Not so long ago, Black Friday referred to the last Friday before Christmas, a night synonymous with Christmas parties and general Christmas revelry. Over the past few years, however, the phrase has been hijacked and attributed to a day when retailers have braced themselves for the onslaught of Christmas shoppers all expecting to snap up the best deals, on a day that has become known to be one of, if not the, biggest shopping day of the year.
With the event fast approaching, there is still time for retailers to make sure they are prepared for the surge in sales and the impact that this may have on all aspects of their business.
We outline a few key areas that will be under the spotlight this Black Friday weekend.
Type in 'Black Friday 2015' into a search engine and you will be presented with details of articles noting what the best deals are expected to be. Despite months and months of planning, with so many promotions taking place over such a short space of time, retailers might be concerned as to whether their carefully planned marketing strategy will be noted by consumers in such a noisy market.
Whilst the temptation might be to try and market deals as widely as possible to customers, retailers should always be aware of their obligations under data protection legislation; particularly regarding direct marketing.
Retailers should make sure that their customer marketing lists are up to date, complying with any preferences submitted by customers when signing up for e-mails. This ensures that marketing information is targeted at those who are most likely to respond to it (rather than complain about it). Importantly it should also prevent retailers from falling foul of their data protection obligations.
Last year major retailers were criticised as their websites could not cope with the volumes of visitors, which left customers in online queues or unable to process orders. With website traffic expected to increase by anything up to 500%, ensuring that your infrastructure can cope with the rapid increase in web traffic is vital.
Load-testing websites will be imperative in the run up to Friday 27 November and retailers must not underestimate peak times for online shopping.
E-commerce experts have suggested other ways of ensuring the core functionality of retail websites across this period remains stable, including disabling certain 'add-ons' that may not be essential to the customer shopping experience.
Turning off functions such as recommendations and recently viewed products can help ensure that the transaction function of a website is not too compromised by an influx of web traffic. Customers are far more likely not to care about personalised home pages during this time; particularly if it acts a block to them purchasing goods.
Cyber-security has also been a hot topic this year. Maintaining appropriate security for your website will not only protect any customer details, but also brand reputation.
Once the deals have been snapped up, focus will be on the delivery of the ordered goods. With internet sales alone expected to reach £1 billion over 24 hours – a first for the UK - no doubt delivery companies will be stretched to breaking point. This has the potential to impact on any service levels agreed with their customers.
As in previous years, much attention will be drawn to any retailers suffering from delivery delays and customer complaints. To address these issues now retailers need to work closely with their delivery companies to develop a strategy taking into account the requirement for increased capacity. Good contract management will be key throughout this time to continuously monitor delivery performance and anticipate any major issues before they have a chance to arise.
Some retailers may want to consider whether there should be special terms and conditions regarding delivery that need to apply to sales made over the Black Friday weekend. For example, many may choose (or have already chosen) to scrap their next day delivery option. This is a relatively easy last minute change to make, which, whilst may be irksome to some customers, will be far less painful in the long run than dealing with a barrage of complaints when orders fail to arrive within advertised time slots.
Many will remember the images in the media of anti-social behaviour across retail outlets as customers resorted to drastic measures to hold onto items that they queued for from the early hours.
While these behaviours were not caused by retailers themselves, they where heavily criticised for not being prepared for the expected rush. In many cases this resulted in the emergency services needing to be brought in.
To ensure lessons are learned from the past few years, retailers should ensure that their health and safety assessments are up to date. Bigger stores should look to put crowd control strategies in place and train their staff on these.
In some cases where there is a greater concern, retailers may wish to resource additional temporary security staff from external contractors. Or perhaps double up on shifts for existing security guards to lessen any risk to staff and other customers.
With so many offers to choose from and the fear of losing out on an item, Black Friday and the weekend is just as much about impulse-purchases as it is buying Christmas presents for family and friends.
Reportedly 30% of the goods purchased on last year’s Black Friday were being returned in the days and weeks following the event. Retailers should make sure that their terms and conditions of sale and returns policies are up to date with the most recent changes in consumer legislation, particularly those who sell products by means of distance-selling.
Furthermore, with it being quite commonplace to offer extended refund windows at this time of year, retailers need to ensure that any stationery is up to date, for example despatch notes, receipts etc. They also need to make sure that staff are aware of and trained in answering queries about refund policies is a must.
With shopping over the entire weekend of Black Friday to Cyber Monday projected to hit £3.5 billion, learning the lessons from previous years and preparing across all areas of the business will be essential to a successful and lucrative kick off to the Christmas shopping season.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions on www.TLTsolicitors.com