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As with everything else, how and where consumers shop on Black Friday has been entirely reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Endless queues outside shops were replaced by virtual waiting rooms. 

Black Friday last year was in fact the second-largest online spending day in U.S. history, just behind Cyber Monday in the same year, with consumers spending a whopping $9 billion online. 

Using our Zeitgeist research carried out in August in the UK and U.S. we shed light on what marketers and retailers can expect from this year’s event and help them plan accordingly.

Consumers are prepared to empty their pockets.

High consumer confidence goes hand-in-hand with a successful golden quarter season for retailers. 

And our data signals that this year we have all the necessary ingredients for another record-breaking Black Friday. 

Compared to this time last year, in both the UK and U.S., consumers are much more confident about the future of their personal finances, meaning they’re prepared for a spending spree. 

Given it’s early days, 29% of them are still not sure how exactly they’re planning to shop, but it’s encouraging that they haven’t disregarded the holiday altogether. 

Even better news for retailers is that nearly 3 in 10 of them are planning to spend more money than last year too. 

Some of the most lucrative audiences here will be younger people, with 34% of millennials planning to spend more compared to last year, as well as parents with young kids who are much more likely than the average consumer to say the same.

The toy, gaming, and electronics industries stand to benefit the most here, especially when parents are 28% more likely than the average shopper to say they’ll purchase gifts. 

So, what is this audience most likely going to be looking for? Using our GWI Kids dataset, we can pinpoint 8-15-year-olds’ wishlists. 

8-11s will most likely want: 

  • A video game (57%) 
  • A mobile phone (47%)
  • A toy (45%) 

While 12-15s would ask for: 

  • Clothing (56%)
  • A mobile phone (53%) 
  • A video game (51%) 

Retailers should also keep in mind these young kids have a lot of influence on their parents. When we asked them who decides which new toys are bought for them, 34% said it’s them, compared to 25% who said it’s their parents.  

Having an influx of customers is anyone’s dream come true but meeting the demand might be a challenge for some, especially in post-Brexit UK. 

Players in the toy industry are already warning of scarcity on the shelves for Christmas due to supply chain issues and shortage of lorry drivers in the country. 

The challenges of this year’s season likely won’t be down to consumer demand but being able to adequately respond to it. 

Despite easing restrictions, digital channels will be consumers’ go-to.

Online shopping is here to stay. 

In our July Zeitgeist survey, 38% of UK and U.S. consumers said their online shopping behavior has increased compared to last year; and an impressive 91% say this will either remain the same in the future or increase further. 

It’s fair to say ecommerce is turning into our default shopping method. 

Our GWI USA dataset also points to notable shifts in how and what consumers shop online. The American population embraced ecommerce for small, everyday purchases typically bought in-store in ways we had not seen before.

Shopping online with pharmacy retailers grew by 20%, while online grocers saw an increase of 21%.

And we can also see this pattern when consumers tell us where they’re planning to shop specifically during Black Friday. 

Online retail sites like Amazon are by far the main go-to channels for deal hunting, both in the UK and U.S. Easy price comparison and avoiding crowds are likely the main driving forces behind this. 

And although brand websites – another online shopping method – take the second spot, in the U.S. they’re on par with department stores. 

In fact, Gen X and boomers prefer department stores to brand websites for their Black Friday shopping. Just because consumers have become more eager to shop online doesn’t mean stores and shopping centers have become obsolete. 

For example, almost half of those shopping on brand websites also plan to do so in department stores, meaning consumers won’t be sticking exclusively to online or offline shopping methods.

Ecommerce, though absolutely essential for any retailer’s success in the past year, isn’t without its challenges. Selling primarily online means communicating the value of products effectively, and replicating the excitement around the holiday on these channels is much more difficult than it is in-store.

On top of this, your competitor’s deal will be just a click away. So, for retailers that want to tempt customers back to stores, enhanced safety measures should be a priority, especially since 48% of Black Friday shoppers are moderately or extremely concerned about the COVID-19 variants. 

The focus remains on apparel and gift purchases. 

Typically, we find that electronics are the most sought-after products on Black Friday. But since the pandemic, the focus has shifted to apparel and gift-giving, which likely reflects the pent-up demand following the trillions of accrued savings during the pandemic. 

But it could also be down to people generally expressing more interest in and investing more in glamming up for work and social hangouts. 

Retailers like Zara and Ted Baker, for example, are seeing impressive results, even smashing their pre-pandemic records. It’s clear that as consumers’ social and work lives start to bounce back, they’re prioritizing purchases they haven’t felt were needed during lockdowns. 

In the electronics sector, we see quite the opposite trend. Tech purchases went through the roof during lockdowns and aren’t sought-after as much as other categories at this time. 

This shouldn’t discourage retailers from showcasing electronics, but it’s a good indication of where the bulk of marketing spend should go this year. 

Clothes are the main purchase U.S. consumers will be making this Black Friday (46% say this), while gifts take the top spot in the UK (37%). 

But consumers tend to have varying priorities depending on their age group. While gift bargains are on top of older generations’ shopping list, Gen Z and millennials will primarily be looking for clothes. 

A one-size fits all campaign won’t cut it.

Although taking place a month before the winter holidays, consumers see Black Friday as the perfect opportunity to buy gifts for loved ones and beat the holiday rush. 

Gift givers in the UK and U.S. are 29% more likely to plan holiday gifts over a month ahead – regardless of demographic. 

As we already pointed out, parents with young children are a key segment here, and they’re also 43% more likely than the average shopper to say they plan to buy more in advance than normal to spread out the cost. 

Marketers should aim to capture the attention of those early birds and consider aligning their Christmas campaigns with Black Friday.

Regardless of the approach you pick, this is sure to be a fruitful season with a significant amount of cash up for grabs. 

A large chunk of it will likely be spent online, where the competition is fierce and making a lasting impression is increasingly more difficult, so those with a retail space should try to make the most of it.

Those relying solely on online channels should go the extra mile to recreate the excitement around the holiday digitally, and place all the necessary information at consumers’ fingertips.

Building that extra layer of interactivity in the shopper experience and potentially turning some of those Black Friday sales into recurring buys should be a priority.

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