Record numbers for Black Friday – but what’s next?

Black Week, which covers Black Friday and Cyber Monday, broke new sales records in 2018 and is becoming ever more digital. But at the same time, criticism of the shopping spree is getting louder.

The dust is settling after a busy week for many merchants. Numbers suggest that Black Friday and Cyber Monday were a big success for retailers who chose to entice consumers with tasty deals. Especially for those selling online. Black Friday pulled in a record $6.22 billion in online sales in the US, according to Adobe Analytics. Cyber Monday was expected to beat that number with $7.8 billion in sales, making it the biggest online shopping day in the history of the country, Marketwatch reports.

And the Black Week phenomenon is picking up speed around the globe, especially in the UK and the Nordic countries, according to a recent report from eMarketer cited by CNBC.

In the UK, forecasts predict record numbers for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, estimating over £7 billion in sales with the majority of purchases done online.

Black Friday – dominated by women

Klarna, responsible for handling almost half of the online payments in Sweden, observed a 36 percent year-on-year increase in transaction volume during Black Week 2018. Black Friday grew by 31 percent from 2017 and Cyber Monday by 32 percent. To put this in real terms, Black Friday 2018 was seven times busier than an average shopping day in terms of volume, Klarna’s data shows.

Looking deeper into the statistics, we can clearly see that women were the biggest spenders in this shopping spree. 6 out of 10 SEK spent during Black Week came from female consumers, and the biggest age group in terms of volume was 26-35-year-olds.

The categories that increased the most compared to Black Week last year were sports, leisure and home decor. But the category that stood out the most compared to an average day was electronics, both among women and men.

“During a normal week, men have on average a 25 percent higher order value than women. But during Black Week 2018, women instead had a one percent higher average order value than men. This might be because women are better at planning their purchases, buying everything they need when prices are discounted. It could also be because many people are bargain hunting in categories they don’t usually shop in during the rest of the year,” says Viveka Söderbäck, Consumer Insight Manager at Klarna.

What’s the future for Black Friday?

One thing is obvious: we’re going to see a greater proportion of transactions being done online rather than in brick-and-mortar stores. Why stand in line for hours when you can get your stuff with a few clicks on your computer or mobile phone?

But even if Black Friday 2018 meant new records for many merchants, there are signs that the growth of the phenomenon is slowing down, at least in Sweden. Between 2016 and 2017, the volume growth was 76 percent – more than double this year’s 31 percent increase recorded through Klarna’s systems.

There are two trends that might have affected this. The first one being that merchants are now offering bargains during the entire week, instead of only on Black Friday. This means that consumers don’t have to rush to the stores on one particular day to get their hands on the discounted goods. For merchants, this can lead to better revenue over the whole week but a more moderate peak on Black Friday itself.

Another aspect is the growing criticism of Black Friday as a symbol of unsustainable consumerism. As a consequence of this movement, many merchants chose to refrain from offering mouth-watering discounts this year. Some even seized the opportunity to make a statement against the shopping frenzy.

The most talked about example of boycotting Black Friday in recent years is the American outdoor retailer REI, and their campaign #OptOutside. They also decided to close their stores during Black Friday, instead paying their employees to spend time outdoors. The statement led to a massive PR boost for the brand, and many merchants have since followed their lead.

Another retailer bucking the trend is the clothing brand Asket which, as a contrast to many competitors, decided to close their webshop altogether. Site visitors just got the following statement during Black Friday:

 

Some retailers also launched the concept “Green Friday”, offering discounts only on sustainable brands in their stores. A smart way of taking part in the shopping spree, and at the same time promoting eco-friendly alternatives.

Will we see more merchants taking a stance against Black Friday in future? Most probably yes, especially with growing awareness of how our shopping habits are affecting the environment as well.

Will it lead to the end of discounts and bargain hunting? Most certainly not. Peoples’ minds are still hard-wired to look for great value. That’s why clearance sales and “Buy one, get one free” offers still work, even though they’re the oldest trick in the book.

What it comes down to is how you as a merchant want to be perceived. If you want to build a premium brand, it will become increasingly important to focus on sustainability in order to attract eco-minded consumers. But if your business model is dependant on discounts, then Black Friday will be waiting faithfully for you next year.

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