For Some Sellers, Black Friday Was Beige

e-commerce strategies

For many small merchants, it seemed Black Friday was more beige than black.

Black Friday is the biggest sales day of the year, but it’s often dominated by massive merchants. For smaller businesses, there are other peak sales days that might be better suited to their unique positioning. These alternative sales events provide small merchants with opportunities to target new customers and grow revenue, provided they are equipped to capitalize on them.

Perhaps unusually, for an American import, Black Friday quickly has become a European phenomenon. Black Friday was the busiest shopping day of 2018, with more transactions than any other day of the year. There were 21 percent more transactions in Europe than the next busiest peak sales day, Singles’ Day. There were 90 percent more transactions on Black Friday compared to the average Friday in 2018 throughout Europe, and 175 percent more spent than on an average Friday.

If Black Friday is the biggest sales day of the year, is it necessarily the best? The sheer scale of the event can make it difficult for small and medium-sized businesses to achieve any cut-through or make an impact.

E-commerce giants, notably Amazon, have extensive customer bases, ubiquitous brand presences, and colossal marketing budgets that give them an edge. Smaller merchants, with their limited brand recognition and inability to compete on discounts, struggle to contend for sales during Black Friday.

This is compounded in the case of growing businesses that don’t have an adequate payments setup to cope with the increased demand.

What it ultimately means is that for many merchants, Black Friday is more of a “Beige” Friday for businesses that struggle to get the attention they deserve.

Alternative Peak Sales Days

Luckily, Black Friday isn’t the only peak sales day for merchants. A decade ago, the overall volume of sales would stay reasonably level throughout the year, with only a few peaks around major holidays. Today, however, there are more sales spikes during the year than ever before, and the number is increasing all the time.

There are the obvious international sales periods, including festivities like Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween and so on. There are also local celebrations like Bastille Day in France, Bank Holiday weekends in the UK, and various national days across Europe.

We’re also seeing merchants create their own peak sales moments. Amazon created its own annual Prime Day, and six French retailers (Casino Group,, Carrefour, Fnac Darty, Boulanger and La Redoute) collaborated to create French Days. Sales events like Barbecue Day have been established to push specific product categories — for example, promoting charcoal grills during the summer.

This isn’t just limited to the large merchants — smaller businesses can get in on this too. American Express started Small Business Saturday in 2010, encouraging consumers to shop at their local neighborhood stores on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Amex also runs a Shop Small campaign in which cardholders receive cash back for shopping at participating local businesses.

Independent record stores, spurred by the resurgence in popularity of vinyl, created Record Store Day, which often includes exclusive releases from prominent artists. Small bookstores see massive increases in sales around World Book Day.

Reaching New Customers With New Shopping Experiences

Based on peak sales transaction data over the past three years, consumers increasingly are happy to buy from e-commerce merchants in other countries. Cross-border sales rose by 70 percent on Black Friday, and by 71 percent on Cyber Monday last year.

Consumers increasingly value aspects of the shopping experience beyond discounts. Just 45 percent of UK consumers and 37 percent of Belgian shoppers valued discounts above all other considerations when shopping online, research indicated. Instead of discounts, half of Spanish consumers prefer incentives such as unique products, loyalty and referral bonuses, extended returns, or free next-day shipping. This high demand for alternatives to discounts is seen across Europe — 46 percent in Belgium, 34 percent in Netherlands and 27 percent in the UK.

To tap into this growing cross-border opportunity, make sure your site can cater to these shoppers. International customers likely will complete a transaction only if they’re met with a checkout configuration they recognize and feel comfortable using. Offering local currency choices alongside payment preference options, such as iDEAL for the Netherlands or Carte Bancaire for France, will enhance your chances of conversion.

To attract buyers, SMBs should consider value-adds over discounts for the upcoming peak sales season. Price cuts might get consumers onto the site, but other incentives will ensure they return when normal service resumes. Such repeat business is far more valuable in the long term than short-term sales conversions.

SMBs also can develop other aspects of the shopping experience to target cross-border customers. Unique niche products and services play to the strength of a smaller business. Offering deep personalization options wherever possible — name engravings, customized product color schemes, etc. — can add the personal touch that many shoppers expect from smaller merchants.

Similarly, highlighting any click-and-collect options, as well as free delivery or returns policies, can give consumers the trust they need to shop at a new outlet.

Customer service is another area in which SMBs can outdo larger merchants. If there’s one thing that shoppers hate, it’s having to deal with faceless, automated customer service systems. Smaller businesses can have direct, personal communication with potential customers — answering questions and making recommendations of the right products for the individual.

The Payments Experience

More and more, consumers rank payment simplicity high when shopping during peak sales events. This is an often-overlooked aspect of the shopping experience — particularly for smaller businesses — but it’s an important component for which there are some easily implemented solutions.

Creating a frictionless checkout and payment experience, such as offering single-click checkout and ensuring mobile functionality for payment pages, can increase consumer engagement.

Difficulty viewing products on a small screen may prove a minor irk for some consumers, but poor checkout configuration can have a significantly negative impact on merchants’ conversion rates. Investing in user experience to make the mobile shopping experience smoother and simpler will increase sales and avoid shopping cart abandonment.

These features make the shopping experience smoother and simpler, especially because customers are making purchases on mobile more often during peak sales periods.

In this regard, keeping up with the latest technology not only gives brands a pioneering image, but also means they’re well equipped for the future.

An advanced mobile platform opens the door to other tools and revenue enhancers, such as conversational commerce. Delivered via chatbot conversations in messaging apps, this new purchasing method provides a distinctive, highly engaging user experience — along with customer intimacy in what can be quite an impersonal digital world.

Localization is also incredibly important, particularly for cross-border purchases. Every region has specific expectations of the payment experience, which means offering local payment options and currencies is crucial. Customers from abroad are far more likely to convert if they see that they can pay with their preferred payment method or in their local currency.

Compliance and Regulation

Whether merchants deploy new technologies or not, they need to be aware of the latest regulations and standards that impact them. For example, PCI DSS compliance is an ongoing priority for merchants to ensure they provide a secure and seamless payment experience not just in-store but online too.

The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, is another key consideration for all businesses, inside and out of Europe. To comply with this law, merchants must protect customer data — both personal and payment — and safeguard it from misuse.

Other new regulations are impacting the way payments are authenticated. The Second Payment Services Directive, or PSD2, recently brought into effect new requirements for Secure Customer Authentication, or SCA. Any online transaction that involves an acquiring or issuing bank located in the European Economic Area must be verified with two or three factors: something the customer knows (such as a password or PIN number); something the customer has (such as a device or token); or something the customer is (authentication with a fingerprint or facial recognition, for example).

SMBs need to ensure that everything is above board. While peak sales days can be lucrative, failure to comply with regulations governing payments can have a disproportionate impact on smaller businesses. For these merchants, being unable to process payments, or losing customer trust by not handling customer data appropriately and securely, could lead to revenue losses that could cost the entire business.

Getting the Most From Your Payments Provider

During any peak sales event, a capable payments provider will offer full technical and function screening of merchant accounts so they can be monitored on the day. Security advice and proactive monitoring for fraud also are helpful.

A good provider will keep client operations running and extend support lines during peak events so customers can ask questions via phone or email. An outbound teamto identify issues and monitor affected customers is helpful. A provider’s relationship managers can send detailed reports with graphs showing the status of transactions, flows, traffic and more.

Beige Is the New Black

Black Friday is often dominated by e-cCommerce giants like Amazon, which means it might not be the best peak sales day for smaller merchants. However, Black Friday isn’t the only peak sales day on the calendar — sales spikes occur throughout the year now, and there are many other national and international peak sales events businesses can capitalize on.

By focusing on what they do best and partnering with experts that can provide a bespoke payments system to cater to their customers’ needs, SMBs can target new customers in new markets and grow their market share.

Sangeetha Narasimhan

Sangeetha Narasimhan is marketing director, SMB online, Europe, at Ingenico ePayments, which offers payment solutions that include tools and support for small merchants during alternative peak sales periods.

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