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Black Friday, a Retail retrospective

Bright Masih, Retail Account Director, Black Pepper Software

Black Friday

Today it’s anticipated that UK consumers will spend over £1.07bn during Black Friday, an increase of over 32% on last year! Just to put these numbers into basic context, there are 64.1 million people in the UK; that's the equivalent of each man, woman and child spending £16 across Black Friday.

In last year's Comscore result, Amazon, Argos and Tesco took the Gold, Silver and Bronze in the Black Friday traffic winners rostrum with Apple coming in fourth position. Technology played an important part in the success of all the Black Friday victors who had invested in responsive websites and highly targeted on and offline campaigns, all riding on the back of timely TV advertising. Unifying all of these complex channels to make the most of the dizzying melee around Black Friday was part of their Black Friday success formula.

Last year, Amazon's sales took off as the UK business took orders for more than 5.5 million goods, with about 64 items sold per second, all in the one day. The retailer stated that it was its busiest day on record. Amazon did their homework and reaped the benefits.

This year, Amazon's Black Friday includes a week of deals, 'deals of the day' and limited-time 'lightning deals' added in five minute intervals. Amazon customers can also watch a deal and be alerted to a deal starting. The icing on its Black Friday technology cupcake enables Prime members to be notified half an hour before regular customers with a range of offers only available through its mobile app.

The Elephant issue that frustrated pretty much every major retailer was of course infernal “Downtime”. The sheer weight of millions of eager consumers forced open technological cracks which quickly became revenue black-holes, as complex infrastructures strained under unprecedented demand. Customers experienced the worst thing in the world - having to wait. And wait they did.

Despite having the US experience to model on, it appeared that most retailers including Argos, Currys and Tesco underestimated demand and the journey customers would take in an attempt to avoid the cursed in store bun-fight. Waiting times varied, but in worst case examples customers were made to wait over an hour haemorrhaging precious revenues and creating entirely the wrong experience. To put this into some kind of frame when amazon.com fell over and customers experienced 2 hours of downtime back in 2008, it lost approximately $3.6m in sales; even worse, the share price fell by 4.1% that day drawing a thick red line though $3.12 billion off their stock market value (ouch).

This year, it looks as though retailers have chosen a longer Black Friday period as one of the ways to tackle this difficult problem. I suspect that they hope that this longer promotional period also serves as ratchet to reverse the cannibalisation of Christmas revenues. It will be exciting to see which retailers come out as the winners this year, but one thing for me is certain, the retailers that haven taken the time and effort to embrace technology and rigorously attempted to tackle the omni-channel headache will rise to the occasion as long as the downtime nightmares of 2014 are confined to the annals of Black Friday history.

Right - time to spend some money, out of the way!!!