Online shopping events have traditionally coalesced around local and seasonal points in the calendar; Easter, Christmas, and other regional festivals. However, with the growing internationalisation of e-commerce, we have witnessed a more homogenous and commercially driven approach to events that transcend national borders.

The obvious manifestation is Black Friday, an American retail phenomenon with in-store roots. It has long resonated with consumers in the US, falling the day after the national holiday of Thanksgiving and marking the traditional start of the Christmas shopping period. 

But more recently the aggressive expansion plans of Amazon have transformed the retail landscape by exporting the basic principles of discounted and time-sensitive deals to an overseas audience, proving both irresistible to consumers and hugely disruptive for brands.

With Black Friday set to consolidate its position as the most important trading day in the West, what trends do we anticipate seeing in the ‘Golden Quarter’ this year?

1. November consolidates its leading position

Conventionally Christmas ensured December was the busiest month of the year for advertisers and publishers, but since 2016, November has taken that title with consumers resisting the urge to buy in October in anticipation of the slew of deals across November.

For brands looking to steal a march on their competitors, this would appear to be pushing higher growth in advance of Black Friday. Over the past couple of years, Awin has seen greater year-on-year numbers in the run-up to the big day with the Monday preceding Black Friday posting the highest comparative revenue growth in 2017.

This dragging of the trade earlier in the month could also find itself blurring with events like Singles’ Day and Australia’s Click Frenzy. While there’s no doubt Black Friday is the main event, as the years progress, so brands will be looking for anything that will give them an edge over the competition. This could solidify the whole month of November as a discounting free-for-all, something that could create additional headaches for already squeezed brands.

2. Awin’s first 50% smartphone day

Peak trading has often been associated with network firsts. 2016, for example, saw Black Friday track more than €1m in sales in a single day on smartphones with that figure set to top €2.5m this year.

However, with mobile now part and parcel of the wider digital landscape, as we stand at the end of 2018 certain brands are tracking three out of every four clicks and nearly as many sales. 

Black Friday usually witnesses a spike in smartphone conversions, as well as some affiliates organising additional, non-acquisition payments, representing a perfect opportunity for them to take advantage of the major events in November. Because of the significant increase in mobile traffic, we can expect Black Friday 2018 to potentially track more than 50% of transactions through smartphones. The wider cyber weekend, incorporating the two days of the week when mobile sales peak, should also follow this trend.

3. Finding a creative angle

It’s increasingly common for brands to run week-long events and we would anticipate seeing more of the same this year. This challenges our perceptions of running deals and discounts as evidence shows that when they are considered time sensitive (i.e. contained to one-day or an extended weekend), conversions, and therefore transactions, increase. Is this land grab concealing a longer-term problem? Potential sales fatigue over time and suspicion among consumers that when products are fully priced, the cost has either been artificially inflated or doesn’t represent value for money?

It should be hoped that every year a handful of brands will offer something groundbreaking, or at the least quirky, to break the monotony. 

Perhaps we will start to see the Singles’ Day approach of ‘retailtainment’ take root, whereby theatrics and a sense of occasion accompany the basic human desire to shop. While we wouldn’t expect to see anything on such a grand scale associated with Singles’ Day, the event offers a window into how branding and sales can merge to create an engaging customer experience, both off and online. As a counterpoint to Black Friday’s blunt instrument, this presents an interesting alternative.

4. Regional trends may play a part

While e-commerce grows increasingly international in focus, regional variations and quirks are still likely to play a part.

Take Black Friday in Brazil. Despite the turmoil in South America’s largest economy, locals are guaranteed some extra spending money ahead of peak trading thanks to a ‘13th paycheck’, mandated in law. This means that every employee receives a bumper bonus during their summer months, an additional pay packet to supplement their normal earnings. This undoubtedly helps account for Brazil’s outlier status around Black Friday, with more than 20% of the entire month’s sales on the Awin network tracked on a single day. The next biggest market is the UK at around 17% of November’s total:​

Similarly, the US remains the only Awin market whereby Cyber Monday tracks the greatest revenue, with this date remaining a predominantly online event in contrast to the in-store focus of Black Friday.

5. Looking beyond the sale

Ahead of Black Friday and peak trading this Golden Quarter, we hope that both greater controls and analysis will be carried out that produces insight to support continued investment in affiliate marketing. For several of our clients that has meant focusing on tracking new customer acquisition through the affiliate channel and aligning this approach with offers pushed to consumers via their publishers.

For one, Black Friday was the only day during the six-week peak trading window that new customers exceeded existing, with the wider cyber weekend also drawing in higher-than-average new-to-file shoppers.

While it’s difficult to draw concrete conclusions, this could support a theory that Black Friday traffic is distinct and enables brands to reach consumers they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.

Research from the Brazilian e-commerce specialist e-Bit in 2016, found that Black Friday was potentially a perfect opportunity to attract new customers. According to their insights, the big day directly impacted the growth of online shoppers in the country by up to 17%, with an extra 280,000 shoppers making their very first online purchase during the 24-hour Black Friday period.

Given we know that Black Friday is an exceptional event in the retail calendar, a combination of assessing new customers and their subsequent purchase behaviour should be a central part of evaluating affiliate performance around peak.

Awin has released a Whitepaper revealing some useful insights that brands can leverage for success. Access the Whitepaper here.