How Did Black Friday 2021 Perform?

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This year the run up to Black Friday was accompanied by much uncertainty. Of course the ongoing effects of Covid-19 cast doubts. But retailers were also unsure about supply chain issues, staff shortages and general attitudes towards spending. At the same time, Black Friday – as ever – presented great potential for boosting sales.

Let’s look at how the day played out across both physical and online shops. Was spending as high as expected? What can retailers learn for next year?

Early promise of high spending

Early data from Barclaycard indicated that spending was higher than in the last two years. The company – which processes approximately £1 in every £3 spent on cards – reported that by 5pm on Black Friday there were 23% more transactions than at the same point in 2020. More significantly perhaps, it reported a 2.4% rise in the volume of payments compared to the pre-pandemic times of Black Friday in 2019.

It seems shoppers may have reacted to warnings from the CBI that prices are set to rise across the UK, encouraging them to make the most of discounts. In addition, Pricer data suggests that 57% of people are now more price sensitive than before the pandemic.

Wins for online retail giants

A Toluna study showed that the most popular retailer was Amazon (64%), second was Argos (28%) and third was eBay (19%).

Both in the UK and across the world, Amazon had a record-breaking Black Friday sales period. The top sellers were products in its home, toys and beauty categories.

eBay saw its average selling price rise by 54% from the day before Black Friday. Its site traffic peaked between midday and 2pm – presumably the effect of shoppers browsing during their lunch breaks – which demonstrates a more typical pattern than last year. The general manager of eBay UK, Murray Lambell, said: “Our home and garden sellers have been the big winners during the Black Friday period so far. Consumers have been capitalising on deals for refurbished and upcycled home goods, with a certified refurbished Dyson fan sold every minute on eBay UK.”

In addition, Shopify enjoyed a record Black Friday. The average order value rose from £58.89 to £65.60 in the UK, with 10am being the peak sales hour, and apparel and accessories being the most popular category.

Indeed, overall the most popular items among UK shoppers were clothes (42%). They also favoured computer and gaming products (26%) and fragrances (25%).

Physical shops did less well

Not all retailers made gains from Black Friday this year. The high street fared badly – the number of people shopping here declined by 0.5% which represents the first drop since the annual discount day began in the UK. (Instead, some people visited shopping centres and retail areas, which saw a 6.5% and 4.9% rise respectively.)

The reason for this? Many people are still working from home and so not popping to their high street during their lunch break. There are fewer tourists in London and the UK’s other hotspots. And of course Storm Arwen didn’t help – people stayed at home to avoid the challenging weather.

Lower spending overall on Black Friday

Some were predicting record spending this year. Despite early promise, it seems online sales – which represent the majority of spending – were down. According to the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, online retail sales were 14.3% lower than those of the previous year.

Arguably, retailers started their sales too early in November, meaning demand petered out by Black Friday itself. It’s also likely that consumers feared delays to receiving their products and so completed their Christmas shopping earlier in the month.

More generally, there was social resistance to the annual sales event. In recent years the number of anti Black Friday campaigns has been growing, with 85% of smaller sellers protesting the day this year – the highest number ever recorded by the British Independent Retailers Association. Such sellers were protesting what they see as the destructive nature of the hyper-consumerism associated with knock-down prices and brief sales periods. Instead of taking part in Black Friday (and Cyber Monday), they closed their websites and did something socially beneficial such as planting trees or donating money to food banks.

The future of Black Friday?

While it’s hard to predict what 2022 might bring, retailers could learn specific lessons from this year. For example, they might start their campaigns later in November to avoid dwindling shopper enthusiasm. They might also reflect on this year’s most popular categories (including clothing and computer products). Equally, it’s worth considering the bigger picture – is Black Friday right for a particular brand? Are there alternative approaches to the sales period?

Whatever happens, an effective marketing strategy is crucial, including the right software.

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