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Welcome to Blackvember – IMRG forecast for Black Friday 2018

The most 'online' retail day ever?

  • £1.54bn to be spent online during Black Friday (+13.2% up on last year)
  • £8.1bn to be spent during peak activity (Black Friday week) (+12.5% up on last year)
  • ‘Black Friday’ to be referenced – sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly – throughout November

LONDON UK - 1 November, 2018: Today is 1 November and in retail that means only one thing – the Black Friday discounting event is imminent. Just exactly how imminent is a complicated question, which this article addresses and provides IMRG’s forecast for UK online retail sales over the period.

How much will be spent on Black Friday?

The actual period that the term ‘Black Friday’ can technically refer to is not fixed (see next section), but the peak period for sales activity related to the event tends to fall between the Monday (19 Nov) before Black Friday, extending over an eight-day period to the following Monday (Cyber Monday, 26 Nov), with Black Friday still expected to be by-far the busiest day during that period.

IMRG’s forecast for online retail sales during that eight-day period (19-26 Nov) is £8.1bn (+12.5% up on last year), with £1.54bn to be spent online during Black Friday itself (+13.2% up on last year).

Why Blackvember?

Sales activity continues to be at its peak for this period on the actual day itself but, over the past five years, the campaigns that retailers run have extended over a longer period to help ease the pressure on their operations (delivery, traffic to site etc).

So while, in 2014, Black Friday campaigns were typically just specific to the day, in 2015 it extended over a long weekend and in 2016 several stretched their campaigns over a whole week (starting Monday or Tuesday leading into Black Friday). This means that there is no consensus on campaign durations; ‘Black Friday’ has no real start or end and can apply to any period technically.

Over the past two years it has also became common for retailers to ‘soft-launch’ their Black Friday campaigns. This involves either promoting deals that reference the main event but do not form part of an official campaign (eg ‘the Black Friday build up’) or, more subtly, changing elements on retail site pages to become black (such as the background or buy button) to instil the idea psychologically in shoppers’ minds that the deals available are Black Friday-quality.

Black Friday website page

This is why ‘Black Friday’ has become ‘Blackvember’ – even though official campaigns might only run for a relatively short duration (a few days) in many cases, in reality the design of sites and marketing messages reference the event strongly throughout the whole month.

Are the deals better on Black Friday?

If ‘Black Friday’ actually refers to an indeterminate period of time that can extend – either through official campaigns or making subtle adjustments to the website – throughout the whole of November, how do the discounts available vary over that period?

In 2017, IMRG monitored 210 retail websites every day in November to see which had active discount campaigns running. The below graph plots the results, with the bars showing how many of those retailers had sales on and what the headline rate of discount was.

Black Friday chart

As can be seen, at the start of November there were already over 60 running discount campaigns (note: not all of these were Black Friday-specific campaigns; we included any retailer that was running a dedicated discounting campaign) and the number of participants rarely dipped below 60. Moving into Black Friday week (w/c 20 November), the number of participating retailers goes up gradually then spikes on the Friday itself.

So well in advance of Black Friday, there were several retailers offering discounts in the 20-50% range. The difference on the big day is the number that are offering them; actually the ratio of discount rate remained broadly the same.

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A challenge for retailers in 2018 is that many have been forced into running discounting campaigns well ahead of November, in part at least due to the tough year retail has been experiencing, so the number offering heavy discounts early in November may be higher this year. This in turn creates a domino effect where competitors of brands running wide-ranging discounting campaigns (‘25% off everything’) are pressured into responding by running their own flash sale.

An imbalance for online sales growth may also be a factor here – the first two quarters of the year came in at +15.3% and +17.1% respectively, but the third-quarter was far lower at +10.1%. There are a number of factors that may have influenced this drop; the question is whether the fourth-quarter will bounce back or shopper spend continues to be suppressed.

Black Friday 2018 – the most ‘online’ retail day ever?

On Black Friday 2014, stores were still very much a key element of the event. However, video footage of scuffles in a small number of stores was widely circulated and, since then, Black Friday has become characterised as a predominantly online day, with media posting images of empty shopping centres and stores on the day.

The decline in footfall on high streets has been one of the main talking points in retail throughout 2018 generally; moving toward Black Friday in 2018, there seems little evidence to suggest that the online / high street balance will be reversed, with people heading back into stores again in large numbers.

It seems quite possible that Black Friday this year could be the most ‘online’ retail day yet.

Where does Black Friday sit in the retail Christmas calendar?

Black Friday has had a very notable impact on how – and when – Christmas is marketed by retailers. The below time-chart illustrates how Christmas is ‘switched on’ by retailers in early November, then ‘switched off’ over the weeks leading into Black Friday before being reinstated the day after Cyber Monday.

Black Friday deals chart

Over the first two weeks of November in 2017, many of the largest retailers launched their adverts (retailer name and date of video upload above). These videos tend to be big-budget and clearly Christmas in tone and message; shortly after that the marketing on sites and in communications changes abruptly to reflect a more direct and austere message that tends to focus purely on the level of discount and little else.

Then on the Tuesday following Cyber Monday, the focus typically switches back to Christmas and the sites / communications reflect the seasonal design, messaging and layout.

Andy Mulcahy, Strategy and Insight Director, IMRG

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