The Year Black Friday Stole Christmas

Aldi Black Friday

Unless you live under a deep rock in a galaxy far, far away you may have noticed the consumer frenzy that is Black Friday has dawned upon us. Consumers have turned to their favourite retailers as though they’re shopping for an apocalypse except that instead of searching for survival kits, they’re battling for who can get the best deal on an iPad and whatever other tech essentials Black Friday has told you you really need. 

Where has this craze sprung up from, I hear you ask? It has travelled from across the pond and named as the day after Thanksgiving, marking the unofficial start to the Christmas shopping season. The day is infamously known for shopping insanity with customers queueing in the early hours of the morning hoping to dash through for the best deals and taking anyone down who stands in their way. Believe it or not, Black Friday has caused 4 deaths and over 56 injuries … and counting.

Year on year you will always hear complaints of how we are losing the true meaning of Christmas and that Christmas has in fact become a commodity. With the UK experiencing its biggest Black Friday yet, you can certainly see why. Supermarkets are talking of deals of up to 70% off, department stores are teasing us with discounts on high-end brands and then we have the big guns of the 3 A’s – Apple, Amazon and Asda, the three highest Black Friday retail search trends in the UK. Asda is talking major price cuts on big-brand tech; Amazon is offering us timed deals every 10 minutes; and Apple, well Apple is doing what it does best – keeping drooling fanboys and fangirls in suspense and not revealing anything before dropping major discounts on their most popular products.

However, is Black Friday really all it’s cracked up to be? Are we being swept up in the madness and failing to see that we are being tricked into spending more on things that we don’t need by clever advertising?

Let’s first look at what’s on offer. Traditionally, Black Friday was an in-store promotion with America’s superstore giants opening their doors early. Continuing the tradition, UK stores are opening for longer hours in order to maximise sales to all.

Reportedly, in 2013 Asda sold out 60% of its Black Friday stock within the first hours of opening. We have examples of half-price 40″ TVs to high discounts on all high-end brands. Yet with the consistent promotion on every corner, and I mean every corner, you can’t even go three tweets down your feed without the hashtagging of Black Friday. Everyone and their mums are at it and if you’re not careful, you could slip under too. With timed sales, limits of purchase per person and the mad rush of beating millions of other shoppers to the deal, it is extremely easy to get swept up in the hype of Black Friday. Just ask yourself: do you really need that half-price Nespresso Coffee Machine or are you just buying it because it’s there?

Moneysavingexpert Martin Lewis urges caution:

Warning! Black Friday weekend can be addictive! Don’t get caught up in the hype. Always remember Martin’s Mantras. Have you compared prices? Can you afford it? Do you need it? If the answer is no to any of those, DON’T BUY IT! And ensure you always shop safely.

The question of relevance is extremely important when surfing through Black Friday deals. The implied shortage of products along with retailers’ cleverly-timed sales have us easily swept up in the pressure to purchase fast.

For example, Amazon has taken over our computer screens this week with the promise of exciting new deals every 10 minute. Yet this also involves sifting through a lot of junk leading us to question whether this is a clever marketing strategy to clear old and unwanted stock.

Amazon Black Friday

Amazon aren’t the only guilty party of taking advantage; we also have high street stores such as Warehouse, Selfridges, River Island and so on offering us 20% off with Black Friday discount codes. But wait a minute; don’t they happen all the time? Well actually, yes they do, so why is everyone rushing to spend? Once again, the restricted time limit has us hoarding like there is no tomorrow.

Funnily enough, Black Friday’s brother Cyber Monday (yes, this shopping hell continues) won’t dare be muttered from the lips of retailers in fear of shoppers holding back for better deals on Monday. It’s a dangerous game for both retailers and shoppers.

However, in their bid to draw us in, retailers are failing to prepare and hitting the spotlight on Black Friday for all the wrong reasons. Within minutes of Tesco and Asda opening this Black Friday morning, police were called to break up in-store riots and arrests were made. Ironically, retailers have been spending so much time focusing on drawing in the consumer that they have failed to handle the strain, even in the cyber world of web traffic.

Black Friday Site Issues

Angry shoppers have taken to social sites to highlight their frustration of ridiculous waiting lengths and site crash messages provided by major UK retailers. With sites failing to ensure their infrastructures are prepared for an influx of traffic, it’s poor reflection on customer service and all the effort promoting Black Friday are wasted.

Our friends at Intechnica did a great roundup of the biggest retail fails today with a Storify on Black Friday unfolds in UK online retail.

“It’s surprising that so many blue chip retailers have failed to plan ahead. Black Friday online sales spiked massively last year and experts predicted that this year’s demand would be even higher. We knew it was coming so there are no excuses here.

Firstly there are services out there for website load testing – we’ve worked in the past with NCC Group, who can simulate high levels of traffic and even work with you to help optimise performance and get the most out of your server setup. Even at the lower end, cloud servers give retailers the ability to scale up resources (CPU, processors, memory, etc.) to meet higher demands.

Common ecommerce platforms such as Magento Enterprise are designed to benefit from running in a multi-server setup in a clustered environment. In layman’s terms, this means that you can have a server for your “front end stuff” (serving pages), a server or content delivery network for static content (images, some scripts, media) and so on. Tests have shown that enabling a second frontend web server almost doubles the number of requests than can be handled by this setup. You can get similar gains from adding extra servers. Your next problem would be database operations but optimisations can be made to scale database operations.

Failure to prepare is unforgivable.”

James Flacks, Online Marketing Consultant

“Ah yes, Black Friday is here, not only has it infiltrated Britain, coupling sales with pandemonium, it’s become a mainstay on the PPC landscape. Perform a swift “black Friday TV deals” search query, and you’ll find DKI laden Black Friday themed ads in the SERP’s. An example can be seen below;

Akin to any seasonality trend a PPC Manager would encounter within an account under their remit; strategy, preparation and execution are pivotal. Engaging in a bidding war with competitors who are likely to up weight their own bids, vast increases in search volume and impulsive click-happy punters, all could see your ad spend spiral and budget diminish rapidly. denote as much as a double-digit percentage (12%) increase in CPC’s around Black Friday, whilst also noting average order values (AOV) increase around 3%.

Alas, from a PPC perspective, unless careful account management is adhered, Black Friday could be costly and offering very little return. That’s not to say you should adopt a miserly approach and you can’t eat up your share of the revenue pie; with Google Analytics Blog stating that Cyber Monday in 2013 saw an average 170% lift in PPC transaction rates. In closing, with Black Friday pro-longing its stay with “cyber-weekend”, customers may serve up Neanderthal behavior in the hope of snapping up bargains, however, PPCers could be vying with competitors with nothing to show in return.”

Daryl Burrows, Paid Search Executive

Pedrom“With Black Friday finally upon us today, social media has gone mad with the use of #BlackFriday to share experiences with the world. So far every brand is trying to get in on the action even with deals that aren’t worth getting out of bed for. Even Premiership football club Aston Villa has resorted to offering £10 off tickets for the Leicester clash as part of their Black Friday bargains. Another great offer is from LEGO, who are offering just 5% off online!

You will no doubt see a vast influx of promoted tweets and sponsored posts within your social media stream today with pointless offers making you question whether you really need to dig deep into your pockets to spend in these so-called ‘sales’.

Using Topsy, we can see the total use of #BlackFriday yesterday peaked at around 500k and if we compare this to #Christmas for the whole of November, it is only 700k short excluding all the tweets that will be published today. This means that no doubt #BlackFriday will beat the use of #Christmas for the whole of November in just 2 days. Are people getting more enjoyment from the sale shopping element of Christmas than the actual run-up to Christmas?”

Pedrom Pourkashanian, Social Media and Online Marketing Consultant

So this leads back to the question: have we lost the meaning of Christmas and have we completely been absorbed by retailers and their power to consume us in their short-lived offers? Being told we can only purchase one item or that there is only a limited amount available has sucked us into a shopping frenzy like no other. It really is a festive shopping apocalypse that makes you want to lock yourselves away for the weekend far from slashed prices and ‘must-have’ offers.