Black Friday: Should Your Small Business Take Part?

black friday shopping

There’s an unmistakable chill in the air. Leaves are turning brown, and crunching underfoot. The nights are drawing in. It can all only mean one thing: Black Friday is a little under two months away. 

If you’re wondering whether or not to take part this year, we’ve pulled a few stats and pointers to help you make this decision. By the end, you should feel more confident about whether Black Friday discounting is actually right for your store.

1. Black Friday is losing its novelty

There’s only so many years you can watch people fighting over new TVs before Black Friday loses its ‘charm’. Some research suggests last year may have been the tipping point, but this is of course hard to separate from the effect of lockdowns and pandemic-related economic uncertainty. 

What is on the rise, however, is anti-Black Friday campaigns, and their celebration. From Pategonia’s ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign, to Allbirds’ ‘Break tradition, not the planet’, major brands are stepping forward to highlight and stand against the wasteful and excessive impulse purchasing that Black Friday encourages. In 2018, when UK Black Friday retail sales hit an eye-watering £8.29 million, 21% of Brits made a purchase they later regretted. 

2…But it’s still a huge day in the retail calendar

Black Friday may have lost its novelty, but people still spend a huge amount. There’s no denying it’s a huge day in the retail calendar. 

In fact, with deals emerging earlier and earlier each year, some people are now dubbing the event ‘Black November’. On the day of writing this post (28th September 2021), Google’s results page for ‘Black Friday 2021’ is already full of deal roundup pages waiting to be populated with the best offers as they emerge. 

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Each year, every brand and affiliate site wants to be the first to reach Black Friday shoppers, which in turn means the deals start to come out earlier (and last for longer) each year. 

3. It’s very ecommerce-centered

Perhaps it’s the all too familiar footage of crowds storming department stores, perhaps it’s Covid, perhaps it’s because most adults work on a Friday, or more likely, it’s a combination of all three and more… but the Black Friday period is now very much an online affair. 

In 2019, only 23% of UK Black Friday spending was done in store. In 2020 (post lockdown), this plummeted to 12%. Interestingly, 12% of people also opted for click and collect in this same year. 

If you don’t currently have an ecommerce option, you’re unlikely to feel the full benefits of Black Friday. Fewer people will be seeking out bargains on the streets. 

4. Preparation is key

If you do decide to participate in Black Friday and don’t advertise this, you aren’t going to see the results you want.

Make sure your website is up to the challenge of taking in an extra influx of visitors, and be sure to announce your promotions on all social media channels once they launch (you may also want to run some Black Friday focused paid ads). 

We generally don’t recommend mentioning your sale until it actually launches. This is because you risk encouraging people to hold off on making purchases in the days leading up to Black Friday because they know you’ll be offering a discount around that time. 

5. More people are using Black Friday for their Christmas shopping 

How people shop Black Friday has also evolved over the years. The vast majority of shoppers used to take it as an opportunity to splurge on themselves, and many still do — but an increasing number of savvy (and organised) shoppers are also using it as a chance to make a dent in their Christmas shopping (around 36% in 2020). 

Spending on stocking filler/gift products has increased year on year to reflect this. Black Friday is essentially extending the Christmas shopping period, making it less of a rush. 

Tech and electronics is still the most popular category to shop over the Black Friday period (although it’s dropping each year), with ‘adult fashion’ coming in second. ‘Health and beauty’ and ‘kids clothing’ grew the most between 2019 and 2020 (4% and 8% respectively). 

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discount items which aren’t in these more popular categories, but it gives an indication of where consumers plan to make big savings, and to spend their money.

7. Ask yourself if it’s really ‘you’ 

We recently conducted a survey of our UK retailers, and while we haven’t closed it yet, so far around 60% have reported that sustainability is ‘a big focus’ for your business in the next year. 

Sustainability and wild discounting periods don’t generally go hand in hand. Sustainable swimwear brand Stay Wild Swim only runs one annual sale with very conservative discounting. Because they produce swimwear with such strict sustainable and ethical practices, they cost more to make, and the markup is a lot smaller. This is common for more sustainable businesses — it’s not just that they don’t want to encourage reckless consumption, it’s that they only have a little bit of margin to work with.

The Green Out Black Friday movement encourages ‘planet-positive brands across the world to come together to take a stand against unconscious consumption and support sustainable businesses’. It cites some terrifying stats about the impact of excessive Black Friday consumption, like the 429,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions churned out by UK Black Friday deliveries in the last year alone.

And for some businesses, it’s not right from a brand messaging point of view. Squarespace, for example, only ever offers a maximum discount of 20%, which fits with its sleek and classy brand proposition. Wix, on the other hand, is constantly offering 50% discounts — it’s targeting people who want to feel like they’re getting a bargain. 

The bottom line is, don’t feel you have to rock bottom Black Friday discounts just because it’s what bigger businesses are doing. 

Could you put your own spin on Black Friday? Maybe turn it into ‘Green Friday’ by offering a reusable tote bag with every purchase? 

8. Small Business Saturday could be a better alternative

Small Business Saturday is a grassroots campaign which encourages customers to turn their attention to supporting small businesses on the Saturday after Black Friday. Let them know if you’re planning to get involved, and how, and you can get a shoutout on their social media, or profiled on their blog. 

Final thoughts

Maybe asking whether or not to take part in Black Friday isn’t the real question here. The real question is how to take part in a way which works for your business; if you choose not to get involved, this is a statement in itself, and something you can use to strengthen your brand image. And remember, Small Business Saturday is on hand as a viable and growing alternative way to boost your small business, without needing to cut your margins to the wire. 

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Hannah is Creoate's Content Marketing Manager. She's passionate about bringing you content that's actually useful and — dare she say it —inspirational. Running a small business is hard, and we really want to help with that. Drop her an email at [email protected] if there's anything you'd like to read (or if you'd like to be featured!). She's all ears.
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