It's hard to deny the rise of Black Friday in the UK. The quintessentially American shopping event came to our shores for the first time in 2003 and has grown ever since, with a number of high profile brands now joining in both online and in physical stores. Experian estimate that 2015 will be the first ever time that online sales in the UK surpass £1 billion, an impressive 23% increase on last year. Of course everybody wants a slice of that pie and, although the majority of media attention around the day centres around supermarkets and big brand names, there's no reason why small/medium sized businesses can't get involved, as long as the right amount of planning is put in to it. Although we can say there's huge potential with Black Friday it's unfortunately not a magical switch that we can turn on and watch the sales flood in!
Learn from previous years
The best thing to do if you're looking to run some kind of promotion this year is learn from data and reports from previous years, which are widely available thanks to plentiful media coverage. One prominent complaint from Black Friday shoppers in previous years is that websites were crashing or performing slowly, damaging their shopping experience. To combat this some retailers such as Currys implemented an online queuing system, funnelling visitors on to their website as and when “room” was available in their online store. If you're a small business it's unlikely that you're going to get an enormous number of people heading to your site on Black Friday, at least not close to the numbers the bigger stores have to worry about. On a similar note, your technical infrastructure probably isn't as robust as theirs, unless you've significantly invested in a great hosting solution. If you're hosted by a smaller company and you're expecting an increase in site visitors then it's best to inform your hosting company, just in case. Unless you have founded concerns about your website stability I wouldn't worry too much about this, although it is such an important component. Imagine running a well executed marketing campaign,attracting asignificant number of users and then your website goes down on the Friday evening! Not ideal...
Don't rely on one day
One tactic some retailers are rumoured to be using this year, partly to combat the issues caused by traffic spikes, is spreading out their online deals over several weeks. Although it's generally believed that the most impressive deals will rear their heads on November 27th, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some discounts start filtering through from some retailers in the next couple of weeks. This could prove to be a great method for smaller businesses too as not only does it partly safeguard against the traffic issues, it also gives you a chance to test out some deals in a slightly safer environment. At the most basic level you could advertise a different deal on your homepage each week leading up to Black Friday. Looking at the sales performance you'll then be able to get an idea of which products, discount levels and messaging might be working best and you can then utilise these for your Black Friday offerings. Of course, there are more sophisticated testing platforms out there that allow you to separate out those elements so you can get a comprehensive idea of what's working well for you, but for many businesses the costs associated with these tools are unreasonable.
Give your customers something to talk about
As I mentioned earlier some retailers think Black Friday is a magical day where you provide a discount and sales just happen. Unfortunately in most industries simply knocking 5% off an overstocked item isn't going to rake in the pounds. Create some “headline” offers which either offer high % discounts or reasonable discounts on some well-known branded items. Remember, there will be a lot of shoppers browsing for deals on Black Friday and they're all willing to buy there and then. Ensuring offers are of good quality will really help to up your conversion rate, making the most of the hopefully increased traffic.
Make some noise
Talking of increased traffic, even if you have the best deals in the world on your website, you're not going to sell anything if nobody sees them! Marketing your deals well, both on and off-site is vital to making Black Friday work for you. Look at how your current marketing efforts perform and how you can either utilise or improve on your current strategy. Have a great mailing list? Send a preview email out to your subscribers a day before your deals go live. Is social media more your thing? Make sure your deals are well shared across all of your social platforms. I believe social media to be particularly important here too, as paid ad campaigns can prove to be extremely effective when targeted well, hopefully bringing you new customers.
So, what are the key points to take away from this? If you're considering making some noise around Black Friday then that's probably not a bad idea, regardless of the size of your business. The key thing here is that it doesn't look like this date is being removed from the Christmas shopping calendar any time soon. Although alternatives such as Cyber Monday are being pushed by large retailers, it seems that UK shoppers are close to making a tradition of Black Friday deal hunting.