It seems like it was just a few blissful years ago that November was all about watching some fireworks then enjoying the calm before the Christmas storm.
Now, Christmas starts on 1st November and the end of the month is a frantic blur of Black Friday emails, online shopping and daily searches for Hermes deliveries behind the wheelie bins.
Having worked in marketing for large retailers for the past 10 years, I’ve seen first-hand how the combination of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has exploded in the UK in recent years and has become one of the focal points of the retail calendar. It’s now not just a day, or two days or even a weekend. It’s weeks of deals, discounts and hype to drum up custom and earn their share of the lucrative Christmas shopping market.
According to IMRG, online spending in the UK on Black Friday 2017 was up +11.7% versus 2016, at a massive £1.39bn. The opportunity is mega, and for the big businesses planning starts months in advance, with each retailer trying to out-do the other and beat their own personal records with the biggest discounts and daily (if not hourly) deals to lure the customer away from the competition, then keep them coming back for more.
Tackling Black Friday as a small business
But what about the small retailers? The ones who don’t have a profit margin for heavy discounts or the man power to deliver a different deal every hour over Black Friday Weekend. Where do you even start with trying to tackle the retail juggernaut that is Black Friday?
In no particular order, here are my 5 top tips for approaching Black Friday as a small business owner…
1. Don’t just jump on the bandwagon
Advice for business owners and consumers alike, actually! Just because others are getting involved doesn’t mean you have to. Yes, there is a reason why Black Friday Weekend is the event that it now is, because it can be so financially rewarding. But as a small business you have so many other factors to consider, so if discounts aren’t going to benefit you in the long run, perhaps take a different approach or be bold and don’t do it at all. Just a thought.
2. Is it right for your brand?
My background is in brand marketing and so I always think beyond the financials, which is so often the driving force in retail for obvious reasons. If you feel in any way that discounting or offers could de-value your brand or products, don’t do it. If your business model or brand values don’t usually entertain discounts or savings, stay focused and give Black Friday a miss. Or if you want to get involved but discounts aren’t your bag, offer your customers something which will reinforce your brand rather than detract from it. This all sounds very black and white, and of course the financial rewards may well overshadow any impact to your brand, but don’t let one mad weekend destroy a brand you’ve spent years building.
3. Is it financially viable?
The biggie. Can you actually afford to discount your products? Will it benefit your business or will it hit your bottom line a little too hard? A small discount here and there may be fine, but if you’re stepping into the Black Friday arena you need to decide whether you’re going to go hard in order to compete, or keep it small to show that you’re playing along but accepting that your customers might have bigger fish to fry this weekend. In each case the financial impact will be different, and as a business owner you need to decide whether your decision will benefit your business in the long run.
Also consider the impact Black Friday weekend could have on your December sales, and be realistic with your goals and forecasts. Enabling customers to do their Christmas shopping for less over Black Friday weekend means that you are essentially shifting your Christmas peak forward by a few weeks. So don’t be surprised or disappointed if December is a slower month than you’d anticipated!
4. Be aware of legalities
I’m no legal eagle so I’m not going to go into much detail here, but this is such an important point to be aware of. In short, anyone working in retail should be aware of pricing laws.
Consider things such as price establishment, messaging (is it ‘up to 25% off’ or will everything in the sale have the full 25% discount? Is it on ‘selected lines’ or is absolutely everything in your shop part of the offer?), making sure you’re not misleading or inflating discounts…
So if you’re not familiar with all of this fun stuff (sarcastic, moi?!), now is the time to do a little reading up. The Promotional Savings Claims section on the ASA website is the place to start.
5. Can you keep up?
The exciting part of Black Friday is seeing all of those sales come flooding in. Hopefully whatever you’re offering will be such a draw that the weekend will surpass all expectations. Then reality hits. Can you fulfil all of your orders on time and as per your usual standards? As a small business do you have the resource to pack those bags, tape up those boxes and do 50 trips to the Post Office, all in order to meet your usual delivery promise?
I’ve seen Black Friday take a big business by surprise and the fall out from this was interesting, to say the least. An all hands on deck kind of situation. Small businesses don’t often have that luxury, so think ahead and if necessary, temporarily change (and clearly communicate) your delivery proposition to allow you to produce the goods and keep those customers happy without your head falling off.
Avoid the Black Friday hype
So there you have it, a few of my top tips to consider for tackling Black Friday as a small business. Once you’ve made your decision on how and whether you will take part, stick to your guns and try not to get swept up in the hype.
It’s the ultimate business FOMO when everyone around you is discounting harder and heavier than you, and while the beauty of small businesses is that we can make quick decisions and react in a way that so many big businesses can’t, remember that you’re doing what works for your brand and business.
Good luck (oh, and happy shopping!)
Author bio: After working in brand marketing for over 10 years for creative agencies and large UK retailers, Sarah decided to make the leap from the 9-5 and go freelance as a Brand Marketing Consultant in 2017 while on maternity leave with her first child. Sarah now uses her experience to help businesses develop and grow their brands, providing full support from marketing strategy and planning right through to content creation and marketing execution. Sarah has a passion for supporting small brands and loves nothing more than working with small business owners to help build their brand and watching their business grow and thrive.