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By Charlie Hope, Retail Principal
Even in spite of rampant inflation and a cost of living crisis, the rumours of Black Friday’s death appear to have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, in many ways the holiday continues to be a success. The stats show us that UK footfall rose 9% on last year, with Nationwide reporting that the number of purchases rose by roughly 10%. As you’d expect, electronics and accessories were the most successful category and saw a 19% increase globally. Clearly, many of us Brits decided to brace the cold and trudge back to the high street to hunt for deals in the real world.
But the real question to ask ourselves is: should Black Friday continue to exist as it is? When we think of Black Friday, it paints pictures of chaos in American malls and crowds climbing over each other to grab the last of this year’s must-have item (hands up if you bought an air fryer this year). With this now comes Cyber Monday, and with the splurge of online shopping comes the process of transporting products from company to customer, and often back again when we return these same items. Once you add the carbon emissions from transport vehicles, the waste we produce from packaging, and old tech thrown into landfills, it raises serious questions and concerns about the importance this holiday holds in the retail calendar.
We are living in a time where the digitalisation of our lives has accelerated the way we shop. Singles Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday - all encourage us to buy more goods and do it quickly. There is an increasing unease that this consumerist mindset is no longer appropriate and aligned with our growing focus on sustainability. As we have all become accustomed to same-day or even instant delivery, not all of us are aware that the emissions from this fast delivery model far exceed those generated from traditional in-store shopping, as trucks leave their stations half full to ensure tight timescales are met.
The environmental impact of this holiday can no longer be ignored. We now expect more from our retailers and beloved brands to help us live a more sustainable lifestyle. With Gen-Z growing into the height of its purchasing power, this year’s data from Statista shows that 91% of their cohort said they would be spending more on Black Friday this year compared to last. And, with more than 50% of Gen-Z choosing brands based on sustainability, we are seeing brands reclaim this weekend to ‘go-green’ to differentiate and build loyalty with the soon-to-be biggest spenders by putting sustainability front and centre. This was evidenced by Ikea opting out of Black Friday this year, choosing to instead offer discounts when customers return used products back to the store, whereas beauty brands such as Rituals offered 20% off in-store sustainable refills as an alternative to traditional discounts.
Ultimately, the actualisation of a ‘Green Friday’ offering requires brands to think about how they can authentically present this change to a newer audience. Many believe that physical retail is the frontier for this change, with brands aiming to drive consumers back to the higher-margin channel and create loyal consumers for life by aligning to their values. The challenge remains that, in order to achieve this, the physical retail experience needs to add more value to customers than the online experience and overcome the cost to the shopper of stepping out their front door.
The role of the physical store continues to be in flux, and brands who can afford to invest in authentic sustainability as part of their core experience may reap the rewards for years to come. Each brand needs to think about their own answers to questions such as: What is the right in-store operating model for your organisation? What do people think of when they interact with your brand in both the physical and digital world, or when they walk through your store? How do you reflect the values of those people you have worked so hard to bring in? And, once they are there, how are you making sure they stay?
I encourage clients to start by picturing what their organisation will look like in 2025. It is quite possible you will be providing new services to new customers in new ways. You should think about how you need to transform your organisation around the three lenses of business, technology, and experience to make that vision a reality. Consider what is the evolving expectation of your brand in the modern world and how you can represent and meet this expectation across the physical and digital channels to make customers feel part of something greater.
My advice to UK retail is this: do not let yourselves get left behind. It is easy to focus on the ‘now’, but in three years’ time, when your largest customer base is primarily choosing brands based on their sustainability and sense of purpose, you may look back on this as the year that everything changed (again).
Liked this content? Get in touch! I host regular 30-minute sessions with UK Retailers to discuss the latest disruptions and innovations we are seeing in the marketplace.