Each year, InternetRetailing has an in-depth focus on the peak trading period. In part, that’s because it is the most important time of the financial year for many UK retailers. It’s also because shopping takes place at higher volumes in the run up to Christmas, meaning that any changes in customer behaviour are seen more clearly.
Today we’re reporting on what’s happening with deliveries and returns while also rounding up some further Black Friday and Cyber Monday insights.
Delivery dates move forward
Today marks the first of six strike days by Royal Mail postal workers planned for December, and retailers are starting to bring their last order for Christmas delivery dates forward significantly, reflecting the Royal Mail’s move to do the same.
Currently Royal Mail’s last posting dates stand at Monday December 12 for second class post, Friday December 16 for first class post, Monday December 19 for tracked 24-hour delivery, and Wednesday December 21 for guaranteed special delivery.
Waterstones has today notified customers that its last order for Christmas dates are now 3pm on Friday December 16 for second-class post, and 3pm on Monday December 19 for first class. It also flags up that stores will be open right up to Christmas Eve while shoppers can also order online for collection.
Returns rates rising
Shoppers may have spent more than expected on Black Friday, but many are now sending their purchases back, analysis suggests.
Retail returns specialist ReBound, which works with Retail X Top500 retailers including Asos, River Island and Crocs, found returns made throughout November were 26.6% higher than a year earlier – with many of those returns being made in the last few days of the month – from Black Friday onwards.
Laura Garrett, returns expert at ReBound, a Reconomy Group company, says: “It goes without saying that spikes in returns always follow sales periods, as impulse purchasing on a good deal leads to buyer’s remorse. But, the initial results from the Black Friday weekend shows that 2022 is likely to be a record returns year.
“A snapshot from Cyber Monday shows returns were already 8.4% higher by lunchtime than in 2021. In fact, returns across November are already significantly higher than last year. If we look at the data, we actually hit 2021 total returns for the entirety of November by the Black Friday itself. Even retailers that learnt from last year and prepared as much as possible for this year, could still be facing volumes beyond what they planned for.
“Despite retailers spreading sales across the month to avoid the logistical nightmare of a one-day spike, the volume of returns in November will pile extra pressure on retailers who have to turn products around in time for Christmas.
“Against a backdrop of strikes by Royal Mail, retailers are likely to be feeling the pressure. Consumers are also feeling the pressure. The cost-of-living crisis is clearly playing a part in this increased volume, as the impact of energy bills soaring in October and mortgage rates rocketing have buyers’ thinking twice about their purchasing choices.
“In a couple of weeks, we’ll see a fuller picture of what this Black Friday looked like, against 2021 but it’s clear from this snapshot that returns volumes are only going up.”
Small Business Saturday
Shoppers spent more with independent retailers on Small Business Saturday, new research suggests.
American Express found that 12.8m UK adults bought from local shops on December 3, and says that’s 29% up on the same time last year. They spent an estimated £774m – 29.4% more than last year.
In a survey, American Express found that 70% of people said they’ve become more aware of the positive impact small firms have on their local communities over the last decade, while 65% said they would continue to shop at small businesses throughout next year because of the impact on their local community.
Michelle Ovens CBE, director of Small Business Saturday, says: “This Small Business Saturday showed a huge vote of support from the nation for small businesses, just at a time when they really need it the most. It’s clear that the UK remains a great place to start and build a business and that the general public’s affection for small businesses not only continues, but grows year on year. As we celebrate a decade of Small Business Saturday, once more we see small businesses shining a beacon of hope for our high streets and our economy.”
Dan Edelman, vice president and UK general manager, merchant services at American Express, says: “Our research shows there were more than two and a half million more people shopping small this Small Business Saturday compared to last year. Despite tough external challenges, shoppers appreciate their local small businesses and the valuable contribution they make to their communities – which is why we’ll continue to back them all year round.”
Black Friday updates
UK brand sales were down by volume but up by value on Black Friday, analysis suggests.
Referral platform Mention Me tracks sales from more than 500 brands to provide an insight into shopping habits around the discount holiday and how they differ annually. Its analysts found that 13% fewer orders were placed on Black Friday (November 25), but that the average value of those orders were 7% higher than a year earlier. That is likely to reflect the effect of inflation, which was running at 9.6% in the year to October 2022 on the ONS Consumer Prices Index.
Sales were also stronger on Cyber Monday – with 77% of the volume of Black Friday orders taking place on Cyber Monday. Mention Me says that’s the first time the day has been more than 75% of Cyber Monday in its tracking.
Mention Me’s data analysts also noted that the days surrounding Black Friday have increased in revenue compared to last year, suggesting that retailers are spreading deals out throughout the week and/or month more than ever before.