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black-friday_1

We Brits are suckers for an American trend. Halloween, tooth whitening, childhood obesity – where America treads, the UK is usually not too far behind…forming an orderly queue of course.

Black Friday is yet another US-lead initiative that has wormed its way into our national consciousness. Given its intrinsic link to Thanksgiving, you’d think this would be one Americanism we’d be happy to ignore, but it would appear we are (once again) powerless to resist.

Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November. The following day has become designated Black Friday. With a moniker originally coined by the Philadelphia police department in the 1950s, Black Friday was so called because of the chaos that engulfed the city as shoppers, fuelled by surfeits of turkey and cranberry sauce, flocked to the high street sales to commence Christmas shopping.

Over the years, the meaning of Black Friday has changed, with it now being heralded as the first day of the year that retailers start making money, therefore propelling them from the red to the black.

Black Friday had no relevance in the UK until 2010.  Until then, the nearest retail phenomenon we had was the good old Boxing Day sales. Multinational retailers were the first to introduce the concept on this side of the Atlantic. Most notable of these was Amazon, who introduced Black Friday discounts four years ago. Last year saw Black Friday reach critical mass in the UK, breaking the previous record for a single day’s online trade.

Initially, the UK’s adaptation of Black Friday was very much a digital event; a key impetus in the retail shift from the bricks and mortar of old to the new, infinitely more convenient digital shopping experience.

Last year, however, things started to change.  Wallmart-owned Asda ran a series of flash promotions, with ‘pinch me – I must be dreaming’ discounts that propelled frenzied customers into their stores. The result was akin to the carnage synonymous with America’s Black Friday – people queuing in the early hours and rampaging for bargains. Asda sold a month’s worth of TVs in just 45 minutes and 16k tablets in an hour.

So what does that mean for us this year then?  Well, analysts are predicting that 28th November 2014 will be the biggest online shopping day in UK history, EVER. It is also likely to be much more of a bricks and mortar event too.  Asda’s success last year made the other supermarkets sit up and take note…and want a bit of that frenetic footfall for themselves.

Am I the only one that feels a bit uneasy about this new shift in retail behaviour though?  To me, this feels like a slippery slope. Consumers become conditioned to expect heavy discounting, the level of which is only achievable by the giant monoliths of retail. It is only the supermarkets and multi-national retailers, like Amazon, that have low enough buy prices and broad enough stock ranges to accommodate this loss-leading approach. The independents, once again, are priced out of the market, knowingly undersold, in a supersized world where bigger is always best.

And what about the stalwart of UK retail heritage – the Boxing Day sale? Can it compete with the brasher, younger, all-American rival?  Only time will tell, but I’m thinking our British penchant for the under-dog will be quickly discarded in favour of an iPad for fifty quid!

Back in the day, Word of Mouth Marketing was the rarely achieved panacea, the elusive holy grail of the broadcast marketer.

These days it’s become our bread and butter.  Word of Mouth Marketing (or WOMM for short) is the cornerstone of brand success in our digital age. And from the girded loins of WOMM has sprung the latest favoured child, Social Commerce.

With modern consumers imbibing WOMM as an essential part of their decision making processes,  Social Commerce has become the key to future success.

In 2010 Mark Zuckerberg said “If I had to guess, social commerce is next to blow up”.  He wasn’t wrong.  With 74% of consumers now relying on social networks to inform their purchasing decisions, no modern day brand can afford to ignore this latest concept.

Social commerce is defined as a subset of electronic commerce that involves using social media, online media that supports social interaction, and user contributions to assist in the online buying and selling of products and services. In a nutshell, selling within social networks.

Social Commerce allows brands to sell where consumers spend their time.  To capitalise on this you need to make sure you’re there, at the coal face, engaging with your consumers, gaining insight and generally being a likeable, trustworthy all-round good guy.

While Social Commerce is very much in its infancy, with big online brands such as Amazon, American Apparel and Cafepress still at the toe-dipping stage of engagement, it is undoubtedly the shape of things to come. So if you haven’t already, you need to start thinking about it.

How to prepare? In short you’ve got to have a brand that wins on social media – see my previous blog for details of how to do just this.

Now as a marketer, I’d never advise you to put all your eggs in one basket. An integrated strategy is always the way to go.  No one channel can ever deliver business success in isolation. And there’s always a place for the old-school skills. If you’ve got sufficient budget, clever advertising is still a great way to achieve brand awareness, and get you on the radar of your target audience. When it comes to the transactional crunch, though, it’s WOMM that increases your conversion rates and closes deals. And with Social Commerce enabling brands to hold transaction-inspiring conversations quite literally at the point of purchase, you’d be a fool to ignore it.

The high street is dead (boo), long live SC

I may be a bit behind the times here (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I’ve just discovered the Suspended Coffee Campaign.  Born of an Italian tradition, the ‘caffe sospreso’ is a cup of coffee paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity. The tradition began a century ago, in the working class cafes of Naples, where someone who had experienced good luck would order a sospeso, paying the price of two coffees but consuming only one. The remaining coffee would remain suspended for a poor person to claim later.

This heart-warming practice has been championed successfully on social media, igniting social consciences globally and subsequently being adopted by communities around the world. Suspended coffees represent an affirmation of the old English adage ‘Charity begins at home’ – supporting the ‘down on their luck’ people within your local community.

So far, about 150 British cafes have signed up to what has become a formal scheme, with coffee giant Starbucks recently signing up for the initiative. Ian Cranna, vice-president of marketing at Starbucks UK told Marketing Magazine the campaign “will provide warmth and comfort for those looking for food or a hot cup of coffee.”

The only problem I can foresee is that of the target audience (vulnerable people) feeling ashamed to pop in and ask for the off-chance of charity.  Some cafes across the UK have pre-empted this barrier, adopting the initiative in different forms, with some donating cash equivalents to local homeless shelters or providing tokens to be discreetly donated to those in need.

On a (frivolously) political note, if this is an example of what the EU brings us, who can knock it?

cupcakes

As a nation, last year we bought 110 million cupcakes. That’s nearly 2 each for every single member of the population.  And that stat doesn’t include all the cupcakes we whipped up at home – probably considerably more than that, given that 58% of us tried baking in 2012, a 27% increase from 2011.

I’ve just done a Google search for ‘cupcakes UK’ – it turned up over 46 million results.  So what exactly is this national obsession all about?

Cupcakes have become a symbol of hope amidst a backdrop of economic misery.  Where once hemlines were an indicator of financial prosperity (or otherwise), the humble cupcake flies the flag for affordable luxury. This bite-sized confection provides a comfort-food distraction from the economic rollercoaster (quadruple dip, anyone?)

Cupcakes are also emblematic of the rise of the small food producer. Start-up cake-making businesses have doubled in a year and sales of bakeware and ingredients have also shot up. Baking is becoming synonymous with the ‘make, do and mend’ psyche of a frugal modern Britain.

TV execs aided the cupcake’s rise to iconic status.  The launch of The Great British Bake Off in August 2010 fuelled our national obsession. A whopping 7 million viewers tuned in to watch the amateur bake-off at its peak. To contextualise it, that’s more than Eastenders gets these days.

It’s not just our taste-buds cupcakes are tickling. Their uplifting visual effects are being felt outside the food arena.  You can buy cupcake wallpaper, duvet covers, cushions and notepads, but to name a few.  The humble cupcake has its own range of licensed product – surely the ultimate sign of celebrity?

cupcake duvet cover