Boxing Day used to be the big date for the start of the UK winter sales season. But in recent years, two other events have crept onto the calendar, getting the discounts going when December has barely arrived. Over the next week, SMEs have several great chances to boost their sales online – and on the high street – with Cyber Monday following hot on the heels of Black Friday, both of them now qualifying as two of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Black Friday occurs at the end of this week, a sales day that originated in the US, taking place on the first Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday. The convention really caught on in the UK last year, as retailers used the date to kick-start the early Christmas shopping season. Then, on December 1, online retailers embrace Cyber Monday, which offers a further round of sales and promotions online, vying for the growing virtual sales market. But, both events aren’t just the preserve of digital businesses – bricks and mortar firms also get in on the act, with many opting to open their doors early this coming Friday and Monday, slashing prices in the hopes of attracting festive bargain hunters.
- British shoppers spent more than £200 million on Black Friday last year, according to Hitachi Personal Finance.
- Cyber Monday last year was the UK’s busiest online shopping day ever, with more than 115 million visits made to internet sales sites in one day, according to Experian.
- UK online sales in December 2013 soared by a fifth overall on the year before, according to the British Retail Consortium and accountant KPMG.
Calculating discounts – and making an online sales push
We’ve talked before about the need for SMEs to use the internet in the 21st century. Those that aren’t will find they’re missing out over the coming days, as hordes of people look for bargains online.
- When pricing your sales offering, watch your margins on any discounted items, and don’t try to slash prices on too many goods. A few mainstream products sold at a decent saving to the shopper could attract business, but if you’re losing too much money, the real gain to the enterprise will be minimal, if anything.
- Shoppers seeking the best deals will use the internet to research what’s on offer before the sales days themselves, so decide your discounts, then ensure your business’s digital platforms advertise promotional messages prominently ahead of time.
- Your digital marketing strategy could include optimised ad word listings to draw traffic to your site via search engines, or up-to-date blogs and tweets pushing your sales events.
- Don’t ignore email marketing – sending out details of forthcoming offers is a great chance to make extra sales. And getting browsers of your website to sign up to your mailing list is a good method of collecting new shoppers’ contact details for future marketing purposes.
- If you’re active on social media platforms – and you should be – then you’ll see Black Friday and Cyber Monday trending over the coming week. Use relevant #hashtags, and include pictures in your tweets to take advantage of this heightened interest. As we’ve said before, almost half of people are more likely to engage with social media content that includes images, so post photos of products, staff, and general festive fun to draw in the virtual shopping crowds.
Shopping via mobile devices
Increasingly, online shoppers are less likely to be in front of their PC at home than browsing for purchases via their smartphones and tablets on the move – in bed, on the bus, pretty much anywhere.
- Three out of four of the purchases made on high street retailer John Lewis’s website last Christmas Day were through a mobile device.
- Marks and Spencer reported last year that festive sales from tablet computers more than doubled.
These may be the big names in retail, but their findings reflect a general move among consumers to shop wherever and whenever they want. As a result, web savvy SMEs will have mobile-friendly versions of their websites all ready to go this shopping season, and should be e-commerce-enabled across digital platforms. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) points out that slow broadband speeds can be a problem for small firms with ambitions to operate transactional sites online. And cyber crime is also a concern – companies must have adequate security measures in place to reassure users it’s safe to hand over their credit card details. Being able to guarantee prompt deliveries is another must. But, since more consumers expect to be able to shop online, businesses must address these issues to give them a smooth, pleasant, and efficient experience, especially if they hope to get any repeat custom post the sales rush.
Are these big sales days good for SMEs?
Critics argue that events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday mostly benefit big retail brands, which tend to win most of the custom. Argos, eBay and Amazon accounted for one in three sales on 2013’s Cyber Monday, according to Experian. And, this year, e-commerce behemoth Amazon predicts that December 1 will be its biggest shopping day ever, with its UK arm hiring more than 13,000 extra temporary staff and creating more than 1,000 new permanent roles to cope with the expected avalanche of orders.
Smaller operators clearly don’t have the promotional budget or deep pockets to finance such a massive marketing and sales push, and may struggle to be heard in the clamour from bigger names over the coming days. But smaller players can still ride the publicity wave of these big events by offering a few key discounted items, without investing too much time or budget. Customers increasingly expect to see some reductions around these dates, so make an effort, but don’t put all of your energy into just two days at an already busy time of year.
And, if you’ve been tardy in preparing for the pre-Christmas sales, don’t despair. One side-effect of more people shopping online is that consumers are increasingly confident in the reliability of online ordering, and of deliveries being made on time, so many are leaving shopping later. With four weeks left before Christmas itself, you still have plenty of time to shift festive sales to customers through last-minute promotions, in-shop events, and social media-driven marketing. So, let the shopping commence…