What did Black Friday look like in 2021?

12 June 2023

Against the challenging backdrop of supply chain issues, staff shortages & rising consumer prices, Black Friday 2021 was set to be a tricky time for many online UK retailers.

Unlike 2020, which saw online sales soar, 2021 online Black Friday sales struggled to match last years’ ‘lockdown high’, with online retail sales down 14% YoY according to the latest figures from IMRG retail index.

Despite this, e-commerce remained almost 20% up on pre-pandemic levels, showing that UK consumers still love to snap up a Black Friday deal, and that it will remain a key event for online retailers and shoppers alike.

However, now the big day has come and gone, clearly some challenges such as stock shortages and shipping delays may continue to have an impact as the key Christmas shopping period continues.

Key Insights for Black Friday and Peak 2021

We’ve taken a look back over the past couple of weeks, and pulled together some key insights and learnings for the paid search landscape, all of which we’ve outlined below.

Supply Chain Issues 

A key issue facing retailers and shoppers this year were supply chain disruptions. This saw many retailers having to deal with empty shelves both in-store and online during the run-up to Black Friday, and the start of the Christmas shopping period.

These product availability concerns have been a hot topic throughout the news and media outlets over the past couple of months, which saw many big retailers urging consumers to ‘shop early’ or potentially miss out on much-wanted products this Christmas.

This looks to have had a major effect on online consumer behaviour this Black Friday, with one in four shoppers stating that they were anxious about the availability of products on their Black Friday wishlist. Further to that, Adobe’s latest Digital Economy Index research found that:

32% of shoppers say they will shop in person rather than online this year to avoid any issues around shipping delays.

44% said they were set to start their Christmas shopping earlier this year to avoid issues around deliveries, with more than half saying they wanted to secure items before they went out of stock (54%)

Earlier Search Interest

It should come as no surprise that this product-shortage and associated shipping delay worries translated into much earlier online search demand across the UK. Taking a look at Google Trends data, we can see that searches around ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Christmas’ started gaining significantly higher traction much earlier throughout October and early November than they had at any point in the past 5 years.

Adding to this, data from Adobe also shows that UK shoppers spent £10.4 billion online in October – an increase of 5% on last year, and is a strong indication that many consumers started their Christmas shopping earlier than ever this year, rather than waiting until Black Friday like usual. This figure is the highest ever online spend in October and 58% higher than in 2019.

Rising Consumer Costs

On top of these supply chain issues and product shortages, we’ve seen UK household finances be squeezed by inflation, including higher fuel and energy prices.

By carrying out festive shopping earlier than usual, this looks to have been a key approach for many consumers to help spread the cost of Christmas, whilst also ensuring that they are able to get the product that they want ahead of any potential shortages.

What Paid Search learnings can we take into 2022?

So, what learnings can we take from Black Friday 2021, into the rest of Peak and onwards into 2022? We’ve identified six key takeaways for the paid search landscape.

Ensure ‘Deals’ & Promo Messaging Is Clear

We know that search demand around ‘deals’ typically soars around Black Friday and key seasonal dates. Now with shoppers searching even earlier this year to help spread the cost of Christmas, ensuring that you are prepared with up-to-date copy & ad extensions which focus around your deals messaging will be key to capturing the consumer’s eye over a competitor.

For example, price and promotion extensions are a great feature which allow you to show off key products and any special price deals, discounts or offers. These are a fantastic way to help your products and promotions stand out against competitors at a time when many consumers are looking for the best value possible.

On top of this, 2021 also saw Google add a new ‘deals’ section to the search results when people look for deals in particular.

Searches with words like “deals” and “Black Friday” will trigger a dedicated feed of discounted products in Google Shopping.

So, making sure you have promotion extensions will be vital in ensuring your ads surface competitively and attract consumers who are looking for cost-savings deals.

Make Use of Countdown Timers in Ads

Secondly, given we know that shoppers are anxious about securing the product that they want due to shortages, and also ensuring they get the best value possible, making use of ‘countdown’ timers in your ads can be a valuable tool. These can help to inject urgency in your ads, and potentially drive CTR.

For example, rather than having ad copy that states ‘Black Friday Sale Ends Soon’, utilise dynamic countdown timers in your ads, which could be along the lines of ‘Hurry, 40% Off Ends In 2 hours.’

Prepare Copy & Creatives as Early as Possible

A key focus for 2022 planning should be to get your messaging and product out earlier where possible, making sure your product and services have high exposure as soon as any demand starts to filter through.

This will ensure you remain competitive, and in prime position for any potential early spikes in demand amid consumer worries.

A key focus here would be ensuring any potential seasonal PPC campaigns, keywords, ad copy and ad extensions are prepped and uploaded into accounts, ready to switch on as and when needed.

Earlier preparation of any ads and extensions in advance also provides the added benefit of ensuring you’re not waiting for Google’s approval process, which can typically take much longer over key seasonal weeks.

Utilise Smart Bidding Where Appropriate

Smart Bidding is a form of automation that can handle frequent or sudden changes in search demand and requirements, especially during key seasonal periods which has become a lot more volatile due to product shortages and Covid-19 uncertainties.

Switching towards smart bidding is vital to remain as competitive as possible during any unusual fluctuations in demand, which manual human optimisation can’t compete with.

Not only does it provide the added benefit of auction time bidding, it’s also a major time saver, something which is sparse over a busy seasonal period.

Regularly Review Campaign Budgets & KPIs

Going into any key seasonal period, you should make sure that you have enough room in your campaign budgets to account for any sudden extra demand over high traffic hours.

On top of this, you should also ensure that any of your smart bidding targets account for increases in conversion rate over key peak dates. For example, if you want to be more competitive in auctions, you can lower ROAS targets to account for the natural increase in traffic and conversion rate.

Similar to this, Google also have a great feature called Seasonal Bid Adjustments, which is an additional layer you can use to provide maximum ROI should you anticipate a temporary surge in conversion rate over a certain number of days.

Regular Shopping Feed Updates

Lastly, inventory and prices can change very quickly around key seasonal dates, so ensuring that you have regular feed pulls and updates for your shopping ads is key. As product uncertainties remain high, ensuring your shopping is feed correct is vital in ensuring a good user experience at a highly competitive time.

Another way to ensure your feed is as up to date as possible is by turning on ‘automatic item updates’ within GMC, this will provide a back-up and ensure you’re showing the correct price in your Shopping ads and are not promoting out-of-stock items.

Overall, despite the drop in online sales from 2020, this Black Friday period saw that online demand still remains high, with shoppers looking to secure their most wanted items even earlier, and at the best value possible.

However, the global supply chain disruption, combined with an unfortunate mix of staff shortages, shipping delays and rising consumer prices, has revealed some key take-aways and learnings which we should consider and account for when developing our paid search strategies as we move into 2022.

If you would like support with your paid search strategy in 2022, get in touch with one of our experts today at

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