The knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown are going to see a Black Friday like never before in November this year, which is good news for South Africans saving their depleted available spend for bargains that will yield great value. With retailers desperate to move unsold stock and resistance among shoppers to gather in large numbers in shopping malls, there may be a significantly greater variety of goods and even lower pricing than ever.
The Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the USA has been regarded since the 1950s as the beginning of that country’s annual Christmas shopping season. In South Africa Black Friday has become synonymous with once-off retail sales deals, and was responsible for a 2,6% year-on-year increase in retail sales last year.
“We’re anticipating very high demand,” says Craig Lubbe, CEO of bidorbuy, South Africa’s largest online shopping and auction marketplace. “South Africans became a lot more conscious of their health and safety during lockdown, and footfall in the malls has still not returned to pre-Covid levels, which suggests that consumers are – understandably – still wary of visiting stores in large numbers.”
With national government’s protocols under Lockdown Level 1, including social distancing of 1,5 metres and mandatory face masks at all times, the in-store experience this year will unlikely be enjoyable for many shoppers, or easy to manage for retailers. E-commerce sites, on the other hand, are well positioned to address these challenges by offering a safe, convenient shopping experience which is becoming increasingly accessible for ordinary consumers.
“Black Friday is one of the busiest periods of the year for us, and despite annual traffic surges in late November, we’ve been able to avoid any downtime on our site, which may give shoppers a level of comfort in knowing there’ll be minimal disruptions,” says Lubbe.
And as smartphone penetration among South Africans continues to increase, Lubbe believes consumer demand for Black Friday will similarly rise. Last year the number of smartphone users in the country increased to 91,2% up from 81,7% in 2018, according to the 2020 State of the ICT Sector report.
Smartphone usage means you can shop literally from anywhere, any time. “There’s been a remarkable change in consumer behaviour around this period, particularly on Black Friday itself, with our best deals starting at 00h00 on Friday morning, and this increases exponentially during the course of the day, with shoppers using their phones or desktops to find deals,” says Lubbe.
He believes that because of exceptional hardship for both people and brands in 2020, the day offers retailers, brands and manufacturers an opportunity to move stock that they’ve been sitting on throughout lockdown. This, combined with the safety and convenience factor of online shopping, as well as contactless courier deliveries or pick-up services like Pargo, will likely see many more consumers migrate from malls to e-commerce sites.
And retail isn’t the only sector looking to trade in a whole new way this November. Leading aparthotel operator Totalstay’s James Woolley points out that the travel industry is perfectly positioned to capitalise on Black Friday because of the global popularity of online travel planning. “We haven’t released our promotions yet, but expect to see some deep discounts of up to 40%,” he says.
A pioneer in South Africa’s aparthotel and luxury-villa industry, Totalstay is home to a collection of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and villas in Seapoint, Camps Bay and Woodstock. Focusing their efforts on attracting a greater domestic-tourism market while still catering for international clientele as the country reopens to international travel, Woolley says that South Africans’ chances of getting much more choice at better prices and access to a broader variety of available dates for accommodation couldn’t get better this Black Friday.
“Because international travel over high-season periods like November to March is still limited, a lot more accommodation inventory is now available for the coming summer than we normally would have at this time of the year.”
Woolley believes that this year’s Black Friday will be a record-setter – in the past, Totalstay’s sales have increased by up to 750% over this period – and points out that a combination of their growing database, more accommodation available on the market because of Covid-19 suppression, and Black Friday’s growing popularity will likely spur significant sales.
Lubbe believes that the quest to offer greater value for minimal spend will play out in retail goods as Woolley suggests it will in travel. “It’ll be a great opportunity for shoppers to find goods at terrific value, and this may include big-ticket items that South Africans have avoided buying in the hope of grabbing a Black Friday special.”
Commenting on which categories of goods could look different this year, Lubbe doesn’t believe there will necessarily be any major shifts, given that people have had time to adjust to the “new normal”. Demand for consumer electronics is still high, and the company believes this will continue into Black Friday. Where excellent specials or deals could be found are in categories where products are regularly replaced by newer models, such as mobile phones and consumer electronics with regular lifecycle updates. Seasonal goods such as fashion could also represent great value.
Once niche sector that’s showing a rising trend is online gaming: two major games-console releases took place this year, and bidorbuy has seen an increased demand in online gaming vouchers as people spend more of their leisure time at home. “I think this lifestyle trend will continue, especially as new consoles and games enter the market,” Lubbe says.