The Evolution of Black Friday: What You Need to Know in 2021

Black Friday 2021 is a big day for marketers

The Evolution of Black Friday: What You Need to Know in 2021

The days of Black Friday being a solely American curiosity are far behind us. Originally the first Monday after Thanksgiving, during which retailers would sell lots of their products for discounted rates, Black Friday has travelled far and wide since its first mention in the New York Times on November 29, 1975.

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While markets like the UK were quick to catch on – with early morning queues and scraps for TVs becoming the norm – others like India took some time to come around. And as for our home DACH market? “While just a few years ago Black Friday wasn’t a big thing in DACH, nowadays it is an integral advertising moment for many digital brands, including both ecommerce and subscription businesses,” says our Global Digital Expert, Polina Weber.

For brands looking to make a splash, there are few advertising opportunities like Black Friday. That’s why we felt it was high time to take a look at the world’s most famous shopping holiday and what we can expect for 2021. With additional insights from Polina and Ulrike Tusk (Global Expert Offline), we’ll help you navigate through the shopping season – strap yourselves in!

Black Friday is changing 

It’s true Black Friday is now a global affair – but that’s not the only change in the air. In recent years, the shopping holiday has radically changed, especially with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020.  In fact, in more recent years it has expanded to encompass an entire week – and focused more on online sales – which has been titled Cyber Week.

Black Friday is definitely a special day for bargain-hungry shoppers. But for marketers? Polina doesn’t think you should look at it in the same way. “My advice would be to treat it as any other marketing campaign you are running”, she says. “Look into your unit economics, find out your monetary goal and work out which performance KPIs matter to you and your business.” 

Digital is now at the forefront

Black Friday 2021 will be a top target for marketers of all stripes

Black Friday has moved from the street to the world wide web. While ecommerce has been on the up for many years, it was the pandemic that encouraged many of us to give up physical shopping for good. And that has made a big impact on the Black Friday experience too. 

In fact, a Publicis Sapient survey in the US has shown that if retailers sell their products both online and in physical stores, 74% of respondents would prefer to buy online. And it shows in the spending figures from last year. While consumers spent US$9 billion on Black Friday in 2020, an increase of 21.6% year over year and a record to boot, visitor numbers in physical shops on the day tanked. Physical in-store traffic was down 52% according to this report from CNBC. This means only one thing: that digital is picking up the pieces.

What about the rest of the world? As for Germany, 74% said they would do their shopping online for Black Friday 2020. While we cannot make any firm predictions in this COVID era, we are sure that ecommerce is here to stay.

Will consumers come back to IRL?

Will IRL shopping come back for Black Friday 2021?

For many, the shift to online shopping for Black Friday was just out of necessity last year. But it’s not just that. In fact, the most common reasons noted in the aforementioned Publicis Sapient survey were to avoid crowds and in order to shop around for the best deals. One other thing to note: last year’s Black Friday came during the second wave of corona. With many shoppers concerned about the spread of the virus – plus bars and restaurants in Germany and across Europe shut – it’s likely many consumers weren’t as interested in the IRL shopping experience. That’s why, in the case that there is no significant lockdown this winter in Germany – and in the rest of the world – you can expect Black Friday physical retail to have a significant comeback. You can expect brands to go more experiential to capture consumers and take them back to city-centre locations like London’s West End. Whether it’s in-store rock climbing walls, virtual Lego or a fitting room treadmill, consumers are looking for so-called retailtainment – and that counts for Black Friday 2021 too.

Offline tips and tricks

For marketers running offline campaigns, our Global Offline Expert Ulrike recommends considering Black Friday as part of a wider campaign for the gift season as a whole – instead of focusing on just one specific day. 

This means integrating Black Friday 2021 into your Christmas campaign planning. “In case you have dedicated discounts, products and offers for Black Friday, you could think about producing a creative to communicate this, but it should always be balanced between the cost and the benefits,” explains Ulrike. After all, offline creatives can be expensive and need to be prepared far in advance to ensure production and delivery. Also worth noting: these creatives – if specific to Black Friday – can’t keep running after the event date. That’s why we’d only advise a standalone Black Friday campaign for the biggest, most financially well-off brands.

What else? One tip we have is to think wider than just traditional linear TV. We’ve noticed TV is jam packed lately as brands return after the lockdown, so perhaps it’s time to consider some of the other channels. Why not radio or OOH? 

What’s up and what’s down

Electronics are amongst the most in-demand items for Black Friday 2021With regards to what products are hot, there are definitely some global differences to look into. Looking back at last year in Germany, electronics were top. In Germany, 61% of men and 39% of women were interested in buying electronic products, coming way ahead of clothing and apparel at 36% total. This holds true for other markets like the US where electronic products were high up there in the purchase stakes, although in the land of the stars and stripes clothing was top dog. With 41% of Americans having planned to buy clothing online during Black Friday 2020 according to GWI, we’re interested to see if this trend holds this year.

What about gaming? Last year saw a dip in digital game revenue over Black Friday, something which has been attributed to prevalence of digital gaming subscriptions plus the fact that the next-gen versions of the Playstation and Xbox had not been released yet. With these consoles now more widely available, we’re sure that digital gaming purchases will see a big uptick for Black Friday 2021.

A holistic view

All in all, Black Friday is a crucial time for sales – but also needs to be looked at within the bigger picture. In fact, our expert Polina is in favour of analysing your Black Friday 2021 results holistically and more long term, looking beyond just the revenue or sales spike. “You should analyse the customer lifetime value and margin to understand the value of the specific users you are bringing to your product at this time of the year,” she says. Black Friday might be great for some quick sales, but it’s an even bigger opportunity to learn more about your customers and refine your overall marketing strategy.

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