Has the UK Retail Sector Turned Black Friday into a Grey Day for their Customers?

black friday

There’s a growing sense of mistrust and fatigue amongst Black Friday shoppers in the UK.

After sweeping into the UK limelight in 2014, Black Friday has fundamentally changed the way UK consumers shop. December sales are slowing as consumers spend more in November, and the frequency of internet sales are on the rise; average weekly internet sales nearly tripled between November 2010 and 2017, according to the ONS (Office for National Statics).

However, Black Friday 2018 saw a decline in appetite. 2018’s peak growth was the lowest recorded by the IMRG Capgemini Sales Index. Online UK retail spend on Black Friday was up just 7.3% year-on-year, somewhat below the predicted forecasts of 14%.

Our Black Friday trend research has shown that consumers have grown tired of extended sales periods, heavy discounting and the limited availability of offers.

In fact, our consumer insights into the perception o Black Friday perceptions amongst UK shoppers revealed that half (47%) would prefer Black Friday lasted for one day only; and discounts above 50% or above are simply perceived as ‘too good to be true’.

‘Black Friday is like any other sale; never-ending and boring’

Black Friday is now cemented in the UK retail calendar; there is no turning back for the retail industry. As it stands, almost half (44%) of consumers expect to participate in Black Friday this year.

However, while extended sales help retailers to cope with the surge in demand in previous years, these tactics are counterproductive, switching consumers off from the event entirely. At a time when industry is in turmoil over tough trading conditions, retailers simply cannot afford to disengage customers and risk losing sales.

Instead, the retail industry needs to flip their current Black Friday strategies on their heads.

Uncovering the emotional connections with Black Friday

Using our new Brand Emotion system 1 capability, we’ve used the power of visual semiotics to uncover what consumers really think about Black Friday – and even more importantly, we’ve revealed what the ideal Black Friday event looks like. Unsurprisingly, there is a sweeping gap from the experiences Black Friday shoppers currently encounter to what their ideal experience of the event looks and feels like.

Brand Emotion works by using visual semiotics and analyses the way visual images communicate a message or emotion. It decomposes each image into its structural elements and identifies the various emotions associated with each element. It taps into a core communication building block of using images to convey our emotions; consumers are asked to create a collage of images to visually “tell” us how they feel about a brand (or event).

Our analysis revealed that, currently, shoppers’ primary emotions associated with Black Friday are ones of ‘Dominance’ and ‘Controlling’, underpinned by feelings of ‘Authority’ and ‘Confidence’.

Customers feel that retailers use their power to set the rules of the event, but these rules are not always transparent and often designed to manipulate shopping behaviour.

This perceived hidden agenda creates an underlying sense of mistrust and overwhelming negative associations with UK Black Friday sales.

What does the ideal UK Black Friday look like?

Instead, shoppers are looking for an event that is ‘Joyful’, underpinned by feelings of ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Wellbeing’ from achieving your goal. Retailers must never underestimate the connection you can make with customers by helping them find something they’ve desired and making it possible for them to attain it.

Shoppers want an event that is ‘Dynamic’ and ‘Friendly’. They want to be a part of something and feel Black Friday should give them a sense of opportunity and freedom to choose what they wish.

Black Friday is not just about customer acquisition

This unique consumer insight is vital for retailers.

There is clearly a huge opportunity to re-connect with customers. Consumers are giving the industry permission to create an event they can engage with; it’s now up to retailers to deliver on these fundamental needs and desires.

Our analysis also uncovered that over half (58%) of shoppers will visit their favourite retailers on the hunt for Black Friday deals; just 21% said they would shop with retailers they don’t often visit.

Retailers must not let a poor experience and negative customer connection impact their existing loyalty and brand perception.

Is the retail industry brave enough to step back and change Black Friday 2019?

Retailers need to go back to Black Friday basics and capture the excitement and anticipation of a shorter sales event. Yet it must also be made inclusive by moving away from large discounts on just selected lines and towards creating a sense of achievement from finding the thing you desire.

At Maru/Matchbox, we believe there are three key areas that retailers need to adhere to get Black Friday back on track:

  1. Encourage participation by making more items available so customers engage with finding something they want; this will help change the current negative perception of retailers holding all the power.
  2. Manage margins by having a short, time-limited event; create a sense of excitement and anticipation rather than extending sales periods further to manage demand.
  3. Avoid over discounting.  People simply think discounts over 50% are too good to be true, potentially damaging sales and brand integrity

As in past years, Maru/Matchbox will be monitoring the impact of the retail sales of Black Friday on UK online retailers websites, tracking key customer experience metrics and consumer behaviour. Aggregated results will be available in December – please contact us for exclusive access.

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