For decades, Black Friday has kicked off a critical end-of-year trading period for many retailers. Complex supply chains and changeable customer behaviours have always made this tricky, but 2021 brings a special set of challenges. With this in mind, here are our top predictions in the lead-up to Christmas this year.

1. Prepare for a noisy marketplace

The media is already rife with news about this year’s Black Friday event, with The Telegraph reporting big promotions from Amazon, John Lewis, Currys, Sky and even eBay. This year’s sales period is also expected to be longer than ever.

This means that if you decide to take part in Black Friday, you need to get creative and make sure your promotions stand out from the crowd. Added-value offers such as free and/or next day delivery will also help convert browsers into loyal customers.

2. Promotions, where offered, will be deeper

Retailers’ fortunes have been mixed since January. Some have traded below their expectations, especially during the late summer and early autumn, but others are seeing as much as 30% growth on last year. The latter group of retailers may not need to offer significant deals, but we still expect to see some deep promotions as businesses make the most of the Black Friday buzz to shift surplus stock.

Overall, we expect price-cutting and special deals to be on a par with those in late 2019, which turned out to be a bumper trading period for most.

3. Shopping is starting early this year

As we mentioned in a recent post, after a decade of Black Friday shopping starting later and later, this year shoppers are already starting to hunt for bargains. Retail Week also confirms the festive rush has started already and that an almost 8% increase in in-store footfall is expected in Black Friday week. This compares with pre-pandemic increases of almost 2% in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

In 2020, shoppers stocked up early to beat product shortages and price hikes, and it seems as though similar concerns may be brewing this year. With recent long queues at petrol stations a reminder of just how quickly the media can influence buyer behaviour, it’s important to stay agile. For instance, the furore around the ‘battle to save Christmas’ will likely prompt consumers to head to the shops and online in droves earlier than usual.

Latest findings from flexible payment platform Klarna support the belief that shoppers are buying early this year. While the main reason is to take advantage of sales and deals (59%), a large proportion want to avoid shipping delays (44%), and over two-fifths want to ensure product availability (42%). Retailers should also prepare for the fact that over seven in ten (72%) plan to do the bulk of their buying during Black Friday.

With all of this in mind, early bird offers should work well this year.

4. Mainstream tech may wane

The lockdowns inevitably led to a number of consumers buying in technology to enable them work from home for the first time. According to a recent report from MediaVision, searches for digital devices are down because the majority of consumers now have most of the tech they want. In fact, a whopping 90% of ‘tech & goods’ brands will decline this season.

Although there will still be demand for tech, this will predominantly be technophiles who demand the latest, shiniest version of their devices, and are keen to hunt for deals.

5.Fashion is on the up

As we begin to think about dressing up to see colleagues, friends and family in the run-up to Christmas, clothing retailers should see a welcome boost in sales. We’re predicting a bounce-back in demand for popular fashion clothing labels, with online searches skyrocketing for black tie dresses (515%), occasion dresses (132%), smart coats and jackets (109%), and men’s suits (104%). Predictions for the top five ‘fast growers’ this season range from a 76% increase for Moss Bros up to a 223% increase for Lavish Alice.

6. A clear ethical stance could win big

The climate emergency is also at the forefront of consumers’ minds this season, with growing anxiety likely to affect shopping habits. Recent research by digital performance marketing agency Tug bears this out, with UK shoppers favouring retail brands with a defined ethical stance. Importantly, 78% said they will be searching out these brands for their Black Friday and Cyber Monday splurges, 63% will do so for Christmas purchases, and the majority will do their research either online via search engines or social channels. This means that to get the most traction over the next couple of months, retailers should be promoting their environmental credentials strongly across all their digital channels.

This year, shoppers are showing every sign that they’re keen to buy into the Black Friday hype – they have money to spend, healthy wish lists and a determination to enjoy a more ‘normal’ festive season. The key for multichannel retailers will be to get creative with offers and push their messaging out across all relevant channels. If you have any questions about how to get the best out of Black Friday this year, we’re here to help.