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How to Prepare for a COVID-19 Black Friday in South Africa

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Sunday, 25 October 2020
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How to Prepare for a COVID-19 Black Friday in South Africa

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How to Prepare for a COVID-19 Black Friday in South Africa

How should South African businesses approach Black Friday in 2020 with the cloud of COVID-19 hanging around? We dig into the topic of peak period shopping during the global pandemic.

Black Friday, like much of 2020, is sure to be a bit different this year. It is unlikely that the scores of crowds seen globally will be repeated this year with social distancing and contactless being the new buzzword of COVID-19. Many tout a massive move online globally this Black Friday as consumers become more anxious about bricks and mortar stores. Will South Africa follow suit? Below we explore some of the aspects to consider.

Northern versus Southern Hemisphere

While much of the Northern Hemisphere heads into autumn and winter- and is beginning to face off against COVID-19 in round 2 - retailers there must prepare for stricter government guidelines on retail, contact and social engagement. Europe and the North have to a large extent enjoyed a relaxation of measures during the 2020 July-August summer and are now facing a bleaker pandemic festive season and peak shopping period. Deloitte recently released a prediction that globally festive sales would only increase 1-1.5% versus 4% last year. South Africa is in a slightly different situation. As we move out the first COVID peak and into summer many of the restrictions are now easing and consumers are heading out more confidently, albeit cautiously. While this caution, especially in higher income brackets with access to online payment channels, will no doubt lead to a continued trend towards online shopping portals, the relief of greater social freedom may see more consumers than the northern hemisphere, heading to the shops.

Access to eCommerce

Another aspect of the South African retail landscape that needs to be considered, is the access to banking and technology across the population. While in the developed nations, there is far greater access to online technology, online payment systems and the banking system- especially for lower-income consumers in SA, this is simply not the case. As much as an unbanked consumer may like to take up online offers over Black Friday, the lack of online banking empowerment and access to appropriate technology as well as potential literacy issues means that many consumers will simply not be able to access an online Black Friday portal. Retailers would do well to make sure their offers and shopping avenues (be it eCommerce or bricks and mortar offers) are correctly tailored and positioned for the right target audience.

COVID-19 Restrictions will continue

Despite some very large differences to the peak-period forecasted for developed nations, South African retailers will still face government restriction and altered consumer behaviour over the last quarter of the year in 2020 and into the holiday season. Retailers will also need to be mindful of public perception, and so it will be vital to do and also to be seen as taking extra precautions over Black Friday, to bolster shopper confidence. Consumer sentiment will no doubt dictate that Black Friday will need to be more than one day, for example, in order to facilitate the necessary social distancing needs- or retailers run the risk of being branded negligent and greedy.

Online Retailers Should be Prepared to Scale-up

While South African eCommerce retailers may not capture as great a share of the market as developed nations- coronavirus has most certainly bolstered their sales! And Black Friday will be no different. The COVID-19 gains are likely to be cemented during the period, with a few differences. Unlike the COVID period where online retailers were forgiven for being caught on the backfoot, and delayed deliveries and lack of slots and slow site processing was accepted and tolerated- consumer sentiment is now that retailers have had time to get their act together! Ecommerce businesses need to work closely with courier companies to ensure capacity is bolstered in advance. Retailers should also consider techniques to spread demand. These could be in the form of incentivised slower shipping (offering a % discount in return for slower delivery), spreading the offers into a “Black November”, staggering offers throughout the month and ensuring their online store is robust and able to cope seamlessly with the volumes. It is imperative for staff to be prepared and to communicate with customers timeously- be it on social media, for returns, complaints or compliments! 

Brick and Mortar Preparation

In the case of physical stores, it’s all about trust. In these tougher economic times, consumers will most certainly be driving a hard bargain in exchange for their cash. They will be picky about what they spend- and with who. For the brick and mortar stores, public relations will be key to enticing shoppers out. Almost as important as the discount, will be creating a safe environment in which shoppers can take advantage of Black Friday. Stores need to let customers know that customer safety comes ahead of profit! Those stores are seen to be flouting social distancing recommendations to make a quick buck, face an angry public backlash. Stores need to be creative in order to attract the business but be socially responsible. Again the idea of a “Black November”, as opposed to a single Black Friday, may help to spread the social contact, and staggering and targeting deals throughout the month makes sure the demand is spread.  This allows consumers to pick their own Black Friday and help stores from getting overrun. Other ways of spreading demand include “pre-ordering” and pensioners afternoons to assist the vulnerable to take advantage of offers. Big firms are also lengthening their return windows to minimise valuable footfall in stores being occupied by returns processing- incentivising delayed returns opens up the store for more revenue.

Black Friday will be different this year in the shadow of COVID-19- of that, we can be sure. But in the cloud, there is room for opportunity when retailers, both online and on-the-ground, think differently and prepare.  The 2020 holiday season shopping will still take place, and retailers can prepare and take advantage of it- safely. 



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