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Black Friday Packaging: How to cope with 2021 demand

Last Updated 9th September 2021
Posted In: Efficiency & Productivity | Guides & Advice

Ecommerce Packaging

Why you must get your packaging right for Black Friday

This year, Black Friday falls on Friday 26 November 2021, with the less heralded Cyber Monday following on the 29th November. And yet whilst there are many reports emerging that Black Friday deals will potentially be in short supply this year – due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – the run-up to Christmas will still result in significantly increased consumer activity

So with the focus for most businesses likely to be on meeting Black Friday and Christmas seasonal demand, it is all too easy for a crucial element of your fulfilment to be ignored or neglected.  Your Black Friday packaging.

This guide highlights why this is mistake, how to avoid the common pitfalls associated with increased packaging demand, and how you can leverage packaging as a competitive advantage.

It will cover

  • How Black Friday may be different in 2021
  • Key statistics on the importance of packaging for black Friday
  • How to avoid upsetting your customers
  • Ways to exceed expectations

Please continue reading below, or jump to your area of interest using the table of contents below.

Quick Reference / Contents

History of Black Friday

An unprecedented surge in consumer activity

So what is Black Friday? And how did it all start?

Well, Black Friday happens on the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. It started as a way to entice shoppers into starting their Christmas shopping – an official launch to the festive season if you like.

Ever since 1924 when the New York City department store Macy’s started its now traditional Thanksgiving Day parade, the day after was known as the official start of the Christmas shopping season as the store opened its doors and reduced its prices.

Black Friday packaging
Recent Black Fridays have seen huge amounts of consumer demand (and media coverage) - make sure your packaging doesn't ruin it for your business

The “Black Friday” phrase however wasn’t coined until the 1960s. Some claim that it refers to the fact that it is the day that retailers ‘move into the black’ and start making a profit for the year. Others claim it is related to the markdowns on prices.

Whatever the origin of Black Friday, it has transformed the retail calendar in the UK over the last 5 or so years. In fact, it has even overtaken Boxing Day and “Cyber Monday” as the most significant shopping day of the year (although Amazon Prime day now also a contender in terms of deals and overall sales volumes).

And whilst consumers are likely to still head to bricks and mortar stores on the day itself – even with ongoing concerns about the Coronavirus – the real growth since the event became established in the UK has been in online sales. This in itself can pose difficulties for many businesses however, and their ecommerce packaging in particular.

01: Statistics & Research

Key Black Friday packaging statistics

It is one thing saying that Black Friday has become increasingly significant and important to retailers, both off and online. But what does this actually mean?

Well, various studies and research (including by corrugated material producer DS Smith) have yielded an interesting collection of statistics that truly convey the scale of the phenomenon.

As such, the key facts and figures are detailed below. Please note however that these are based on 2019 activity, with figures for 2020 being significantly affected by COVID-19 restrictions (see later section for further information).

  • An average UK consumer will spend just under £850 online over the course of a year
  • However, the typical black Friday shopper will purchase 2 products, with an average value of just over £80 each.
  • This means that approximately £8.1 billion will be spent in the UK on Black Friday
  • 8% of this will be on products that arrive damaged.
  • Of these, around 30% will be so badly damaged as to be unusable
  • Ultimately, this leads to feelings of disappointment (70%), frustration (30%), anger (25%) and upset (25%) due to the experience of receiving damaged goods.
  • More than 60% of Black Friday shoppers use the event to purchase Christmas gifts
  • This in turn sees toys making up around 10% of all damaged products delivered during this period
  • Yet around a quarter of shoppers will not seek a refund for damaged goods
  • 40% cite the returns process as being too difficult or time consuming, whilst just under half judge the damage as not severe enough to warrant a replacement.
  • This stance is arguably justified by up by a third of consumers having a return delayed or refused.
  • All this means that, in total, up to £162 million in refunds will not be claimed.
  • But who’s to blame? 40% believe that it is the fault of the courier, whilst 15% believe incorrectly sized packaging was the main factor.

02: Impact of Coronavirus

How will Black Friday look in 2021?

Black Friday in 2020 was somewhat of an anomaly, with the expected spending on £6.2bn being a 20% decline vs 2019 (the first recorded drop since Black Friday was introduced to the UK).

This was in response to not only the various restrictions in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but also a sharp fall in consumer confidence and lower footfall to retail outlets.

2021 appears set to suffer from different challenges however – namely that of lack of stock and logistical challenges.

Simon Geale, executive vice president at Proxima, a procurement consultancy working with retailers and brands including John Lewis, Wilko and Burberry, is quoted in the i Newspaper as saying:

In 2020 there was quite a lot of stock because retailers had been closed but not a lot of [consumer] confidence… In 2021 there is pent-up cash but not the stock.

What this means in practice is that many retailers will likely have to forego Black Friday deals, and instead look to try and maintain a steadier sales volume across the whole of the Christmas season.

Of course, this may allow some retailers with adequate stocks (and fulfilment processes) to steal a march on their rivals and increase their share of the market through attention grabbing deals and discounts over this period.

Black Friday packaging during coronavirus
Many analysts are predicting that a significant number of retailers will not take part in Black Friday promotions this year.

03: Black Friday Packaging

Challenges, considerations, and best practice

Regardless of the extent to which your business plans to partake in Black Friday discounting, you are still going to see increased demand in the run up to Christmas.

And whilst the current economic situation and the figures highlighted above can seem fairly stark, there are a number of steps that can be taken to ensure that your customers are not left with negative feelings towards your business.

So, in order to mitigate the challenges (and exploit the opportunities) that your business is likely to see with regards to your Black Friday Packaging, you should ensure you consider the following points:

  • Focus on preparation and planning
  • Take steps to prevent transit damage (and customer returns)
  • Use your packaging to assist customer retention
  • Take advantage of customer experience opportunities
  • Consider Omni-channel packaging
  • Don’t neglect your packaging’s efficiency
  • Manage potential impacts on your inventory / stocks
  • Leverage your packaging to gain a competitive advantage

04: Preparation

Coping with additional packaging demand on Black Friday

Even with the predicted decline in activity (by retailers) in 2021, the sheer scale of the Black Friday event puts an understandable strain on all aspects of your business. Manufacturing. Admin. Advertising and Marketing. Supply Chain. Shipping and returns. All of this is impacted.

This is why it is critical to plan well in advance – with many retailers now starting to make preparations as early as July to maximise exposure, sales and profitability.

Cyber Monday packaging
Knowing in detail your business' peaks and troughs in demand - such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday - can help you mitigate any impact these have.

Saying that, any business should know all of its peaks and troughs in demand throughout the year, and plan accordingly.

And whilst your packaging supplier may be able to pre-empt the majority of these (especially if you are using a JIT service),it is always wise to keep an open dialogue and work together to ensure packaging stocks are at the required levels to meet any surges in demand.

This is particularly true in 2021, with the widely reported shortages in both corrugated cardboard and transport meaning that lead times for packaging are much longer than usual

05: Warehousing & Fulfilment

Overcoming the challenges posed by an increase in demand

Put simply, successful Black Friday promotions not only put a huge strain on a business’ packaging, but also creates significant disruption throughout their operations.

Staffing can be difficult for example. Emile Naus, partner at consultancy firm BearingPoint and formerly head of logistics strategy at Marks & Spencer is quoted as saying:

You need more people in warehouses but for a very short amount of time. You either bring them in early and train them and they’re standing round doing nothing or you bring them in late and they don’t know what they’re doing, they make mistakes and that has an impact on consumers.

As such, it is crucial that you have a well-trained, focused workforce. But you must also provide the right environment to maximise their efficiency.

This is where the correct warehousing and picking bin setups are crucial, with the option for temporary pick walls / stacking pick bins on aisle ends helping to mitigate increases in stock and order volumes.

Similarly, packing staff can be assisted through easy to assemble boxes, as well as using suitable packaging that helps to minimise the required void fill too (both of which can help reduce fulfilment times).

Black Friday fulfilment
A well organised warehouse - including suitable picking bins - can be crucial to your success on Black Friday

06: Damage in Transit / Returns

The key role of Black Friday Packaging

As the statistics earlier in this guide highlight, the potential for damaged products – and therefore customer returns – across the Black Friday and Christmas period is hugely significant. With the increased online activity of consumers, this is only likely to increase too.

It is possible that there can be as many 50 different touch points for an ecommerce order before it reaches the end consumer. This in turn means 50 potential opportunities for the package to be mis-handled (and damaged) before reaching its destination.

This is in comparison to an estimated 10 touch points for products ending up in traditional retail stores.

Packaging for online shopping
Packaging used for online shopping orders can have up to 50 different "touch points", providing many opportunities for damage to occur

As such, it is absolutely critical that your packaging can withstand the rigours of the delivery network. This means working with a packaging designer that can advise on the optimum material, design and size for your packaging. Testing – both theoretical and physical – can also be priceless.

By neglecting your packaging’s primary function – to protect its contents and be easy to open when required – you also run the risk of negative coverage and sentiment about your brand and products being shared across social media too.

07: Customer Retention

Packaging as a strategic advantage

Leading on from this, poor quality Black Friday packaging can actually have a longer term impact on your business success.

Whilst the short term pain of replacing or refunding a damaged item should not be underestimated, more than a quarter of consumers would not order again from a business that supply goods in poorly designed / functioning packaging.

Putting this into the context of increased Black Friday activity, there is the potential for thousands of pounds of business lost not only in returns, but in lost brand loyalty and repeat orders too.

The bottom line? Make sure your ecommerce packaging will protect your products during transit!

08: Customer Experience Opportunity

Make your Black Friday packaging exceed expectations

Whilst protecting products in transit is the primary objective for your Black Friday packaging (and indeed all packaging), the bar has been raised significantly in recent years.

In fact, a product arriving undamaged is now viewed simply as the base level of expectation. Par for the course.

In the age of social media and YouTube coverage, there has been an explosion in unboxing packaging and accompanying videos.

Ecommerce loyalty
Your packaging is one of the key tactics you can use to drive ongoing loyalty amongst your customer base

The feeling that your customers get when opening their order – surprise, delight, excitement – can turn them into brand advocates (as well as gaining your business crucial word of mouth recommendations).

As such, your packaging should aim to go above and beyond. Make your customers feel valued, communicate your brand message and cement your business in their mind as showing care and attention to detail.

09: Omni-channel Packaging

More than just ecommerce

Although the trend towards ecommerce is undeniable – and arguably accelerating – it has highlighted how the traditional distinctions between on and offline retailing are becoming more blurred. This further being seen in “click and collect” services and even in store returns.

What this also presents is an opportunity for businesses and retailers to take a more holistic view of their packaging and supply chain. What efficiencies can be gained? Are online and in-store retail packaging / branding consistent? Are there lessons that can be applied to streamline operations and reduce costs?

Whilst the rush of Black Friday and Christmas is not the best time to be looking for answers, this should be considered, and any changes implemented during quieter periods.

christmas shopping packaging
There should be consistency between any Christmas or promotional packaging used across online and offline channels

10: Efficiency In Transit

Other ways your packaging can have an impact

Whilst a lot of the focus of this guide has (rightly) been on avoiding damage in transit, there should be consideration given to avoiding inefficiencies throughout the supply chain too.

Small changes – such as safely reducing material weights or thicknesses, or changing the sizes of boxes – can make significant long-term impacts on your operations as a whole.

From minimising energy consumption, reducing packaging waste and even lowering CO2 emissions (simply getting more smaller boxes on a pallet or delivery vehicle results in fewer trips), cost savings can be used to improve competitiveness, slash prices, or increase marketing presence.

This is particularly true in 2021, with shortages of lorry drivers driving up the cost of shipping goods to customers. This is in fact one of the reasons cited by many “online first” businesses eschewing Black Friday altogether this year.

Another key point that should not be neglected here is that these efficiency gains are also likely to result in environmental benefits too. The majority of consumers are now looking to businesses to be more sustainable (for example utilising sustainable materials such as FSC® packaging), meaning that this can be a key selling point for your brand.

11: Packaging Inventory Considerations

Rationalisation and careful management of packaging lines

The counter point to reducing packaging sizes to aid transit efficiency is the effect this has on your inventory of boxes.

It is simply not possible to have thousands of different sizes to cover all eventualities, and is not cost effective either. Larger numbers of different sized boxes actually increases costs as you can no longer maximise economies of scale.

Packaging reduction
Packaging rationalisation is effectively a design led process, whereby varying similar packaging boxes are condensed into a more manageable inventory.

The other side of the coin however is the negative press (and customer annoyance) at receiving goods in hugely oversized boxes (as is often reported in the press for larger businesses such as Amazon or Tesco).

This is why it is important to undergo rationalisation of your packaging lines. This should, if done correctly, result in the perfect balance between various suitable sizes and a streamlined inventory that allows you purchase cost effectively and manage efficiently.

Of course, and as mentioned above, the current shortages regarding corrugated packaging may make a rationalisation project difficult at best (and impossible at worst).

Therefore, many businesses will (rightly) argue that simply getting products to consumers in a timely manner (and in one piece) will be the key consideration during the unprecedented circumstances we are currently facing.

12: Competitive Advantage

Leverage your Black Friday packaging opportunity

The bottom line is that, if you get it right, your Black Friday packaging can provide a competitive advantage. This can be considered even more important when set against the discounting (and subsequently slim margins) that characterises the trading across this period.

By minimising the cost (and brand damage) of returns, fostering loyalty amongst consumers and maximising the efficiency of your packing, supply chain and even retail operations, you can see significant long term benefits to your business.

All of these points and more need to be addressed. Which is why GWP have a team of talented and experienced designers considering all of these things, in order that you don’t have to!

13: FAQs

Frequently asked questions regarding Black Friday Packaging

There are a number of commonly asked questions regarding both Black Friday in general but also how the event can impact your packaging and operations.

The most common of these are answered below, but for anything else please do not hesitate to get in touch.

When is Black Friday in 2021?

This year, Black Friday falls on Friday November 26th 2021. Cyber Monday – formerly the day with the highest recorded volume of ecommerce transactions (now usurped by Amazon Prime Day) – follows on Monday 29th November 2021.

How can my business’ packaging help with Black Friday demand?

Your packaging can play a key role in ensuring your business’ success during Black Friday promotions. It protects items from damage in transit (minimising returns), helps improve fulfilment times, assists with reducing transport costs, and can help to exceed your customers’ expectations.

How else can I prepare for Black Friday?

There are a number of steps you can take to mitigate the increased demand around Black Friday. This includes training staff (and hiring extra if required), ensuring your warehouse is setup correctly, using suitable stock picking bins and conducting forecasting of likely impacts.

Will the shortage of cardboard affect Black Friday packaging supplies?

The shortage of cardboard material means that lead times of corrugated packaging products (such as your ecommerce boxes) are considerably longer than usual. This means it is essential you plan well in advance to ensure you have adequate supplies.

Will retailers be taking part in Black Friday in 2021?

Many are predicting that a significant number of retailers will not be taking part in Black Friday this year, citing concerns over transport (driver shortages), limited stock, pent up consumer demand and consumers ongoing fears over visiting “bricks and mortar” stores due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, it highly likely that there will still be increased activity around this period.

In Summary

Make sure your packaging is up to the Black Friday surge

If your online store, marketing, product selection and pricing are all on point, chances are you will see a surge in demand on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the festive period beyond.

If you do experience improved sales, then make sure you don’t let your customers down through poor packaging that doesn’t protect in transit, slows down fulfilment times, or is just plain hard to use / open.

And don’t neglect the un-boxing experience – you should aim to surprise and delight your customers.

Need help with any of this? If so, please don’t hesitate to get in touch using the details below

Further Reading...

About the Author

Jay Daggar, GWP Packaging Sales Manager

Jay Daggar

Sales Manager | GWP Packaging

Jay joined GWP Packaging in mid-2008 before becoming Sales Manager in 2011, meaning he has worked for GWP for over 10 years. [Read full bio…]

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