Looking at past Black Friday videos of years gone by, the resounding realisation is how non COVID compliant the event usually is. Massive crowds, long queues and stores packed to the brim with people might have been a possibility in 2019. But 2020 has been a very different year.  

Black Friday is inevitably set to play out completely differently, with the COVID-19 pandemic swapping out the buying frenzy of shopping malls and retail outlets for the online environment of laptops and cell phones. 

Derek Cikes, Commercial Director at instalment payment platform, Payflex, says that COVID-19 has permanently changed the retail engagement of Black Friday. 

“This year the focus is online. Retailers need to prepare for an onslaught in traffic to prevent website downtime and customers abandoning their carts as a result,” says Cikes.  

“Shoppers are spending every second on Black Friday deals, so any outage or slow website response times can result in big losses – both in revenue and brand loyalty,” says Cikes about the new playing field that is redefining retail in South Africa. 

A dramatic shift online for SA consumers
The retail landscape is completely different, and so are shoppers’ needs and expectations, thanks to the pandemic and resultant lockdown measures.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic South Africa has seen a 42% shift to online shopping, according to a survey by UNCTAD.   

“COVID has changed consumer shopping behaviour.  With shoppers concerned about hygiene and safety, it is likely that most, if not all retailers, will see online shopping rivaling that of in-store sales,” says Cikes.  

Black Friday becomes ‘Black November’
Black Friday, which is one of the biggest retail sales days both internationally and in South Africa, is adapting to COVID-19 induced parameters. A significant trend that has emerged as a result of the pandemic is that Black Friday is no longer limited to one day so as to avoid in store overcrowding.  

“Promotions are now starting earlier and lasting longer, as stores look to maximise sales, spread out demand, and manage distribution channels throughout November,” says Cikes.

Due to this shift online, most South African retailers are offering the same discounted specials both on their online platforms and in store, with retailers encouraging shoppers to make use of their online facilities.   

Consumer financial constraints
Many consumers are still reeling financially from a very hard year. According to the Credit Stress Report, despite little change in the number of loans compared to this time last year, the overdue amount has increased by R17 billion.

Report: https://www.eighty20.co.za/credit-stress-report/   

Cikes says the pandemic and resultant recession is reshaping the way consumers are managing their finances, expediting a shift towards flexible payment methods in order to rebuild their bank balance and maximise their cash flow. 

“Locally, we have seen a 35% increase in consumers making use of the Payflex payment facility,” says Cikes.  

“Consumers need a breathing space between payments.  With payments spread over 4 instalments and over 6 weeks, consumers can accommodate payment between two paychecks as a more affordable alternative to interest incurred from credit facilities.” 

Reaching shoppers in the next normal
A key learning from the pandemic is that preparation is key. This means having an online presence and providing effective online communication channels where shoppers can be assisted immediately in order to facilitate a seamless shopping experience.

“In our post-COVID-19 reality eCommerce is no longer a nice-to-have, but rather an essential mechanism for survival in the current retail landscape. Black Friday will further highlight its significance especially because of the anticipated spike in online shopping this year as people opt to shop from the safety of their home. 

Those retailers who are not only prepared, but comfortable transacting in the online environment will definitely set themselves apart. One thing’s for sure: Black Friday 2020 will be like no other,” concludes Cikes.