Black Friday is upon us. The 24-hour retail bonanza has become big business in the UK too, with retailers predicting that today’s sales will be double those of last year.
While Black Friday has been successfully exported from the US to the UK, Canada and even Latin America, there are still regions around the world that Black Friday has yet to reach. These regions have their own days and in some cases, they make Black Friday look positively tame in comparison.
Invented in the early 1990’s, China’s Singles’ Day is a very recent addition to the holiday calendar – but one that’s really caught on with Chinese consumers. Helped by aggressive marketing of the obscure ‘anti-Valentine’s’ holiday by China’s huge online retailer Alibaba, in 2014 Singles’ Day became the world’s largest online retail event. This year Chinese consumers spent £6bn online over the 24 hours of Singles’ Day.
China’s celebration of bachelorhood isn’t the only huge annual commercial event. The world marks a number of occasions with massive spending splurges – and with consumers increasingly spending their money online, it’s ecommerce that’s most elastic to these seasonal trends.
Perhaps the most famous – but no longer the largest, thanks to China’s singletons – is the ‘Black Friday’ shopping event. This started a few decades ago as a US holiday stretching over the weekend after the US holiday of Thanksgiving, which now culminates in ‘Cybermonday’. This first Monday after Thanksgiving is the biggest day for online purchasing in the mature ecommerce market of the US. The whole weekend event now reaches other markets outside the States, with raised ecommerce activity in places including Canada, Brazil, and Singapore as well as the UK during this period.
But Black Friday is old news. With consumers in big emerging markets such as India, China and Brazil embracing online shopping, a range of other cultural festivals are turning into major ecommerce events.
In China and other markets such as Korea and Vietnam that mark the lunar calendar, New Year is a big event. Commercial activities tend to shut down over the holiday period, so it’s all about the advance sales. Chinese New Year can fall anytime between 20 January and 20 February and tends to be quite an extended season. Like the drawn-out holiday season in the US, Chinese New Year sees several weeks of changed patterns in consumer spending rather than a single day or weekend.
It’s the growing middle classes, fairly new to ecommerce and the internet in general, driving a lot of these new online seasonal booms. India’s expanding ecommerce market means the festival of Diwali sees increasing online spend each year. A survey by PayPal found that three quarters of Indian consumers were intending to shop online during the Diwali season. As the Indian middle classes emerge as a serious consumer base online, that’s potentially a huge seasonal market.
In Japan online spending often sees a summer lift. Many Japanese employees receive bonuses and these are awarded during the summer period. It’s common to see a rise in spending on luxury goods and leisure activities, including travel. Purchases such as these are increasingly happening in an online environment.
Over in Russia, there’s a rise in household expenditure at the end of summer, as the annual start of the school year is marked as a major occasion. Sending a child back to school properly equipped is often a major financial undertaking and some businesses will even offer loans specifically for this occasion.
In Brazil, you can expect to see a bump in spending around mid-June as the country celebrates Día dos Namorados (Lovers’ day). There are similar days dedicated to romance worldwide but the dates often vary across the world. Taiwan even celebrates two: one in February and one in July.
Many of the big shopping events reflect existing cultural events but there are some exceptions. Inspired by Alibaba taking ownership of Singles’ Day, the Middle East’s largest online retailer Souq.com recently tried to create its own online bonanza event. The event took place at the same time the US was going frantic over the Black Friday weekend. Like Alibaba’s Single’s Day, White Friday began by allowing consumer browsing behavior with previews of discounted goods available on Souq.com’s mobile shopping app. Previewed products were then available over the weekend with many discounts being offered.
A key part of Souq.com’s strategy was arranging partnerships with brands such as Pepsi and Mastercard, which offered 15% discount to shoppers using a Mastercard over the weekend. Part of the objective of the event was to try and incentivise consumers who hadn’t yet bought anything online to try ecommerce, as well as encourage online payment. Cash on delivery remains the most popular means of payment for online purchases, hence Mastercard’s incentive for using credit card payments online.
Will it continue?
The death of Black Friday and Cybermonday is a common theme for Western newspaper columns in the last quarter of the year, yet it never quite seems to go away. It’s thought that these short shopping bonanzas are likely to gradually decrease in impact on annual e-commerce sales as online shopping becomes more of a daily habit and less of a special occasion. This trend is likely to flatten out the patterns in online spending with fewer huge peaks and troughs. This is likely to be increasingly true in emerging markets where consumers relatively new to ecommerce become more regular online shoppers. For now there remains plenty of activity around these periods in all types of market and the explosive growth of the Singles’ Day event shows how quickly the landscape can change in online seasonal spending habits.
How to respond
It’s important to remember that your competitors will probably be responding to any big retail events in your market, so you may wish to increase your marketing activities to at least keep pace and plan your annual budget accordingly. If you’re operating outside your home market, it’s advisable to partner with an organization with local knowledge and experience so your brand gets things right for an unfamiliar cultural event.
Be aware of cultural events happening outside your immediate markets too. Remember that your brand may unwittingly be part of retail events overseas, especially if you ship abroad. Even if you aren’t directly participating in an event, you may pick up sales from other territories. You might like to drive sales by adding shipping information to help customers understand whether they can expect delivery ahead of an important deadline such as national holiday.
In 2014 email was identified as the strongest driver of both product awareness and purchasing behavior around the US Black Friday shopping event. Online advertising and social media were placed above influence from friends and family when it came to consumer shopping choices during this period.
It’s worth exploring those channels that work best for you under normal circumstance in that market, but also whether that changes during special retail events when consumers may be open to other channels for their shopping ideas.
It’s also advisable to segment your communications to ensure the right messages reach the right consumers. Whatever cultural festival your brand is trying to engage with, good planning and properly executed campaigns are the key to success.