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Stop 'crying wolf': Insights from Black Friday 2023 in the UK

December 15, 2023 / 4 min read

Medieval people at the market – a painting in Pieter Breugel the Elder style generated by AI.

Image from DALL-E, prompted to generate an image in Pieter Breugel the Elder style, with market-goers using mobile phones to buy items.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday, pivotal moments in the UK's retail calendar, mark the start of the festive shopping season. Every year, IMRG – the UK Ecommerce Association - collects data provided by thousands of retailers to analyse sales performance during that time. I took the liberty of looking at IMRG's latest findings, comparing them with broader market statistics, media reports, and my own thoughts to assess the 2023 Black Friday performance in the UK.

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Black Friday sales below expectations

IMRG reports an overall market decrease of 1.9% compared to 2022. Additionally, the shopper footfall wasn't robust, dipping below both the previous week and the corresponding period in 2022. Noticeably, at the end of Q3 and beginning of Q4, there have actually been weeks with higher revenue than the one registered during the week of Black Friday. It could be an indicator of promotion blindness the UK customer might be experiencing due to a prolonged period of Black Friday–related offers and an oversaturation of deal-oriented messaging during that period, without the expectations of truly special offers being met. This raises the question: are customers becoming desensitized to sales, perceiving them as 'crying wolf'?

Numbers look better if we take a look at specific categories. For Black Friday week, IMRG forecasted an 11% surge in Gifts, a 1% increase in Electricals, and slight growth in Health & Beauty, with dips anticipated in Clothing (3%) and the Total Market (2%). The overall market, however, performed somewhat contrary to their expectations and recorded a 1.9% downturn. Gifts, together with Haircare, Lingerie, and Hobbies saw revenue declines. Still, despite the overall drop in sales, some categories like Audio, Furniture, Gaming and Computing, Fragrance, and Homewares & Decorations experienced growth, from 13 to 27%.

Retail Week observed a 1.6% reduction in high street footfall and a 0.6% drop in Barclaycard transaction volumes year-over-year. In contrast, major online marketplaces saw an 18% increase in total gross sales over 2022, highlighting a shift towards digital shopping. Despite an overall decline in Black Friday shopping numbers, many retailers like Sephora, saw significant web traffic increases (in their case – a whopping 132%).

Elsewhere, Reuters – considering both online and offline purchases - cited a 0.63% decrease in Black Friday transactions and a 1.6% fall in shopper numbers compared to 2022. MRI Software reported that shopper numbers on Black Friday were up 11.8% week-on-week but down 1.6% year-over-year. These findings suggest a gradual shift in consumer behaviour, influenced by rising living costs and earlier discounting trends in November.

Is Cyber Monday the new Black Friday?

What I found particularly interesting was Cyber Monday overtaking Black Friday as the peak sales day. Not being able to access the relevant data on ad serving during that time I am unable to say for sure, but if I could make an experienced-educated guess, I would say customers experienced less urgency to complete their purchases on Friday and postponed their shopping decisions, potentially making some final decisions on Cyber Monday – a day regarded as the “end of the Black Friday week”. This could be an interesting piece of data to consider while building a promotional strategy for 2024. However, one more element to take under consideration is the catastrophic crash of HSBC's online payment app that happened this year, exactly on Black Friday, affecting the shopping ability of millions in the UK by hindering two-factor authentication and transaction completion.

What's coming?

Even though the overall market noted a slight decrease, I am optimistic that Black Friday is not disappearing from the retail calendar. Special offers published during that time still work, given the excellent performance of some categories and retailers – but clearly, some do it better than others. The current economic situation can partly explain the drop in sales and so can the diluted power of Black Friday marketing messages, but it was not the same for all retailers. Some of the higher-value purchases were clearly being postponed until Black Friday time and those from categories traditionally associated with seasonal gifting, such as cosmetics and homeware, were more likely impulse ones, prompted by heavy promotional and Christmas gifting-related messaging. A wisely constructed promotional calendar for Black Friday week and a thorough examination of data from the past year were the backbone of merchants’ success this year.

An interesting addition to the Black Friday landscape was the intensified messaging from various NGOs and circular economy companies regarding the negative impact of extensive shopping, in particular the damage that excessive consumption leaves on the environment. What caught my eye was an ad produced by the French minister for ecological transition, Christophe Bèchu, encouraging people not to buy new clothing on Black Friday. Heavily criticized for posing a threat to the industry, the minister pointed at “online sales platforms” as those who should be seen as a target of his campaign. Despite calls to pull the ad, he refused.

I would be glad to hear your thoughts on the subject – what was your experience of this year's Black Friday-related shopping? How did your strategy work for you and what would you like to see change in 2024?


Bibliography:

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Author

e-Commerce Strategist at NoA Ignite

Małgorzata Radkiewicz

e-Commerce Strategist

Małgorzata’s 15 years of experience have seen her delivering effective solutions to ecommerce brands of all shapes and sizes across the EU and UK. Małgorzata is experienced in brand positioning, traffic and ecommerce sales analytics and leading ecommerce teams and projects for B2B and D2C businesses.

+44 7930 140 293

malgorzata.radkiewiczxyz@noaignite.com

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