Black Friday All change for shopping’s ‘golden quarter’

Holiday shopping is evolving rapidly as offers start earlier and the focus on sustainability continues to grow.

(Photo: GettyImages/ArtistGNDphotography)

2020 was a watershed year for Black Friday: for the first time ever, more people spent more money online than in stores. According to a Gfk survey of selected countries around the world, e-commerce accounted for 53% of all sales during last year’s annual shopping extravaganza. In the United States, nearly twice as many consumers stayed home to shop online instead of going out to stores.

Of course, this wasn’t a huge surprise. E-commerce has been growing in popularity for years; and Covid-19 lockdowns meant many shoppers either chose or were forced to avoid stores.

A year on, Covid restrictions may not be as harsh, but the pandemic is ensuring the year’s busiest shopping period continues to evolve. Even before Coronavirus, Black Friday was becoming more of a week than a day. Now, it’s rapidly grown from a week into a full-blown season. This year, supply chain bottlenecks and labour shortages have encouraged retailers to extend offer periods in a bid to balance supply and demand.

Longer offer periods = less pressure

Black Friday isn’t the only major shopping event to experience this shift. Singles’ Day, China’s increasingly international shopping festival, is also changing from a spectacular flash sale to a multi-week affair. This year, Alibaba and JD.com, the country’s two main e-commerce platforms, kicked things off in early October, with sales ending at midnight on 11 November.

“The e-commerce sector is in the midst of shifting the focus away from a few huge days back to more of a peak season with a longer period of constant demand,” says Dennis Kollmann, Chief Sales Officer for Hermes Germany.

This reduces the pressure on retailers and logistics providers. Short but massive spikes in orders are tough to plan for in terms of capacity. Peak periods require extra staff and temporary sorting locations. Stretching the peaks out across seven or eight weeks of consistent volumes makes this easier.

Growing focus on sustainability

With this year’s holiday shopping already well underway, early signs are that 2021 will be a record year for sales volumes in major markets like the US and UK. And despite the continued growth in online shopping, bricks and mortar isn’t quite dead just yet. “In 2021, more consumers are expected to come back to stores on Black Friday, with 48% saying they prefer a hybrid on- and offline shopping experience,” says a report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Another growing trend is the interest in both social and environmental responsibility. This has already been seen during Singles’ Day: Alibaba’s Cainiao logistics arm opened thousands of recycling stations for packaging materials, for example, and encouraged sellers to donate a portion of their income to good causes.

The long-term effect of increased sustainability on shopping’s ‘golden quarter’ remains to be seen. According to a new European consumer report, 60% of shoppers are now buying less than before the pandemic, while almost half of young adults are keen to limit spending to protect the environment.

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