Black Friday 2020: Retail Frenzy or Digital Disaster?

We’re one week away from Black Friday and I’m still pulling Excitable Edgar’s dragon ash out of my hair. Is it that time of year already?

If you’ve not been on the internet this week, first, check your pulse, then check social media. The Christmas adverts are back with a vengeance. And with them, the barrage of Black Friday deals in our inboxes.

How will Black Friday be different this year?

Far from the high street stampedes of yesteryear, Black Friday 2020 will take place during a national lockdown. This will give ‘essential’ supermarkets the upper hand. Given you can buy a PlayStation 5 as easily as you can a broccoli floret, this carb-lover is predicting no lack of footfall.

In 2019, high street retailers forecasted an eye-watering £8.57 billion turnover – some 16.5 per cent more than 2018. For all the convenience of shopping online, there’s still something to be said about Christmas lights, high-calorie lattes and hair-raising parking prices.

So, how can we recreate the magic at home?

“Email will play a pivotal role”

Back in August, I had the pleasure of chatting with ecommerce email strategist Samar Owais. She advised that marketers should “expect the unexpected” and make realistic sales projections – 2020 is not the year to depend on trends.

“Retailers need to have a full Black Friday/Cyber Monday strategy, offering perks like early sales and faster shipping,” she advised.

Well, anybody who’s ever bought anything on Amazon will have noticed their incessant “Early Black Friday Deals”. These were coming out before Halloween – suggesting that, perhaps, in 2020, we should call it ‘Black Frimonth’.

Don’t forget, this was just two weeks after Amazon Prime Day. Love them or loathe them, they’ve nailed the ‘slow trickle’ effect.

“Retailers will try to keep the mood positive”

Ecommerce expert Andrew Chart told me that there will be no sign of online spending slowing down while “the pandemic is in control”. He said: “I think the government will want to keep the mood positive to bolster the economy at Christmas, and that retailers are likely to market in a similar way, if not a little bit desperately!”

Andrew added that there would be “some degree of sensitivity” around advertising this year. Again, keep in mind that this conversation was back in summer. (Sorry for being slow. A lot has happened since then – remember that crazy man on Twitter?)

Fast forward to November. Was Andrew right?

Marketing for sensitive souls

Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can. But enough about cringey celebrity pandemic songs – imagine a world without a John Lewis Christmas advert.

This is 2020, and that nearly happened.

“We did consider whether it was right to produce an ad this year at all,” says James Bailey, Executive Director at Waitrose. Thank goodness they did – Waitrose and John Lewis’ shared Give a Little Love campaign is set to raise £5 million for vulnerable people.

Sainsbury’s tugged at the heartstrings with its home videos, featuring phone calls between families. (Sadly, this sparked a number of ludicrous complaints from viewers who felt they were “not represented”…despite other retailers humanising dragons and carrots.)

Aldi stuck to the status quo but reinforced the need to ‘be together at Christmas’ – quite pertinent in lockdown, but perhaps a little too ‘normal’ for what is a very abnormal year.

Others have taken a blunter, but more relatable approach. Lidl poked fun at Aldi’s carrots, while satirising the format of Christmas adverts in general.

Meanwhile, Tesco enjoyed irreverent tones with its series of lockdown confessions, set to the tune of Britney Spears. That’s a winner in my book – acknowledging the trials of the pandemic, but with a light-hearted twist.

But seriously

No one really knows how to feel in the age of COVID-19. Should we be more forgiving, or is now, more than (bloody) ever, a time to wake up to reality?

In a curiously un-Christmassy move, mobile carrier firm GiffGaff is discouraging us all from flagrant consumerism. Its new Check Your Drawers campaign promotes a circular economy, encouraging viewers to recycle their old mobile phones.

According to research from LadBible, there are 55 million phones lying around in drawers in the UK – with some drawers valued at £598 each.

GiffGaff’s Head of Brand Strategy Georgina Bramall said:

Consumers are becoming more demanding and are expecting brands to act more responsibly. I think we’re incredibly conscious in the telco space, but there’s a lot we can do to act much more responsibly and much more sustainably.

The carbon footprint

The campaign couldn’t have come a minute sooner. Black Friday 2020 is set to cause an “emissions spike” says, thanks to a surge in online deliveries. Added to this, next day deliveries require drivers to use their own vehicles, making journeys more fuel intensive.

There’s a stark difference in consumer attitudes during #Lockdown2. Back in summer, Adobe revealed that:

  • One in three of us wants a high street VAT cut
  • A fifth of us want Amazon to pay more tax
  • One in seven thinks delivery charges should be compulsory.

We profess to care about the environment, but is Christmas the exception? Findings revealed that 85 per cent of us plan to shop for Black Friday deals. What’s more, despite the economy, we’re planning to spend 18 per cent more than we did last year. That’s a lot of PlayStations.

Should we be worried?

Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, I’m here to tell you about all the dangers of online shopping. Cybercriminals are doubtless poised to steal data from consumers who use the same passwords on multiple ecommerce sites.

According to Times Now News, one in every 826 emails in November is a retail phishing scam. In October, this number is a far friendlier one in 11,000.

If you’re new to online shopping, keep the following in mind:

  • Use different passwords for every account
  • Use two-factor authentication e.g. a password and a mobile phone pin
  • Look for the padlock symbol in the address bar
  • Never, ever click on email links if you’re not sure!

And now for the good news

It’s not all doom and gloom. The serial swipers among us should see a marked improvement in UX this year. Perhaps we’ll even see fewer website crashes – marketers could learn from the ill-fated PS5 launch and its subsequent bugs.

But beyond first world problems, we could see real change:

The takeaway

Excessive consumerism at Christmas is a British institution; no pandemic is going to change that. What will change, however, is our attitude. It’s heartening to see marketers moving away from gratuitous glitz and glamour, and focusing on ‘what really matters’ this year.

The high street may be suffering, but the British spirit does not falter. Let’s hope the spotlight shines on small businesses in 2020 – if they can survive this, they can survive anything.

Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
19th November 2020