Black Friday and its digital cousin Cyber Monday, are becoming a staple of the shopping calendar. So how can businesses take advantage of these dates in innovative ways, even if they're not in retail?

A few years ago, Black Friday was only an American thing; just like baseball, no one else could see what all the fuss was about.

How things have changed. In the UK especially, Black Friday and its digital cousin Cyber Monday, are becoming a staple of the shopping calendar, with Black Friday increasingly acknowledged as an unofficial beginning to the festive season. This year, Black Friday is scheduled a month from the festive season on 25th November.

Where did it all start?

Black Friday falls the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday, which is always the fourth Thursday of November, and can be traced back to the 1930s when retailers noticed a regular upswing in trading on this date.  

Originally the increase in shopping footfall was attributed to the date’s proximity to the festive period and the fact that many US workers take holiday leave to extend Thanksgiving into a four-day weekend. Retailers then began to exploit this happy coincidence by offering large discounts on stock; a price war ensued, and now Black Friday (so called because it gives retailers the chance to move their account balance from ‘the red’ to ‘the black’) is the busiest shopping day of the year.  

Cyber Monday is a more recent addition with a focus on online retailers who commonly extend and increase their discounts from Black Friday to keep the sale event going a few days more and encourage customers to keep spending. Cyber Monday has been used by many online retailers as an opportunity to get one-up on their traditional high-street counterparts, by putting longer-lasting and more convenient deals right at their customers’ fingertips.  

Back to Britain

In the UK, both of these day-long shopping events have attracted excitement and criticism in equal measure.  

There seems to be something decidedly un-British about clamouring over one another to reach a discounted toaster, and the media was quick to point out the undignified nature in which some shoppers have conducted themselves.

In addition, business and economics commentators have argued that engaging in Black Friday is an exercise in futility for businesses, who are simply concentrating trade on one particular day, and making less profit from goods than they might otherwise have.  

Another question that many critics on this side of the Atlantic have raised is simply ‘why’?  

Thanksgiving is an American tradition first and foremost, so the factors which created the conditions for Black Friday to evolve in the US never existed here. When it was first introduced as ‘a thing’ by supermarket ASDA (owned by American retailer Walmart) the business world gave a collective snort of scepticism; surely the idea would never take off here?

But it did, and whilst the grumblings will continue, and some retailers will boycott it (as they did last year) there is no doubt that Black Friday will create opportunities for a pre-festive sales boost. Whether or not this boost in sales is of benefit to your business, is largely down to how carefully you plan your strategy.

We talked to David Clark, Finance Director at online retailer Jewellery Box, who are based at The Biscuit Factory, about their preparations for this year. Read our full interview with David here.

“Cyber Monday is super exciting for us as a retailer; however operationally it needs a lot of prep work,” said David. 

“Last year we sold an item of jewellery every 44 seconds over the 24-hour period. 

“Dealing with that volume of orders in one day really pushes us to the max with everyone in the team mucking in to get parcels out to be delivered for the next day. It truly feels like you’re Santa’s little helpers!”

That doesn't sound like a bad position for a business to be in, so...

How to prepare your business for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Set your objectives

Do not take part simply because it is the ‘done thing’. Unless you can identify how being involved will create significant benefits it’s not worth your time or energy.

Aside from giving your sales a boost in the short term, Black Friday can help reinvigorate your marketing, particularly online where a high level of engagement can increase your customer following.

But you don’t have to actively take part to reap some of the marketing benefits. For example, in 2015 US Apparel company REI made an opportunity out of their objections to Black Friday by closing all its stores and encouraging their customers to enjoy outdoor activities instead via their #OptOutside social-media campaign. Their strategy was highly successful in highlighting the brand with over one million people taking their pledge to enjoy the outdoors on Black Friday.

Research your competitors

Make no mistake, your customers will be shopping around. You should do the same to avoid being out done. Online is a good place to start with a number of Twitter accounts and deal aggregators already being updated with Black Friday discounts.  

Offer of the Day is a particularly good resource because its search functionality allows you to not only filter results by item, but also by retailer, giving you a better chance of undercutting your rivals.  

Set targets and prepare the staff

Both before the event and during it, targets will help to keep the forward momentum going, giving the whole team something positive to work towards.

Train your staff for the challenges that large sales events can bring, but also be sure to create and highlight incentives which will get them excited and keep them engaged.

Deliver a strong marketing campaign

Standing out against the competition will be all the more challenging on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so invest time to make sure your marketing strategy is on point.

But don’t show your hand too early - your competitors will be very interested to learn your intentions, so hold back some trump cards until it’s too late for them to react, but early enough to engage your customers.

American businesses seem to have got the hang of this better than British ones; an excellent example being Kohl’s week-long Twitter Trivia Sweepstake, which claimed the social top spot in 2015 by engaging customers over several days before Black Friday.

Have contingency plans

What are you going to do if X,Y and Z happen? Will a technical fault shut down your sales event early, or will you have a backup plan already in place?  This is particularly important if you are an online retailer, where heavy traffic can quickly cripple your capabilities if you’re not prepared for every eventuality. Get any site maintenance completed now and take the necessary steps to avoid potential problems.

But what if you’re not a retailer?  

If you are not a retailer in the traditional sense of the word, you’ve really got to be creative to take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  

A great example of a non-retail business taking advantage of Black Friday was UBER and their “5 Days of Giving” campaign in which drivers delivered free luxury gifts to passengers in New York who entered the code ‘TAPGETGIVE’ through the Uber app.

There are many reasons why businesses like UBER are so keen to be involved:

  • Everyone is aware of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so they are a ready-made opportunity to give sales a boost through discounts and offers
  • Many industries have been slow to pick up on the potential of these sales events, seeing them as only for retailers; this year could be your opportunity to shake things up a bit
  • It can be much less labour intensive for non-retailers to create these one-off sales events, since many are service based and do not need to put special measures in place to meet demand
  • These sales events create an opportunity to reinvigorate sales teams, and to reestablish contact with lapsed clients.

If you're more of a consumer than retailer this Black Friday, be sure to keep your eyes peeled to the HomeWork hub this month as we’ll be teasing some top tips to help shoppers get the very best Black Friday deals.