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EDITORIAL Black Friday now an online and mobile festival?

By Paul Skeldon November 25, 2018 - 10:22 am

Much of the news over the past two weeks has focussed on what is likely to happen over the Black Friday period – and now, here we are, right in the middle of Cyber Monday and the Christmas peak has well and truly kicked off.

But what did Black Friday deliver this year: were predictions of it being either a rampant success or a bit of a damp squib true? Did mobile come to dominate? Are retailers still in the mire despite this massive sales spike?

Early results suggest that it was in fact a bumper Black Friday for many retailers, but as ever the real winner was online.

Figures from ecommerce website hosting company UKFast indicate that there was 30% more traffic to its ecommerce sites than last Black Friday, with it suggesting that this is driven by shoppers stepping away from the mayhem of the high street and going for online bargains instead – with many opting to use their mobile to get those early bargains.

This is backed up by figures from Salmon, a Wunderman Company, which suggests that 85% of traffic between midnight and 9am was from mobile devices, with 15% from desktop devices. More than three quarters (76%) of transactions were made via mobile and 24% from desktop.

Salmon’s research hub also went on to find that between midnight and midday on Black Friday itself saw 77% of traffic and 64% of transactions from mobile, with the balance from desktop.

The highest levels of traffic were between 9am and 12 noon and was largely made up  of shoppers aged between 25 and 34, with women making up 68% of the total.

Social media also made a marked impact on Black Friday this year too. Figures again from Salmon point to some 13% more sales being driven from social sites than on Black Friday last year, peaking at a whopping 39% between 12 and 3pm.

Rise of the ghosts

Online’s war of attrition against the high street also played out in more subtle ways, with many younger shoppers heading to stores and checking out bargains – then buying them online elsewhere.

This is known as ‘ghost shopping’ and an online YouGov research on shopping habits around Black Friday and Cyber Monday by Webhelp finds that 18% of 18 to 24 year olds will find a product in store and buy it online while still in the store. Overall, 1 in 10 across all age ranges surveyed admitted they had ghost shopped while visiting high street stores.

The research also found that on-line shopping was now actually more popular with older customers with more 55 and overs admitting they will shop online during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales than those aged between 18 and 24.

Surprisingly more 55 and overs say they will shop online – 86% – versus 81% of 18-24s.  Meanwhile 27% of 18 -24s said they would go into a store and shop, versus 25% of the over 55s.

When Black Friday and Cyber Monday customers need help from retailers, social media is popular among 18-24-year-olds, with 35% using it as a research tool compared to only 12% of the 55 and overs. 28% of 18-24-year-olds also used it to contact retailers when product issues arise, with 47% of 35-44-year-olds using webchat. A third of UK Black Friday and Cyber Monday consumers still phone a contact centre, proving it’s still good to talk.

That said, customer engagement company Freshworks pulled some anonymised data from its retailer clients in the UK and found that customers are seen adopting the chat/messaging channel more during these periods as well. There is an overall spike in contacts through chat by 86%. This is constantly increasing as brands and users adopt conversational messaging platforms

Conclusion?

So far it has been a successful Black Friday for retailers with sales up and consumer interest certainly there. It hopefully has also kicked off a successful peak selling season with shoppers now engaged in ‘operation get gifts’ now that they have got some of the bargains out the way.

However, this Black Friday has proven to be an online and mobile one, driven more by these channels – and social on these channels – than ever before. With shoppers still opting to use the internet to buy rather than head to stores – or head to stores but still buy using mobile often from someone else – the prospect for the High Street still looks bleak.

Increasing numbers of young people shopping in this way only hammers that home.

It is likely that online will again dominate this Christmas, driven by mobile, but the real problem for retailers isn’t necessarily the channel, but the discounting. Black Friday comes after several months of discounting cycles by many retailers who have struggled to sell since the summer. Brexit uncertainly, hot and cold weather and general shopping fatigue seem to be holding shoppers back.

Discounts have helped sales along, but takings are down and this bumper Black Friday, while encouraging on one level by its popularity, is just another white flag in the surrender of retail.

  • In the UK, comparing Black Friday performances of online versus physical stores is by definition a flawed exercise. Black Friday in the US is a public holiday, giving shoppers the opportunity to visit a physical store if they want. But here in the UK, anyone who wants to take advantage of a genuine bargain is forced to do it online (unless they take a day’s holiday).

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