Black Friday: marketing magic or mayhem?

Adrienne yellowBy Adrienne


It’s 7.30am and I’m wondering what this year’s Black Friday phenomenon will bring? Doubtless there will be more shoppers, more queues and more spend. But is it enjoyable? Or memorable – for the right reasons? And does it really deliver value add for retailers and their supply chain?


Let’s unpick this and consider it from a variety of audience perspectives.

  1. The shopper

It’s clear that lots of shoppers, whether online or on foot, love the Black Friday concept. Who doesn’t love a bargain? Actually, the answer is likely to be more people than you think.


Because it depends whether that bargain is something you want – or is just something you’ve chanced upon. In my experience, buying something that catches your eye in a sale is likely to be a mistake. It’s going to stay in the cupboard, unused and unloved. But maybe I’m not a good sale shopper.


And I’m not the only one. There’s a bit of a Black Friday backlash going on, both here and in the USA, with some stores promoting a more considered shopping approach. The Booksellers Association is taking a little bit of the fight to Amazon with the launch of Civilised Saturday, where independent bookshops offer simple discounts, to be enjoyed in the calming surroundings of a book-lined, hushed haven.


I know where I’d rather be. And quite frankly, left to my own devices (and without the scrum) I’m likely to spend more. Much more. Because, as my better half has lamented for more years that I care to share, I am indeed a retail marketing person’s dream.

My Pavlovian response to end of isle displays or emailed discounts is nothing short of perfection.

My shopping ability is, frankly, gold medal standard. It’s just the mess and mayhem of sales that I can’t do. I’m surely not alone in that.

  1. The retailer

It’s estimated that shoppers will spend £1.07bn today, 32 percent up on last year. If I was a retailer there’s a good chance I’d be seduced by this potential. But hold on a minute, there’s another side to this story.


Last year’s Black Friday left Asda, one of the first in the UK to adopt BF, with a bad taste. Over excited customers, whipped into a consumer frenzy, combined with inadequate management and processes led to news bulletins showing customers trampling over each other to grab (and I mean grab) a cheap TV. Not a British queue in sight. Shocking, dangerous, disappointing for many and far from perfect publicity.


To add to the insult, shoppers either left empty handed and upset or grabbed their bargain and left – which really wasn’t the point. Asda will be one of the few to shun Black Friday this year.


By contrast, in 2014 White Stuff, that quintessentially British brand, steered clear of Black Friday, instead opting for the more sedate approach of mailing, vouchers and online offers in the run up to Christmas. Did it miss out? Did it heck.


It announced strong Christmas trading results, with sales up 17.9 percent over the key Christmas trading period, an increase of 6.5 percent compared to the same period in 2013. One of the reasons for this, it said, was its full price trading stance and extra gift card promotion during Black Friday.

  1. The supply chain

The impact of Black Friday on the retail supply chain is certainly worth a mention – and here I think it’s got to be positive. Yesterday I was hosting a media visit to a Tesco distribution centre (very impressive), getting a behind the scenes look at their recycling operation.


They were ready for Black Friday and have calibrated it into their calendar now, so for them it’s busy business as usual. The supply chain plans for events like these, and having them in the calendar makes them all the more manageable and profitable. It’s a win here.

  1. The media

Regardless of other audiences, for the media Black Friday provides a fact-filled picture bonanza. It doesn’t matter whether the figures are good or bad or the shoppers are naughty or nice – they’ve been publishing stories about queues on Boxing Day for as long as I can remember and I can’t see them stopping any time soon.


From a marketing perspective, Black Friday creates opportunities for engagement, headlines and big bucks. But the jury’s out as to whether it has simply redirected Boxing Day sale spend and if it delivers on the critical added value elements of customer loyalty, trust, and additional sales. The figures from 2015 will make interesting reading.


I’m hoping that a more targeted, customer-centric marketing approach will win out.