan strategies and campaigns for peak gifting periods throughout December

  3. Consider the customer experience;

    Understand the biggest barriers to purchase by listening to and acting upon customer feedback. Measuring the digital experience will ensure you understand who your site visitors are, their missions and what is important to them to support the optimisation and improvement of touchpoints for future events

  4. Make the big bigger

Don’t try and resist the tide towards Black Friday becoming an online event, rather embrace it. Multichannel brands that have a bricks and mortar proposition can gain synergies through collecting online orders from their store network. Argos saw this opportunity by opening another 100 extra collection points in Sainsbury’s stores during November in preparation for Black Friday. We know from our own Click and Collect customer experience research that just under 70% of customers purchase additional items whilst collecting from the store, which directly benefits the store footfall and sales.

Maru/edr have a range of digital customer experience solutions covering both desktop and mobile that provide instant customer feedback for action. Coupled with our insight expertise and sector analysts, we’ll make sure your Black Friday strategy delivers the best return for your brand.