Black Friday, the annual retail shopping feast, falls on Friday 25 November this year, and South Africa’s online retailers are gearing up for an influx of bargain-hungry shoppers. Although it is a longstanding American “tradition” (it is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the US, and marks the beginning of the country’s Christmas shopping season), Black Friday has become a global shopping phenomenon – with retailers offering huge discounts on a range of products.
In SA, where e-commerce has been steadily gaining momentum among a young and internet-savvy population, Black Friday is becoming a significant day for e-tailers.
“For local e-commerce sites, Black Friday provides an immense opportunity to make significant transactions in the run-up to Christmas,” says Charlie Stewart, CEO of digital marketing agency Rogerwilco.
Flash sales and feeding frenzies
According to Stewart, interest is growing “exponentially”. He notes that in 2015, Google Trends indicated that roughly four times as many people searched for Black Friday deals than in 2014. This isn’t going unnoticed by the big names in local e-commerce, which have seen spikes in sales that reveal interest has translated into transactions.
“In 2014, the year South African retailers started to run Black Friday campaigns, sites like Spree and Kalahari.com reported huge surges in web traffic and sales,” says Stewart. “What’s interesting is seeing how e-tailers have played with the concept of flash sales…earlier this year Chris Willemse Cycles ran a Black Braaiday campaign around Heritage Day – and saw a 150% growth in online sales when compared to the previous weekend.”
Kevin Tucker, founder of the online price comparison guide PriceCheck, echoes this sentiment, saying that last year Black Friday was “immensely successful” for all retailers that participated, citing Checkers, Dis-Chem and takealot as among the standouts.
“Black Friday offers a specific day that South African consumers can get excited about, knowing that there will be genuine deals,” Tucker adds, although he cautions e-tailers against going ‘too low’ in order to win over SA shoppers.
“The great thing about Black Friday is that it is an opportunity to acquire customers at low cost,” says Tucker. “So it’s imperative not to create a negative experience. Don’t offer products that aren’t selling throughout the year and don’t offer poor discounts. Anything below a 30% to 40% discount will be seen as a cop-out.”
Optimising the experience
Apart from treading a fine line between discounts and sheer giveaways, Rogerwilco’s Stewart says that e-tailers should also be paying close attention to optimising the mobile experience in the run up to retail’s big day out.
He points to a report by research firm Effective Measure, which indicates that 41% of South Africans prefer to shop using a mobile device – yet many local e-commerce sites offer a poor mobile browsing experience.
“While it may be too late for retailers to address their website’s mobile browsing experience, this is something they need to focus their attention on in the coming month,” notes Stewart.
In addition, he says that starting now, e-tailers should be creating landing pages for their Black Friday deals. According to Stewart, even if they don’t populate these with their special offers until late November, merely creating the pages will encourage Google to index the sites – thus increasing the chances of people finding their sites in the days leading up to Black Friday.
“At the moment, a search for Black Friday deals 2016 returns no local results on page one, so there’s a good opportunity to steal a march on the competition,” he adds.
Lastly, e-tailers should take a closer look at their existing infrastructure. In recent years, the additional web traffic generated by flash sales has led to some high-profile website crashes – with all the resulting social media vitriol and brand damage. Now, with new technology platforms providing scaled hosting options, local e-tailers have the means to make sure that more servers are made available as site traffic swells.
‘Just because it’s on sale…’
For consumers on the lookout for juicy deals, Tucker from PriceCheck urges shoppers to look closely at return policies.
“Always understand the return policies and make sure the products you’re buying are new,” he advises. “Be sure you’re not buying old stock or refurbished products. Just because it’s on sale, doesn’t mean you have to keep it if it’s defective.”
Also, be patient (although this is not a quality most eager shoppers are renowned for!). If you’re not sure who’s going to be offering Black Friday deals, Stewart recommends setting up Google Alert to send you emails each time Black Friday is mentioned in online chatter, and of course, monitor your favourite retailers’ social media platforms for updates and information
This article originally appeared in the 17 November edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.