Posted: Tuesday 13th October 2020 in Retail Strategy.

When COVID-19 first appeared, we had no idea of the impact it would have on almost all aspects of life as we knew it. In March, we were saying, “surely it will be over by Christmas”, but here we are discussing how different peak will be because of the pandemic.

When thinking about the way you shop during the peak period, do you think your habits will change from last year? For me, yes. Last year I was working in the office – right in the middle of Soho next to Carnaby Street. Even though I much prefer online shopping in general, I found myself going in-store quite a lot as it was convenient for me working in the city. I enjoyed popping for a browse in Liberty, checking out the Black Friday sales and using click and collect at the stores down Oxford Street. But this year, I will not be shopping in-store during peak at all.

COVID-19 has massively changed the way that people shop and the way that retailers are providing goods and services for their consumers. But will there be any changes in shopping behaviour during Black Friday, essentially the start of the peak period? And what will it mean for retailers?

General e-commerce acceleration could mean a bigger online Black Friday presence

During a webinar held by Shopify aptly named ‘Is Black Friday dead?’ (spoiler alert: it’s still very much alive), Google’s global head of ads research and insights, Justin De Graaf, reiterated the fact that there has been a huge online growth across all different types of industries. Many companies have been forced into a digital transformation, and if they were already somewhat digitally prepared, they have likely seen a shift in performance or user behaviour of some sort due to the pandemic.

De Graaf continued to say that he expects to see this online acceleration throughout the rest of the year, including during Black Friday and Christmas. His research shows that “holiday shoppers are already anticipating a further reliance on digital shopping.”

In research conducted by Google, they discovered that this year 73% of shoppers in the United States plan to do more shopping online than they did in previous years, with 77% saying that they will even browse and research online rather than going into stores. I’m not shocked at these statistics, and we can assume that people in the U.K who enjoyed doing lots of browsing in-store and going for days out to do their Christmas shopping, will likely either not be able to because of lockdown restrictions or don’t feel comfortable because of the pandemic.

Even though there is a larger online presence this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean people still have the same amount of money to spend. As we know, many have lost jobs and not received financial support due to the pandemic. However, according to research carried out by Rakuten, 57% of global shoppers are still expecting to make purchases on days like Black Friday. Almost three quarters of shoppers in the U.K say they plan to shop online during the peak period, coinciding with our general feeling that online will be the place to be for Black Friday deals this year.

The trend of boycotting Black Friday

While we can assume that Black Friday will be bigger than ever online this year, we can’t forget to mention the new trend of boycotting Black Friday that became increasingly popular over the last couple of years.  According to Drapers, there were many brands last year that took a stand against the sales weekend with some making a call-out to more “conscious consumerism”. This, as said by Scott Robertson, founder of Sqwyz, in a Black Friday Battle webinar, will likely still be around this year despite the online buzz. There could be a bigger differentiation than ever between the brands who are participating in Black Friday, with sales and promotions that are bigger than ever, compared to those that take on radio silence.

But there aren’t just cases of boycotting Black Friday altogether – there are also instances of taking a new and unique stance to the holiday. For example, Canadian brand Kotn use Black Friday to donate profits to school-building projects in Egypt instead of promoting their own products for sale. As quoted in the previously mentioned Shopify webinar, co-founder Mackenzie Yeates says Black Friday and the run up to Christmas is still her busiest time of year despite not having any promotions. That’s why knowing your consumers is more important than ever when it comes to Black Friday and peak in general. Does your target audience share your values as a brand? Will they support a huge Black Friday sale, or could they be interested in something a little bit different that will help your brand cut through the Black Friday noise?

So, what should retailers expect on Black Friday this year?

The reality is that we just don’t know. In our lifetime we have never experienced a pandemic that has had such huge effects on digital transformation and online consumer needs.

Online Black Friday sales could likely be more popular than the in-store sales

Head of Digital at PrettyLittleThing, Matt Holmes, predicted it’s going to be a very “crowded market” online during Black Friday this year. He stated, in a webinar by Peak AI, that there will be nothing this year that’s as close to previous years for bricks and mortar stores. As we have already mentioned, there are local lockdowns, new measures in place for retail stores and a general consensus that being in a crowded space is not the safest place to be right now. It’s likely that most, if not all, retailers will have a stronger online Black Friday than offline.

The need to be more flexible with policies

Policies tend to get a little stricter during sales and promotions, but this year may require more leniency when it comes to returns during the pandemic. Quita Coleman, fashion director at American accessories brand Sassy Jones, confirmed that adapting to your customers’ needs, such as adjusting returns policies, is crucial during this time. Having more flexible returns or exchanges can make those who are new to shopping online this Black Friday feel more comfortable with their purchase, but also increase the trust for avid online shoppers too.

Use data to understand your consumers’ shopping behaviour

In line with research conducted by Econsultancy, 56% of directors at enterprise businesses stated that the lockdown period has been their most innovative time at the company. Whether this innovation is tech-led, people-led or just down to pure creativity, it’s essential to mention that now is the time to innovate and make sure that you are using the data you have to your advantage, especially during Black Friday.

Which digital channels have your consumers preferred using during the pandemic? Has there been a shift in activity when looking at YoY behaviour? Although Black Friday planning likely started a long time ago, now could be the perfect time to adjust plans based on new behaviours or even include additional new strategies to test during peak this year.

Whatever happens during the peak period in 2020, it’s certainly going to be a unique time for many businesses and potentially one like no other. Want to understand how to best implement a digital strategy during peak? Send us a message at [email protected].