Black Friday & the globalisation of holiday shopping

The retail sector has never been more global. In the digital world we now live in, traditional borders are blurred when it comes to holiday shopping. In the UK, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are going from strength to strength after making their way over here from across the pond. This year more companies than ever are preparing to offer amazing pre-Christmas online deals, on both sides of the Atlantic. UK bricks-and-mortar stores are also expecting a boost of around £200m, making November 28th a very important day in the run-up to Christmas. But it isn’t just in the US and Europe that ecommerce events generate eye-popping numbers. In China, Singles’ Day has become an annual event for online retailers, with Alibaba in particular cracking a very large and extremely competitive market.

Singles’ Day is supposed to be China’s antidote to Valentine’s Day. The date was originally chosen by a group of students at Nanjing University who adopted it as day when single people could indulge by spending some money on themselves. Unlike Valentine’s Day, though, it is not simply an opportunity to sell holiday-related products. Rather, it is now the single biggest online shopping day in the world. What is particularly impressive is that Alibaba played a vital part in creating the Singles’ Day opportunity in the first place. Demonstrating the kind of ability to be disruptive and grab opportunities that we love at MBS – see last week’s blog on easyJet! – Alibaba made the date its own in 2009 and, in 2012, trademarked the term “Double-11,” a popular name for November 11th and the date of Singles’ Day.

Alibaba’s innovation has paid off and, earlier this month, the company raked in an astonishing US$9.3bn in just 24 hours. All that whilst facing stiff competition from rivals such as or the new joint venture between Dalian Wanda and social networks Tencent and Baidu. For now, Jack Ma’s firm is well on top!

In the UK, retailers have been quick to jump on the Black Friday bandwagon and the momentum has grown every year. Despite only being brought over here four years ago by Amazon, Black Friday emerged last year as a major retail event, with even greater spending projected this year as more consumers know about it. For John Lewis, 2013 saw digital traffic 14 times higher than the same day 12 months before. This exposure is also beginning to translate to bricks-and-mortar stores. It is estimated that UK high streets will see an extra £200m worth of trading today, providing crucial benefit at a time when many companies are still constrained by the economic climate. Notable retail milestones, such as Cyber Monday – the first weekday after Black Friday – are thus incredibly important for businesses needing to recover after an unseasonably warm summer.

This fluctuation in sales is a natural part of the calendar, of course. And one of the ways UK retailers can best capitalise on Black Friday is by borrowing techniques and strategies from businesses across the pond. Asda, for example, is leaning on the power of Walmart to bring in eye-catching products such as quad bikes to the British market this year. Meanwhile, Amazon, which has been running Black Friday deals in the UK since 2010, has been offering a full seven days’ worth of deals in the run-up to today. This kind of pre-publicity is sure to pay dividends, and it will be fascinating to see how Black Friday shapes up in the end.

These kind of events are always intriguing, and I can’t wait to see what happens with this year’s Black Friday! How do you think the US and UK markets will compare to Alibaba in China? Let me know at, and have a fantastic weekend!