In-store or online? Will Black Friday sales predict the future of retail?

David Buckingham
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With Black Friday come and gone, how exactly did retailers in the UK fare this year? And what, if anything, does this suggest for the retail sector going forward? According to retail trade body IMRG, UK shoppers spent £1.4 billion online this Black Friday, which is up 11.7% from last year. However, footfall on the high street was actually down 3.6%.

Black Friday may have started out as an in-store phenomenon in the US, but its online equivalent has skyrocketed in popularity. And what a contrast when you consider that online spending was forecast to overtake in-store sales for the first time this year in the US.

But is this trend indicative of the retail industry as a whole?

While Black Friday doesn’t necessarily represent all retailers — many didn’t participate this year, either, some for the first time, and others as part of ongoing abstention — it could help scope the future retail landscape. After all, there’s no end to the predictions of the death of the high street.

For now, in-store purchases still represent the bulk of retail spending. But with events like Black Friday showing us how much of an appetite shoppers have for buying online, it may not be long before the scales tip. What it does mean, not just for massive sales events but for the rest of the year as well, is that shoppers need an incentive to go in-store. And it’s clear from these Black Friday figures that discounts and sales events just aren’t enough. So where does loyalty fit into all of this?

Of those retailers that didn’t take part in Black Friday this year, many focused on delivering long-term, sustainable value to their customers throughout the year. A large component of this approach hinges on loyalty. So is that the answer to ailing retailers? Using loyalty offers to get customers back in store?

To some degree, yes. Loyalty has a big role to play in customer experience and customer retention for retailers; especially those in the omni-channel space. More specifically, loyalty schemes are driven by the personalisation of rewards and offers. This hyper-personalisation approach takes relevance to a new level — leveraging a wealth of customer data and insights to deliver offers and value-adds that are truly targeted and relevant.  

But there are also other aspects to consider, such as the in-store experience, the value of sales assistants and other ways that retailers can target an almost captive audience. Retailers have many tools at their disposal – such as digital signage, beacon technology, customer-facing displays and loyalty offers at the point of sale. They also have in-store theatre, the art of using design and visual mastery to appeal to the senses. Combined with the science of consumer technology, physical stores have powerful ways to make the in-store experience a rewarding one.

It will also become increasingly important to bring the online and the offline worlds together, delivering a consistency of experience across channels in terms of products, offers, customer service and loyalty rewards. This is tied to having a 360 degree view of the consumer, which is slowly becoming a reality and can be used to inform the customer journey across all these channels, on- and offline. If this is done correctly, it’s a significant competitive advantage.

While nothing in retail is ever cast in stone, a fight back from brick-and-mortar retailers will have a significant impact on the customer, in a good way. In the same vein, it is the customer who benefits from online promotions. So while the high street and ecommerce fight for supremacy, the true winner will be the shopper.



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