Forget Black Friday – 2017 was all about the Golden Quarter

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How did the UK's shopping habits evolve during 2017?

Black Friday, in the UK, is no longer synonymous with queuing in the cold to bag that must-have Christmas toy or coveted piece of designer clobber at a bargain price. Back in 2014, shoppers fighting over white-goods and dashing to stores caused an element of hysteria across the country.

Fast forward just three years and shopping habits have changed. British consumers no longer expect to bag-a-bargain on Black Friday alone. Instead, the sales period has been extended and in many ways, a ‘Golden Quarter’ of shopping is now the norm.

Last year, retailers enticed shoppers from as early as October with pre-sales discounts, weekend deals and early-bird offers. Even the Black Friday king, Amazon, triggered its discounts earlier by rolling out its ‘countdown to Black Friday deals’ from of the start of November.

Savvy shoppers took advantage of these extended deals without waiting until Black Friday to make their purchases. Criteo research, drawn from data on millions of searches and purchases during November, shows that shopping days peaked as early as 7 or 15 November – well before the cyber weekend. Not only were shoppers browsing, but they were actually buying too. Both days saw notable rises in conversions (20% and 17.9% respectively versus October’s averages) as consumers were happy to take advantage of earlier price reductions.

Friday feeling

Black Friday, of course, remains key. The John Lewis Partnership can attest to this after posting record sales in 2017. The UK has clearly learnt from 2015, when the traditionally American sale caught merchants by surprise and disappointed shoppers with inadequate inventory stocks.

Retailers have since figured it out, and Criteo saw dramatic sales spikes that day including a 233% increase in the number of shoppers versus the average day in October.

Research from the IMRG, the UK’s online retail association, also supports the trend of Black Friday heralding a longer buying bonanza showing Black Friday week kicked off with 114 out of 210 UK retailers running an online sale of some sort. In addition, a staggering £1.4bn was spent on online sales in the UK on Black Friday this year – up some 11.7% on 2016, according to IMRG, as online purchasing continued to play a huge role. As with previous years, Black Friday sales have not just been restricted to the high street.

But whether online or in-store, the Golden Quarter saw UK consumers buy more than ever! While average basket value peaked at £132 on Black Friday, November also saw figures climb to over £100 as retail prices tumbled. With an extended sales period, shoppers feel less pressured to splurge on a single day and are able to wait for the right price or item to be reduced. If this comes on Black Friday, then so be it but the 'wait until Friday' sentiment has lost something since the UK adopted the sales extravaganza from our American cousins.

The data behind the discounts

What hasn’t changed is the fact that shoppers want a consistent experience, whether they are in-store or on a mobile app. For too long the retail industry has talked about the battle between in-store and online. Shoppers don’t think that way. They shop, they buy. The smartest retailers and brands are building long-time customer loyalty by personalising customer experiences and enabling shoppers to buy when they want, where they want.

Our data confirms this omnichannel approach to the Golden Quarter. Over half of all shoppers (56%) were using their phone to make these purchases on Black Friday itself, compared to 29% on desktop. Simply, consumers demand convenience, and retailers who implement features that make shopping easier such as showrooming, click-and-collect, and user-friendly apps on mobile have the best chance of standing out from the crowd during a hectic period.

The retail industry is facing a huge shift and needs to recognise the opportunities and benefits of utilising their data to provide these services in a seamless and consistent customer experience. As the UK retail industry announces its various earnings this week, those who have been able to do so, and put aside the battle between in-store and online offerings, look set for longer-term success.

Black Friday may not signal the chaotic scenes it once did, however that spending hasn’t gone away, it’s simply been replaced by a much longer ‘Golden Quarter’ shopping period.

John Gillan is managing director, UK and Northern Europe, of Criteo

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