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Peak selling and the pandemic

Research on the changing landscape of retail peaks at a time of sustained online growth

Hot on the heels of Amazon Prime Day, most businesses should already be thinking about Black Friday. If they haven’t started planning already, then it’s time to start moving – and fast. So, what’s in store for 2021?  

2021 will be bigger than ever

Despite initial predictions that the pandemic and its effect on the economy would curtail Black Friday and Singles’ Day spending in 2020, we saw an increase. This year is set to be no different. Twenty-two percent of UK consumers, 44% of US consumers and 62% of Chinese consumers intend to spend more this year. And with a post-pandemic boom in play, driven by shoppers starved of holidays and social outings, we could see big increases in spending.

It’s an online event

Every year, we see online sales increasing, and this year should be no exception. In 2020, mega-peak online sales accounted for 72% of spend in the UK, 64% in the US and 68% in China. 

In a year when 60% of consumers are telling us they are now more comfortable with technology, not to mention 41% of shoppers anxious about physical stores, online sales during this biggest of sales period could be through the roof.

But remember, the best deals are those that are available across online and offline. After all, 59% of global shoppers wish that brands and retailers would operate more seamlessly across these channels.

D2C brands have work to do to challenge the dominance of the marketplaces

In 2020, it was already clear how dominant the marketplaces were when it came to the Q4 mega-peak. Ninety-four per cent of sales in China went through Tmall and Taobao, while Amazon accounted for 32% of mega-peak sales in the US, and 35% in the UK.

Overall, our data tells us that 42% of global online spend now goes through marketplaces.

Brands must fight back to get consumers to come to them. They need to focus on price, delivery and returns, specialism, curation and exclusives, to encourage consumers from taking the default  – and mighty easy – option of purchasing through the marketplaces.

Are deals real? Make sure that consumers are the real beneficiaries

In the UK, 49% of shoppers believe that Black Friday deals are misleading, and just 11% believe they benefit consumers. These figures are similar to the US where 39% believe deals are misleading and 15% believe that the deals benefit consumers.

This is also the case in China, with 27% believing that deals are fake or misleading. Retailers, brands and marketplaces must be as authentic and as transparent as possible with their pricing and discounting to alleviate the scepticism that exists among many consumers. 

Purchasing is not necessarily altruistic

Although 69% of shoppers in the US used Black Friday to purchase Christmas presents for loved ones, there was also self-centred purchasing going on too. In fact, a third of shoppers bought something for themselves. 

As we enter the post-COVID gratification wave, brands and retailers should appeal to consumers’ sentiment that they need to be treated with deals that allow them to indulge themselves after such a tough year.

Be aware of social commerce

In 2020, social commerce (that’s buying through social channels) already accounted for a significant proportion of Q4 peak sales – 9% in the UK, and 13% in the US and China.

With social platforms also playing a much greater role in the inspiration and search phases of the online customer journey, it’s almost certain that these numbers will increase for 2021. This is a huge opportunity for brands and retailers who should offer social media specific deals, something that 74% of consumers in China want.

And don’t overlook livestream commerce. While still a relatively new concept in the West, China is entering the ‘trillion’ era of livestream commerce. Taobao Live alone reached over 400 billion RMB in gross merchandise value (GMV) in 2020 with houses and cars even sold via this channel. Livestream commerce is already spreading in the West and being tested by the likes of Walmart, TikTok and Amazon. It’s likely that it’ll emerge to play a much larger role during Black Friday too.

Speak up for voice

As with social commerce, new interfaces are making a play for share of spending during Black Friday. Voice is one of these interfaces, with 13% of shoppers in the UK, 20% in the US and 11% in China shopping via a voice device during last year’s peak period. Businesses that lack a robust and enabled voice strategy may lose sales.

Avoid the availability frustration

One of the issues with the pandemic was the impact on supply chain, leading to consumers finding many products out of stock. 

However, consumer patience with COVID-related delays has evaporated as we enter the new normal. Nothing is more frustrating than finding the product you want to buy, only for it to be out of stock. In fact, 19% of consumers in the UK, 28% in the US and 34% in China identified products being out of stock as one of the reasons they did not spend more last year. Brands and retailers should therefore not promote products that are out of stock and must be clear about inventory and its impact on delivery times.

There’s no excuse for poor performance

In previous years, sites going down was par for the course on Black Friday as consumers flocked online for deals. But that simply isn’t good enough anymore. Last year 10% of consumers in the UK, 18% in the US and one fifth of Chinese shoppers said website downtime prevented them from spending more. This backs up the assertion made by over half of shoppers that retailers should be better prepared for the peak period. In 2021, website downtime is simply inexcusable.

For more insights and analysis download Wunderman Thompson Commerce's Peak Selling and the Pandemic 

Hugh Fletcher

Wunderman Thompson Commerce

published on

21 September 2021



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