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Is Black Friday over by lunchtime?

By Will Gillingham

In 2017, IMRG registered for and tracked the Black Friday marketing emails of more than 200 retailers throughout November. An influx of promotional messaging landed in our inboxes across the breadth of November, with the vast majority arriving between 8am and 2pm. But Black Friday itself told a different story.

On the day itself, a significant number of emails arrived at midnight, supposedly anticipating eager customers who battled sleep into the early hours in order to clutch early deals. There was then a gap in correspondence through the witching hour, before a strong resurgence: the vast majority of Black Friday emails were delivered between 6am and 8am (to catch the morning commute), and by 1pm, the tsunami of money-off messaging died down notably.

And so, the question arises: is Black Friday (as in the day, not the indeterminate period that may extend across all of ‘Blackvember’) not a day at all, but rather half a day? Have customers completed their purchasing by lunchtime, or is the entire day lucrative, no matter the drop-off in promotional emails? We approached our community of solution providers for their expert take on the matter.

Black Friday is a tangled thicket, and no clear path through has yet presented itself. Black Friday campaigns are entirely variable and subjective depending on sector, and no frontrunning marketing method has yet risen as the archetypal template to ensure success.

That said, there is a certain notion which appears to be ubiquitous within the retail community, and that is that leaving it until the day itself to start marketing is not a terribly good approach.

The Problem with Marketing on the Day

Retailers shouldn’t be reliant on on-the-day marketing at all. In fact, it’s the last point in what should be a comprehensive, protracted campaign. As Chris Haines, Director of Consulting at Amplience explains: ‘Sending customers promotional emails on the day represents one of the last chances to promote your offerings. However, for these promotions to be effective, it’s important to engage customers much earlier in the game.

Christie Yaggy, Vice President of Analytics, Europe, at Conversant, further explains the negligibility of marketing on the day: ‘The issue with on-the-day marketing activity is that you will be competing with a huge number of other retailers, all vying to get their message seen by consumers. Any on-the-day messaging is hugely dependent on the strategy leading up to it.

It’s perhaps a no-brainer: customers like to prepare themselves for deals, wading through the mass of promotions days or weeks in advance and selecting those to take advantage of. Owing to this, marketing on the day without any prior warning is a bit wasteful: those customers getting involved with Black Friday will likely already have handpicked the retailers they’re approaching long before the day itself; though shoppers are also far more inclined to visit a higher proportion of retail sites on that day than they perhaps usually would.

Louise Robertson, Marketing Director at Localz, lays it out in as straightforward a fashion as possible: ‘Blanket emails are dead. People can spot a bulk email a mile off now. Unless it's a retailer the consumer cares about, the emails are deleted straight away.

Yaggy reaffirms the notion: ‘Of course, messaging cold just doesn’t cut it at any time of the year – each and every communication you send consumers needs to be part of a wider strategy to get the best return possible.

Retail sale

And therein lies the crux: on-the-day marketing isn’t futile, as long as the emails are targeted to individuals.

Robertson continues: ‘[It’s] better to trigger an individual email based on a specific event and use that event to gain traction.’ In this case, a headline deal.

This idea perhaps corresponds with the surge in emails going out at midnight: no window-shopper is going to be waiting until the dead of night for random deals to go live. These late-night emails are reserved for the dedicated customer base of specific brands and those new customers who have signed up for a particular deal.

In fact, you could go so far as to say that even those emails sent out to target commuters in the morning are only going to be read by those who are prepared for particular deals from specific brands. And this, as previously stated, relies on a dedicated, thoroughly prepared campaign.

The Ideal Campaign Time Frame

Research from Conversant shows why getting focussed campaigns running early can be beneficial, as explained by Yaggy: ‘In 2017, our clients who began delivering personalised ad campaigns in September witnessed an average of three times more sales from the consumers they targeted during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For fashion brands in particular, the likelihood of a sale was multiplied by six as a direct result of starting brand-led marketing earlier in the year.

Many of our respondents expressed this idea in various guises:

Tim Avery, Director of Professional Services at Attraqt: ‘Brands should think strategically about promoting the right products and messages across the full spectrum of their digital channels over several days in order to differentiate their offerings from competitors, and not just over one email campaign, if they want to keep consumers engaged with the Black Friday hype.

Haines: ‘In a season filled with mega-sales, customers have a great degree of choice and lose interest quickly. Therefore, its’s important to engage them early – after all, many of us start planning our needs and wants for the day a few weeks in advance.

And Matthew Foo, Assistant Marketing Manager, AsiaPay: ‘The promotions need to be planned ahead. Communication emails need to be sent out at least 2 weeks before the actual day.

And so, back to the original question: is Black Friday over by lunchtime on the day itself?

Hourglass

The Answer

No. Of course not. In fact, in complete contrast to the morning of vibrant marketing activity, research from Criteo has shown that the Black Friday surge extends across a number of days. Florent Maillard, Senior Manager of Insights & Logistics, Criteo: ‘As data from 318 retailers showed in the UK in 2017, on one hand Black Friday generated +382% sales compared to October’s average, but the 7 days following Black Friday also created +114% sales growth. This proves that Black Friday does not last a matter of hours but a matter of days. The same applies in all Western countries.’

There are various reasons why sales maintain their spike across the day, and various methods to keep purchaser activity high which retailers may consider utilising.

How to Keep Customers Coming Back

One of the best practices is to continually update the deals throughout the day. James Messer, ShipStation: ‘One way to keep customers engaged throughout Black Friday is to offer hourly deals throughout the day. List product sales and when these deeper discounts will be available.Messer mentions the subject of the mystery item as an alternative: ‘Keep this information a mystery to keep customers checking back.’ However, even with the enticement of mystery, Messer concedes the lack of clarity could be an issue: ‘The problem with this is that it could cause customers to lose interest and buy elsewhere.

Gavin Masters, Industry Principal eCommerce at Maginus, supports the concept of needing clarity to be front and centre of the Black Friday campaign: ‘The key to a successful Black Friday (and beyond) festive trading period is clear communication and careful planning. By being very clear up front which items are going to be on offer, the risk to the consumer of buying something which is subsequently reduced in a later sale that day (or week) is minimised, increasing confidence and the likelihood they will complete the purchase.

Masters references the Amazon model as a good example of encouraging a steady flow of business: ‘Amazon do a very good job on Black Friday (and during Prime Day) of not only showing what is currently on sale, but teasing many of the upcoming deals throughout the day, building demand and controlling the flow of orders and visitors onto the site. This makes managing customer expectation easier and also gives great opportunity to re-engage with the customer multiple times throughout the day.

And there is also a way to optimise these hourly deals, as identified by Avery: don’t just focus on your own site – keep an eye on what your competitors are doing as well. ‘It’s also a smart idea to keep a close eye on competitor and social activity throughout the day though, by making regular checks on what’s trending to see which brands and products are gaining traction with consumers. This way, you can flexibly tailor and adapt the on-site shopping experience to make it relevant to up-to-the-minute Black Friday demands as they emerge.

Haines is in agreement, citing the need for flexibility: ‘Retailers need to be agile enough to respond to sudden unexpected trends on the day. To bridge the gap between warehouse stock and the latest trend, retailers require a high volume of quality content, to shape the customer journey.

With Black Friday being an established practice now in the UK, it’s little surprise that the best campaigns and deals have been identified and optimised for sales volume on the day. However, Mention Me and Maginus argue the goal of Black Friday needs to evolve beyond sales in the peak period, and become one of customer retention.

Customers with shopping

The Evolving Black Friday

Andy Cockburn, CEO, Mention Me: ‘Give your customer a reason to revisit, purchase and recommend you to a friend. Smart retailers approach Black Friday as part of their wider strategy and look at their customer lifetime value (LTV). Does this annual event attract long term customers to your brand, and if not, how can you turn these seasonal shoppers into brand advocates?

Padraig Slattery, Vice President of Retail at SafeCharge agrees, and puts a particular emphasis on engaging the new generation of purchasers: ‘Merchants must provide a frictionless experience that retains current customers and attracts new ones. Furthermore, with an increasing amount of young professionals shopping from smart phones, a smooth check-out process is paramount to keeping them interested all day. Ensuring uptime throughout the day (and weeks to follow) will be the silver bullet to success for retailers wanting to gain the most from the day.

In recognition of the potential to evolve Black Friday into a longer-term investment than the day itself, Devashish Satarkar, Campaign Operations Manager at eClerx Digital, notes the three types of customer, and the ways to engage them:

  • Those eagerly awaiting and scouring for Black Friday deals

Typical Black Friday emails suffice to target these leads

  • Those who will consider shopping if the right deal comes by

These are the leads that need to be targeted specifically with content that showcases relevant offers to entice them to join the bandwagon.

  • Those who consider Black Friday to be the bane of consumerism

While these leads are not typically expected to make a purchase, if you are a brand that does not benefit from the Black Friday sale you can jump into the frenzy with completely different offerings than what Black Friday stands for.

Evolution of man

Another Perspective

Even with its monolithic presence in the realm of retail, Black Friday still isn’t the be-all and end-all, as evidenced by SVS and KEGA.

SVS, who deal in gift cards, show that this is one area which has been untouched by Black Friday. Malcolm Berg, UK Sales Director, SVS: ‘Following the Black Friday kick-off date, gift card sales actually begin to grow fairly consistently right up to and including (online), Christmas Day. Gift card sales then tail off pretty rapidly before getting back to normal in January. Given the significant peak just before Christmas Day, the data appears to indicate that gift cards are chosen as a last-minute present. They may be popular with procrastinators, as well as with people who would like their recipient to enjoy choice.

And Black Friday has also not swept into Europe as it did into the UK back in 2014. KEGA, a Netherlands-based company, note that one of the busiest days in Dutch retail is shortly after Black Friday on 5th December: St Nicholas Eve. So, while Black Friday does exist as a significant sales day, there isn’t the frantic hive of activity that we see in the UK.

Stefan de Jong, Retail Strategist, KEGA: ‘Over the past few years we have seen that the busiest shopping hours are in the evening between 8pm and 11pm. One of the reasons for this consumer behaviour might be that most Dutch retailers opt for simple percentage discounts instead of heavy discounts on specific items which have limited availability.

So while Black Friday is not over by lunchtime by any means, in some cases it’s barely begun at all: a refreshing look at the bigger picture as the 23rd looms ever closer in the calendar.

Telescope and city

In Summary

Emails on the day are a last effort for retailers whose campaigns should have been in full swing for several weeks, and as such cannot be expected to have a huge impact on purchases: customers will already be well aware of which products they’re targeting, from who, and when.

A better way to increase customer retention throughout the day may be related to communication: being exceptionally clear about which products will be on sale throughout the day. In this way, customers who have visited your site to scout out deals have every chance of returning.

The biggest challenge on this Black Friday and those going forwards is to capture customers for longer than the November period. Now is the time for retention strategies to be refined in an effort to generate a loyal, year-long customer base, in a time where Black Friday is already firmly present in the minds of the general public.

Will Gillingham, Content Executive, IMRG

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