Joining the likes of Barbie and Beyoncé, the hamburger and powered flight, it seems that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two more American imports that have taken up a permanent berth in the British consciousness. Despite some ugly scenes at various retailers last year as frenzied deal-hunters wrestled with televisions and each other in search of precious savings, Black Friday 2014 in the UK saw an 18% rise in overall sales (according to Barclays) following a 21% increase the year before.
A rather more dignified rush took place online, with Cyber Monday (Black Friday's younger sibling by three days) generating a dizzying £720 million in UK online sales via 161 million visits to retail websites, a 40% jump from 2013. 60% of retail traffic over the Black Friday long weekend came from mobile devices, conjuring images of employees around the country frantically trying to bag bargains on their lunchbreaks or in the queue for the bus.
I don't yet have the figures for the Black Friday weekend 2015 but I'd be willing to make a very large bet, at very low odds, that this year's revenues will significantly exceed the records set last year as more retailers attempt to join the party. Even the hairdresser I walked past on my lunchbreak had a blackboard outside offering Black Friday haircuts which presumably guarantee 40% less hair on leaving the salon.
Despite some talk last year about the ugly face of unfettered capitalism (and it is interesting that Asda, scene of some high-profile appliance wrestling in 2014 have declared that they're not taking part in this year's events) most people in business would agree that the Black Friday / Cyber Monday phenomenon can only be a good thing. A massive spike in sales as we approach the highest spending period of the year? What's not to like?
I would, however, offer a few words of caution to retailers and even though they may come too late for this year, it's probably worth bearing them in mind in the future.
A sudden surge in sales does bring with it a range of potential problems. Last year both John Lewis and Argos suffered costly and embarrassing website failures during Black Friday as their servers buckled with the increased number of visitors. I'm sure they'll have got things right this year but it must be said that no one was surprised at Black Friday / Cyber Monday's popularity 12 months ago so it is not great PR when such high profile sites were forced offline. So, do ensure that you've tested your systems sufficiently to allay fears of a similar blackout.
Secondly, increased orders also mean increased pressure on all aspects of your business, whether this is your supply chain and distribution network or your customer service facilities. The law of averages guarantees that higher sales mean that you will have to deal with a larger number of customer enquiries, returns and complaints. These may not reach the post-Christmas peak seen in recent years on "Boomerang Thursday" in early January (a somewhat silly, although admittedly accurate metaphor) on which retailers process more returns and refunds than on any other day of the year but there's no doubt that Cyber Monday will result in increased interaction with your customers.
The power of social media is such that disgruntled customers now have a forum to publically decry your business without the need for proof or context. This is the inevitable rough that comes with the opportunity social media provides to interact, promote and sell directly to your customers. The outcome is that you have to remain professionally courteous and helpful when the insults start flying.
Some businesses do this brilliantly with teams responding to complaints and enquiries with speed, concern and often humour. Other businesses are less successful and get themselves in all sorts of bother with tardy and unhelpful responses. You want to make sure that your business is the former of these two categories and again, be fully prepared for a significant jump in interactions after the Black Friday weekend.
All these interactions produce tons of data, not only during Black Friday. This data can be used all over the year to manage better personalised customer communications and therefore increase customer satisfaction and revenue. A modern Customer Relationship Management system can not only collect this data from various channels but also give everybody in your company a complete view on customers' interactions and preferences. Modern systems allow businesses to track orders, deal with returns and respond to complaints all within one user-friendly, flexible package. These solutions are scalable and therefore able to expand to cope with increases in customer orders without issue and they can also be deployed across your business, linking customer services with returns, orders with despatch, and allowing every area to work with real-time data to ensure that your customers are getting the best possible service.
Whatever we choose to call them, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are likely to be features of the retail calendar for the foreseeable future and there's clearly money to be made by businesses who embrace their considerable charms. But like many forms of seduction, these charms can come with unseen dangers and retailers would do well to be cautious.
Be sensible, be prepared, be agile or you may end up feeling a little sore on Regretful Tuesday (a name unlikely to catch on).