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Black Friday and Christmas 2017 Review

Who were the winners and losers of Black Friday and Christmas 2017?

25th Jan 2018
Jack Carey SEO Manager 25th January 2018
With both Black Friday and Christmas 2017 now over, we can now provide a round-up of the two biggest events in the retail calendar. With general results up for both events, it’s clear to see that Black Friday is very firmly embedded in the online retail calendar for the UK whilst Christmas is still continuing to provide a good source of revenue for brands, both online and offline depending on the industry sector. Traditionally clothing and technology have done well at this time of year.

For example, Christmas 2017 saw an increase across a wide range of industries and companies, such as Marks and Spencer sales up 2.3% versus the same period in 2016, and Primark sales up 22%. Black Friday as a whole in the UK saw an increase in online shopping, and an approximate 8% in spending up on 2016, according to an article from the Guardian, which makes it fairly safe to say that the most recent Black Friday was the most successful one yet in the UK.

But who won and who lost at Black Friday and Christmas? How did brands go about winning, and what happened to cause the losers to fail in comparison? In this post we’ll go into detail about how brands improved their ecommerce presence as well as what failures or difficulties they encountered along the way. Let’s start with Black Friday.

BLACK FRIDAY AS WHOLE

Black Friday 2017 in the UK managed to propel retail sales up 1.6% compared to 2016, with the amount of money being spent jumping up by 3.5% in the UK, according to a report from the Office of National Statistics. That may not seem like much, but with the quantity of food-based items being bought in November 2017 dropping by 0.1%, compared to the same period in 2016, this general increase can be determined to be based around items such as electronic goods, clothing and footwear.

Meanwhile in America, more than 174 million Americans shopped across the Black Friday weekend, up from 164 million that was predicted to shop over the weekend, according to a report from the National Retail Federation, which also included some further interesting statistics in the form of 64 million people shopped both online and in stores over the weekend. 58 million people shopped online only, and over 51 million shopped in stores only. This culminated in an eye-popping $5 billion dollars being spent in 24 hours, up 16.9% from last year, according to data from Adobe Digital Insights which was reported on by CNN Money.

One interesting point to note is that traditionally Christmas sales have been around buying gifts for others, whilst Black Friday has meandered between self-gifting as well as buying gifts for others. According to a report from the Guardian, John Lewis saw the most popular product searches were for iPads and Sonos speakers, as well as sofa beds and expensive perfume, which suggests that people are searching for both self-gifts as well as gifts for others.

When discounting brand-specific searches, tech deals seem to be the main theme of Black Friday, such as “Black Friday TV deals” with 12,100 average monthly searches and “PS4 Black Friday”, which had 9,900 average monthly searches as well. Interestingly, whilst “Black Friday TV deals” has remained at a steady rate of 12,100 average monthly searches when compared to 2016, “PS4 Black Friday” saw a drop from 2016, going down from 12,100 searches to the aforementioned 9,900 average monthly searches in 2017. This could be due to the fact that people who wanted to buy a PlayStation 4 would have purchased one previously, given that it was released in 2013, whereas customers are searching for a wide range of models of televisions regardless of when they were released.

So what can we learn from these statistics? Brands, especially ecommerce brands, need to be aware that Black Friday is the highlight of the retail calendar, with customers often starting their shopping for Christmas presents at this point due to the deals that are on offer. Google Trends shows that searching for the term “Black Friday” has increased dramatically over the past 5 years worldwide, with the 2013 search interest being half the volume of 2017’s volume. Interestingly, Google Trends in the UK has shown that searches for “Black Friday” has actually dropped since reaching a high in 2014, as the graph below shows. And as we’ve shown above, tech deals and related seem to be the highest volume keywords that customers are searching for.

Black Friday UK Trends

To take advantage of this volume of attention, brands are increasingly having to resort to paid advertising to succeed. As SEO becomes ‘locked down’ due to a variety of factors, including news companies pushing Black Friday articles which reach the top of the organic SERPs (which will be explored further in detail in this article) and Exact Match Domains (EMDs), such as www.blackfridaydeals.co.uk, also taking top slots. As a result of this, there’s been an increase in paid advertising across the Black Friday weekend.

Due to this increased attention, we’re also seeing a lot of retailers starting their Black Friday deals earlier to try and capture the consumer’s interest. Argos, for example, started their Black Friday deals on Wednesday 15th November 2017, and ran them until the 29th November, whilst Amazon and Boots started their deals on the 17th November. However, interestingly one of our winners, John Lewis, didn’t start their deals until the 24th November, Black Friday itself. Let’s explore the rest of our winners.

BLACK FRIDAY WINNERS AND LOSERS

John Lewis was one of the clear winners in Black Friday, with revenue up 7.2% year on year in general. Electrical goods revenue jumped up by 5%, thus furthering the fact that brands should concentrate on electrical and technological goods where possible for Black Friday. One interesting point to note is that John Lewis would rather avoid Black Friday. “If [Black Friday] didn’t exist, I wouldn’t invent it, but it is here to stay and while I don’t see any signs of that changing we are committed to offering our customers the best offer,” Paula Nickolds, the MD of John Lewis was quoted as saying, according to a recent report from the Telegraph.

Boohoo were also one of the biggest winners of the most recent Black Friday, with its sales rising 25% to £142.6m, according to a report by CityA.M., which also showed that the full-year sales growth was forecast to hit 90%, up from its previous estimate of 80%.

House of Fraser struggled to cope with Black Friday. Whilst they reported a 0.8% uplift in store sales and online sales “within 1% of last year’s record sales performance” over the Black Friday weekend, sales in store dropped by 2.9% and web sales were down 7.5% over the six weeks to 23rd December, according to a recent report from DrapersOnline.

Moss Bros were one of the biggest losers, issuing a profit warning over the festive period after seeing a slump in sales based on “lower footfall than anticipated” according to a report from the Telegraph. Whilst online sales rose 12.3% over the time period, it’s clear to see that Moss Bros have been struggling to adapt to retailing online, with online sales predicted to account for 20% of revenue within the next year for Moss Bros. With more consumers heading online to make purchases, it is clear to see that between the more established brands of Moss Bros and House of Fraser and the newer brand of Boohoo, those who don’t have a good online shopping process in place are going to suffer.

From the above, it’s an interesting view of which businesses did well. Long-established High Street brands such as Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser and Moss Bros are struggling in the ecommerce space nowadays, thanks to the rise of companies such as Boohoo, which are able to better respond and position themselves more appropriately to their customers. But what else did they do well?

WHAT DID THE WINNERS DO WELL?

One thing that all our winners did well, as well as other brands that were considered to have won at Black Friday, was to create a dedicated landing page for Black Friday. Oftentimes, this will have been created several years ago and kept live over the years, being updated with appropriate content even when outside of the Black Friday time period. This ensures that Google is indexing the page correctly due to it matching searcher intent, as well as keeping content fresh on the page.

For example, John Lewis keeps a landing page live at all times, and as we can see from the image below which was taken after Black Friday 2017, they keep the page updated with appropriate content both in and out of Black Friday times.

John Lewis Black Friday landing page

Another important point to make is to include plenty of internal links to other sections of your site. As shown by the above image, there are links to current offers, ensuring that the landing page is contextual and relevant to shoppers should they manage to end up on the Black Friday page. This, combined with the appropriate copy, both in length and to match searcher intent, on the page ensures that the page ranks strongly for Black Friday across time. If your brand does not have a dedicated landing page for Black Friday, then we recommend that you set one up as soon as possible.

One other key point of what winners did successfully over Black Friday was to target specific keywords. With our seasonality keyword blog post, this will give you a rough idea of what to target for Black Friday and when to do it as well. Timing is key for these. As we’ve mentioned in our other blog post, you will need to start months ahead of Black Friday to ensure that everything is properly indexed.

An expected winner of Black Friday happened to be the media. As shown below, some of the top results for Black Friday 2017 happen to be for newspapers or other media advertising Black Friday deals, which is a trend that has been occurring for the past few years. As such, ecommerce brands will have to be aware that they are not only competing against their usual competitors, but against well-established news corporations as well. Choosing long-tail variant and specific keywords as opposed to generic variants will assist with boosting rankings against higher-authority domains.

Black Friday SERPs

One possible way of dealing with this is to engage in an outreach campaign before Black Friday and on the day itself so that you build plenty of good-quality links from high DA websites, and are still able to compete against everyone else who are now battling it out for top position in the SERPs. For example, using the image above, it is clear to see that Amazon don’t need to carry out an outreach campaign due to their size, however small businesses may need to use this tactic in preparation for Black Friday 2018. 

And finally, whilst some brands have seen their ecommerce website crashing over Black Friday in past years due to lack of preparation, such as Argos back in 2015 according to a story from the Independent, it has become clear to see that load and stress testing websites has become a key part of optimising for Black Friday. As part of Conversion Rate Optimisation, or CRO, your ecommerce website should be testing for both bottle-necks and to ensure that the website won’t be crashing when customers visit. Testing for these and then implementing fixes where appropriate will ensure that your website runs smoothly on the actual day, with little hold-up for customers no matter where they may be in their journey.

Brands have attempted to circumnavigate too many visitors to their website by implementing a queue system online. For example, Currys implemented a queue system to avoid their website overloading, as shown by the image below. Whilst not strictly related to SEO, this can often be a good part of CRO as it ensures that your website doesn’t crash at a crucial time.

Black Friday Currys Queue

CHRISTMAS SUMMARY

But whilst we’ve focused heavily on Black Friday, there’s still Christmas to optimise for. Whilst Christmas and online sales tends to be less affected by SEO than Black Friday due to various factors, including what the weather is like (Next for example found their Christmas sales were boosted by both strong online sales and cold weather, according to a report from the Independent), ecommerce brands still need to be aware that they can apply the same learnings from the winners of Black Friday above.

Other retailers also saw an increase over Christmas, including Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and John Lewis all reporting a boost in sales over the Christmas trading period, according to a recent report from ITV. However, not everyone had a good Christmas, with some high street retailers struggling over December, with monthly sales growth down 1.5%, according to a recent report from the Telegraph. This is mostly due to the shifting retail calendar now including Black Friday as its major player in the entire year, with customers mainly purchasing then to acquire the best deals possible, rather than later on in December.

CONCLUSION - LEARNINGS

So what we can learn from all of this? One major takeaway is that companies need to improve their ecommerce offerings for Black Friday 2018. As has been previously noted, the industries that tend to do well at Black Friday are the ones that offer technology deals, with clothing slowly being added in recent years. It’s worth doing some analysis if your main product falls outside of these parameters, as it may be more profitable to not fully partake in Black Friday due to the nature of your brand.

And whilst doing analysis of whether it is worth taking part in Black Friday sales, it’s also worth analysing your own website to see whether it can handle the stress of Black Friday. As we’ve shown above, often even the biggest retailers have struggled to cope with a sudden influx, so it’s worth analysing your own website at the same time and fixing it where possible as part of general CRO improvements. 

All of this will also help with achieving a better ranking position, and when combined with an outreach campaign, improved paid advertising campaigns and general good housekeeping from your SEO team or agency as well as being prepared for Black Friday in general, your brand should start seeing improvements in time for Black Friday and Christmas 2018.

If you want any further information about how to prepare for Black Friday 2018 and Christmas, or are unsure of how to incorporate the above into your strategy, then why not get in touch with us? Drop us an email at chat@infinitynation.com or call us on 01793 238 697 today!