Karl Blakesley: What could Black Friday mean for you?

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It’s that time of year again. The weather has turned cold, the Lincoln Christmas Market is almost upon us and the season of gift-giving is just weeks away.

Christmas has always been a lucrative period for retailers and this year is no different, with predictions of consumer spending set to reach record levels.

With bigger crowds and tiresome queues affecting the high street over the festive period, the appeal of online shopping seems to be strengthening year on year for better or for worse.

This has been highlighted recently by Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) which has predicted consumers will spend £24.6 billion online this year, 10% more than they did in 2015.

There are several factors pushing this increase, the first being the growing significance of Black Friday. Despite research showing many retailers and consumers in the UK are set to avoid the traditional post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza this year, the numbers tell a different story.

Indeed, the phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down. The same ADI study states that Black Friday 2016 looks set to be the biggest single online shopping day in the UK in the run up to Christmas, with spending expected to reach £901 million on the day itself alone. PCA Predicts are also forecasting more than nine million orders to be placed online over the course of the Black Friday, an increase of 25%.

However, Black Friday is quickly becoming more than a one-day event, with large retailers using the opportunity to push exclusivity and limited runs of festive deals. One prominent example has been online giant Amazon having a 14-day Black Friday event to encourage buyers and drive sales during the build up to the day itself.

Revenue from mobiles has been another aspect to the online phenomenon that has been gathering momentum, with this year set to generate the biggest to date. The ADI study found that 20% of online Christmas shopping is expected to be conducted via mobile commerce in 2016. However, somewhat surprisingly mobile spending will peak on Christmas Day rather than Black Friday, suggesting consumers will be logging on to grab themselves a bargain before the Boxing Day rush.

So how to capitalise on these increasingly lucrative sales opportunities? The answer for both could well lie in comprehensive multi-channel order management.

Even if businesses are not set up to sell their products cross-platform currently, the importance of being multi-channel is only going to intensify in the next few years until it becomes essential. If companies fail to take this onboard, they could soon see stagnation in growth.

However, those that already have multi-channel operations in place should be looking at ways this can be optimised towards mobile sales. One key way this can be done is ensuring their website is responsive, so consumers looking to purchase receive the same buying experience regardless of the device they are using.

That said, having a responsive website on its own isn’t enough.

Businesses need to have the necessary back office infrastructure in place to effectively service orders so that customers receive speedy, accurate fulfilment.

Without a mechanism in place to help automate the processing of these online sales orders and keep information correct and up to date, companies can find themselves unable to cope. This can then result in late deliveries, oversold items, increased returns and disgruntled customers.

Returns are inevitable over the Christmas period due to duplicated or ill-fitting gifts, so businesses also need to ensure they have an accurate method in place for processing them.

This is particularly important for fashion retailers as returns can be as high as almost two thirds of orders at Christmas. By keeping track of these returns and ensuring they are credited in a timely manner, businesses can get merchandise back on sale quickly, avoiding the risk of products having to be slashed in price.

Using this structured handling to minimise both volumes and costs associated with returns, businesses will find their Black Friday and Christmas promotions can be a profitable success.