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Retail Reflections: Black Friday beckons; plea to the Chancellor

 

Alan Monahan writes: Hard on the heels of Halloween comes another American import. Yes, Black Friday beckons. But, as a retailer, will you follow?

According to Justin Opie, managing director at IMRG, this sales opportunity has, over the past few years, consistently demonstrated a remarkable capacity for shifting in terms of size and scale.

In 2014 the volume of orders exceeded forecast by over 30%; in 2015 shops were empty, and in 2016 there seemed to have been a genuinely extended period of heightened sales activity – taking place over a week (and more in some cases), which is not entirely dissimilar to the way that Christmas peak used to be online before Black Friday disrupted the established pattern three years ago.

IMRG reported that in 2016 for the week as a whole (November 21st to November 28th) an estimated £6.45 billion was spent on UK online retail sites as longer campaign durations, with new discounting deals promoted each day, served to spread the peak shopper spend over a longer period. This raises the prospect of a £7 billion online sales bonanza for the upcoming Black Friday period.

If you are getting involved this time around and planning an email marketing strategy, ask yourself why a buyer would open your email rather than those of your competitors: why would they buy from you rather than just ordering on Amazon?

Brian Murphy, email marketing manager at Zaius, is telling e-commerce brands that their strategy has to be fun, engaging, surprising and – most of all – effective at driving new and repeat purchases. And the same is surely true for retailers.

He advises to limit your sends to those who’ve engaged or purchased in the last 12-18 months.

“Start by targeting customers who you know actively want to receive flash sale campaigns on peak days like Black Friday (November 2th) and Cyber Monday (November 27th). Consider sending a ‘VIP opt-in email’ – target that group a max of three to five times for flash sales and non-opt ins, only once.”

And because of the highly competitive battle for sales Brian recommends using your most creative ideas for email marketing this year. “It’s a risk, of course, but the other risk is simply that you’ll be ignored – and that’s far worse.

“The goal is, of course, to increase conversion rates, drive new revenue, and engage buyers during this tough season. This means keeping a close eye on your daily click-through rates and tweaking the message as needed.”

Good luck if you’re having a bash at Black Friday, whether it be in-store, online or both.

With all the shenanigans at Westminster about who did what and to whom, it would be surprising if politicians are currently able to concentrate on pleas from organisations acting on behalf of their members.

But I would like to think that a letter about business rates sent to Chancellor Philip Hammond will at least be opened and read by one of his minions before the Budget on November 22nd.

The Conservatives claim to be the party that does most for business, so it will be interesting to see if they take any notice of signatories that include the Confederation of British Industry, British Retail Consortium, British Independent Retailers Association, Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, Federation of Small Businesses and British Chambers of Commerce.

September’s Retail Prices Index has been confirmed at 3.9%, leading to a £1.1 billion increase in business rates from April next year. The letter to Mr Hammond describes this as unsustainable and says “it will only compound the negatives of the existing system”.

Among the business groups there is a common view that the planned rise needs to be addressed: some have asked for a freeze in business rates, and others have requested either a cap or Consumer Price Index indexation to be implemented from next April.

The letter asks the Chancellor to take action to alleviate this “damaging” increase, which it claims will discourage growth and investment just as businesses make consequential decisions in preparation of departing the European Union.

And it adds: “What is abundantly clear is that when the UK’s commercial property tax is far higher than elsewhere in Europe and across the OECD it places British business at a distinct disadvantage.”

More than two years ago the government made a commitment to conduct a fundamental review of business rates in England. What has happened to that? Weasel words! The least it can now do is to work with these groups for fundamental reform of a system that is broken and at tipping point.