Black Friday

Why is Black Friday black? It’s not the most positive of colours in most parlances – just look back a few weeks at Halloween: witches, black cats etc. It doesn’t quite have the ring of Red Nose Day. In the UK, the term has at least a couple of usages that seem more appropriate than retail’s ambushing of the term: Black Friday, the worst day of the year on the roads; and Black Friday - the Friday before Christmas, the worst day of the year to be a police officer in a UK city centre or working in A&E!

Black Friday as a retail phenomenon is essentially an American invention, though even there the term originates in describing the traffic on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, as increasing numbers took it as a holiday sandwiched up to the weekend. By the 80s, it usage had become more general, describing one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Some believe the term also describes the day in the calendar year when retailers move from the red to the black; start making a profit.

Black Friday came to the UK in a mainstream sense in 2013, led by Amazon and Asda, owned by Walmart of the US. By 2014, it was causing small scale riots and troubles as shoppers rushed for bargains. So much so, that Asda didn’t participate in 2015. As we will comment later, Black Friday is now transitioning from bricks and mortar to on-line, where it can be accommodated better, creating a cyber fortnight that typically ends with Cyber Monday, the second Monday of December when weekend internet browsers place the highest number of orders for Christmas.

Black Friday is great for retailers’ self-promotion; great for customers who participate (assuming they wanted and needed what they bought in the first place); rubbish for retailers’ margin and a considerable headache for the warehousing and distribution industry.

To over-simplify, warehousing and distribution is essentially a fixed capacity industry. Warehouses don’t have rubber walls to accommodate more pallet storage when full; lorries can’t go any faster or carry any more pallets than the usual parameters allow; qualified and trained drivers and warehouse staff don’t turn up on November 1st like elves. Some assets and resources can be ‘sweated’ a bit, but not to the extent of a Black Friday sales increase. So Black Friday is not a silver salver for those in warehousing and distribution. A business that finds it can cope easily has probably been over-resourced the rest of the year.

But we can ask whether our warehouses are as ready as can be for Black Friday:

  • Flexible enough? dynamically adjusted warehouse manning plans and processes; the ability to change warehouse workflows at the coal face, not just through the IT department.
  • Scale-able enough? Can the warehouse space and pace scale up and then down for the surge, particularly on-line. Has it got both mid-term scaling – over weeks and months - and short term scaling: over days or hours. To help make picking warehouses work better at peak, some businesses store overflow pallets (back up stock, long stocks) in short term third party warehouses, using on-demand services like Zupplychain to find them.
  • Helping people adapt to change? E.g., different warehouse manning schedules; planning waves of activity to keep on top of the surge; real time feedback and coaching and, most importantly, achieving good retention levels throughout the year leading into Black Friday.

However, we believe Black Friday will change shape. What started as principally an in-store event cum stunt is forced to migrate to on-line. It doesn’t suit bricks and mortar retailing well enough: stores can only carry the stock their shelves allow; once they are empty of some products, there isn’t the promotional nimbleness to change promotions - other than shelf-edges, POS is not printed in store. Back up stock has to be loaded on vehicles, shipped and then the pallets unloaded at store, often in premises designed, at best, for steady volume. And, perhaps most of all, there may be more dissatisfied customers than satisfied ones. If you add to that the chance of the sort of bad publicity that put Asda off Black Friday in 2015, one wonders how anyone came up with the idea in the first place.

But examine how many of those factors don’t apply to running Black Friday as on online event - running the complexity and volume through a single or handful of warehouses with the cutting edge in pallet storage and item picking; using the instant price/promo flexibility of the internet to manage flows and stock. Black Friday and Cyber Monday were made for each other; two sides of the same coin. All good news for those in warehousing and distribution: though it’s the busies time of the year, Black Friday has – at least – extended the Christmas internet and retailing rush back into November.

Zupplychain can help with pre- and post- Black Friday requirements for additional warehouse space and pallet storage. Just go to our search page , tell us what pallet storage you require and get instant results of available space with pricing.