The ‘Golden Quarter’ for online retailers is upon us – a stretch of diary dates from Black Friday to the Boxing Day sales best known for big consumer spending.
It’s important for all retailers to understand how these events work and how best to utilise them to their own advantage, but also that bumper sales alone don’t make for a successful ecommerce operation.
The Golden Quarter is the three months at the end of the year which has, in recent years, become a bumper time for consumer spending.
In 2018, these dates include:
Singles Day is a targeted campaign taking place in China and surrounding countries. In 2018, the marketplace Alibaba reported $30.8bn of transactions throughout the day, registering its first $1bn within a minute and a half.
Black Friday and its online cousin Cyber Monday may have begun as a Thanksgiving tradition in the USA, but they are now firmly established in the UK. Online spend is growing at around 10% each year, and is now beyond £1.5bn.
These events all have a common theme: sales, promotions and marketing designed to entice shoppers to spend. Singles Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are ‘flash sales’, where large discounts are available for a short amount of time. Christmas and Boxing Day sales tend to be more sustained campaigns.
The Golden Quarter has become a competition to offer the biggest discounts, but this isn’t sustainable for everyone and this method doesn’t suit every retailer or work in every sector – particularly so for the smaller online retailer operating on tight margins.
It’s important to note that grabbing market share is not the same as making profit. Some retailers will shift a huge amount of units thanks to their sales, but sometimes this comes at a cost of miniscule margins.
In fact, it’s easy to stretch yourself too thin when attempting to handle and despatch a larger than usual number of orders, leading to mistakes and poor customer service. This can result in poor online reviews, which can seriously damage your reputation.
This can be compounded when handling returns. Today’s online shopper demands the right to return goods for a full refund – and the fast and furious purchasing during flash sales such as Black Friday attract a much larger volume of returns. The cost of processing returns, coupled with tiny margins, can wipe out any chance of making a profit.
Further, while sales can be an excellent way of reaching new customers and gathering fresh data, sales shoppers typically display lower levels of brand loyalty. These promotions will bring new customers to your door, but by their nature few of them will return before your next major sale.
In fact, while many major retailers put on ever grander sales, many others have reacted in the opposite way, deciding against flash sales altogether.
If you choose to use the Golden Quarter to host sales – and many businesses succeed with this as an important part of their strategy – there are many ways to improve your results.
Use data from previous years to gauge which sales tactics worked most effectively, and which products attracted most attention.
Rather than reducing all prices, use discount codes to mark down prices. Use a different code for each part of your marketing and you’ll be able to trace which methods worked best.
Get in touch with the media (trade press, local press and online publications) and enquire about being part of gift-giving guides.
Tailor your social media, pay-per-click and advertising to attract bargain-hunters.
However, be wary of pushing all your chips in on sales. First of all, ensure you have the staff to process orders as well as handle returns.
In addition, ensure your technology is up to the job. Load testing your website, for example, is essential to ensure it will cope with an influx of new visitors.
To keep costs low for your promotions, consider slight tweaks to existing marketing, rather than making wholesale changes which can cost more and have a shorter shelf-life.
Sales aren’t necessary to cash in during the Golden Quarter. By offering great products, great service and competitive prices throughout the year, many shoppers will return even without major sales as an incentive. In fact, many shoppers are put off by flash sales, finding them stressful or needlessly expensive.
Promotions don’t need to involve rock bottom prices, either. There are other ways to be of value to your customer base. Consider offering a gift wrapping service, personalising gifts, or guaranteeing short turnaround for shipping.
These all impress consumers, but don’t require you to enter the race to offer the lowest of low prices.
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