Business Tips

What is Black Friday and Should Small Businesses Take Part?

Black Background with scrabble pieces in the centre spelling out "Black Frdiay"

It’s one of the biggest dates in the retail calendar. But, where did it all begin? Let’s look through the history of Black Friday and what it means for small businesses.

Can you believe it? It’s that time of the year again. Black Friday is here.

But how did it all begin? And how has it become such a thing? In this blog, we break it all down for you. And we ask the all-important question of should small businesses get involved?

A Historical Timeline

So, how did it all begin? There’s actually a bit more to it than the popular theory of retailers using the day to ramp up sales to get their finances out of the red and into the black.

  • The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday”.
  • Applied to the crash of the US gold market on September 24, 1869. 
  • Two Wall Street Financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy as much of the US gold as they could to drive up prices, which they then intended to sell for astonishing profits. 
  • Friday 24th September 1869, the conspiracy unravelled. Causing the stock market to crash, consequently bankrupting everyone from wall street barons to farmers.
  • Police in Philadelphia used the term “Black Friday” to describe the chaos that went down the day after thanksgiving.
  • In the 50s, suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city ahead of the annual big army-navy game held on the Saturday after thanksgiving. 
  • Police in Philadelphia could not take this day off and would work extra-long shifts to deal with the additional crowds and traffic. 
  • Shoplifters took advantage of the in-store chaos and would steal from the stores – adding to the pressure for law enforcement. 
  • The term “Black Friday” had caught on in Philadelphia. 
  • City merchants tried to change the phrase to “Big Friday” to remove negative connotations but failed. 
1985 – Late 1980s:
  • The term “Black Friday” spreads to the rest of the United States. 
  • Sometime in the late 1890s, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively rather than negatively.
  • The “Red to Black” concept was then born. The day after Thanksgiving was marked as the occasion when stores in America turned a profit. . 

The new story then stuck, and the dark roots from Philadelphia were mostly forgotten. The one-day huge discounts quickly turned into other retail holidays such as Cyber Monday. More recently, Black Friday has spawned into a month-long affair. 

But how did Black Friday make it to the UK? In 2010, Amazon first introduced the concept by promoting a range of discounts and deals to consumers. However, it didn’t take off until 2013 when Walmart-owned ASDA held their own Black-Friday Sale. These in-store sales reverted into chaos with shoppers fighting over heavily discounted televisions and gadgets. 

Small Businesses and Black Friday

Throughout the UK, there has been an uneasy relationship between small businesses and Black Friday. This is due to the heavy discounts and small margins that run the risk of impacting profits. However, if you can offer discounts without risking your long-term profitability and get your strategy correct Black Friday can see many positives.

Benefits of Black Friday for Small Businesses

1. Increased Sales

Excuse us for stating the obvious. Consumers are always looking for ways to save money. Therefore, you are guaranteed to increase your sales on/around Black Friday.

2. Shifting Stock

If there’s a product you can’t sell, or you’ve ordered too many, then this is the perfect opportunity to shift it.

3. Acquire New Customers

By increasing your marketing efforts around Black Friday (as most companies do) you’ll be exposed to new customers. This will also benefit you in the long term if you can retain the custom and leverage this into repeat sales.

4. Build Customer Loyalty

If you’re operating in a competitive market, your rivals may be doing more during Black Friday and ultimately win over your customers. By getting involved, you can remain competitive for the loyalty of customers.

5. Increased Traffic to Your Site

Naturally, increased marketing efforts will lead to increased exposure and more traffic to your website. Remember, not all visitors to your site will convert. However, this will create more awareness for your brand, and you’ll hopefully see these visitors return later down the line.

How to Prepare for Black Friday

1. Make Sure You Have a Website

Research by Outbrain found that 48% of UK consumers will solely be shopping for deals online. At almost 50%, this is a huge number of consumers you could be missing if you’re not already online. 

2. Make Sure You’re Prepared for Higher Traffic

Off the back of point one, whether you already have a website or not, you need to ensure that you’re prepared for a higher volume of traffic than normal. There’s nothing worse than slow running websites. Or ones that crash due to too much volume. Consumers are fickle, they’ll get impatient and take their custom elsewhere.

3. Create Anticipation on Social Media

Utilise customers both old and new via your social media account. Build anticipation by pre-releasing the deals that can be expected. Use your content to generate buzz.

4. Target Existing Customers Via Mailing Lists

Customers who have already purchased from you before can be your most valuable asset. Utilise them! Use email marketing to give exclusive access to your Black Friday deals; early looks at the deals, early access links, exclusive mail-list only deals are all guaranteed to draw them in (and maybe even get them talking to their social circles – we love word of mouth!)

Black Friday: An Opposing View

Like with most things in life, there are some sceptics when it comes to Black Friday. From the environmentally-conscious consumer to small business owners, there are some opinions against the retail event.

For several years, the retail event has received backlash from consumers. Seen as a retail holiday that encourages consumption, the environmental impact of the event has come under fire from conscious consumers and activists. This is expected to be heightened this year due to the increase in the traction of environmental awareness.

Some small businesses are unable to see the benefits of Black Friday when compared to larger retailers. It’s often seen to have several potential risks that, for small businesses, could be quite detrimental. To keep up with these larger organisations, small businesses are often forced to cut prices beyond what they can afford to match the expectations of consumers.

The procession of Black Friday into Black Month is another element of concern for small businesses. Large companies can run heavy discounts for a longer period, something that just isn’t feasible for most small businesses. 

Instead of offering big discounts, some companies opt for giving back; For example, taking the opportunity to donate money from sales to chosen charities. That’s just one alternative campaign, Later put together a great list of more examples if you want inspiration to be different.

A final Thought

Black Friday has come a long way from its roots. And, thankfully, mostly moved away from the negative connotations it once had. As mentioned, Black Friday Month certainly has its benefits for all businesses, both large and small. From increased sales, website traffic and awareness to shifting old stock, if you get your strategy right you’re on for a winner.

But, if you feel as though Black Friday doesn’t fit into your brand values, then there should be no pressure to take part. There are alternative campaigns your brand can adopt to avoid FOMO and retain customers.

We’re curious to know what your thoughts are. Let us know in the comment section whether you’re for or against it!

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