Retail

America’s $4.5 billion Black Friday sale covers everything from clothes to Botox—and Aussie retailers are muscling in

Emma Koehn /

From new Netflix shows to the latest winter Starbucks beverages, Australian customers have come to expect access to opportunities at the same time as their US peers—and this Thanksgiving weekend, the gap between Australian and American consumers will narrow even further.

While China’s Singles’ Day provided an opportunity earlier this month for Australian retailers to take their products to a brand new customer base, the annual Black Friday sale event in the US is now something that Aussie shoppers wait for. In turn, local retailers are becoming more sophisticated at targeting them by jumping on the bandwagon.

Read more: Why you should join the Aussie retailers cashing in on Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales

What was once an in-person shopping experience, Black Friday is now a massive opportunity for digital platforms. Last year Americans spent $US4.45 billion ($6 billion) over the sale period, and $US2.72 billion ($3.7 billion) of that came from e-commerce transactions, according to Fortune.

What this means, according to Australian business owners who are in on the action, is that the era of the region-specific sale event is dead.

Annex Products, the company behind Quad Lock phone products, derives about 80% of its revenue from overseas transactions.

Co-founder Rob Ward told SmartCompany this week the company only has one sale a year –  on Black Friday – and that it’s an event that spans each of the brand’s six international websites.

“It’s really difficult to only service one part of the market,” he says.

“People will say ‘I want to buy off a US website!’, or people in the UK will be like, ‘Why aren’t we having a separate sale?’ So If we’re doing the sale in the US, we do it in all the stores.”

Ward says part of the process is securing new customers through the “event sale” offers, and the business has been able to grow its email database by 100% in the past year. This means they can now directly notify twice as many people about sale offers each November.

The five-person strong team, based in Australia, see building up that database as a key part of communicating with customers.

“At the time it works well to convert people, but when it comes to product launches or [an event] like Black Friday, it really makes a difference,” Ward says.

“We’ll also really be making sure we spread the message on social media this year.”

It’s not just about clothing sales

Around a quarter of US citizens are expected to log on or rush into stores on the Friday after Thanksgiving to snap up pre-Christmas bargains, and according to a recent survey by professional translation agency One Hour Translation, 11% of Australians are looking to do the same.

Whether local shoppers are on the lookout for sale items or not, it’s likely they’ll be prompted to get involved in offers this weekend, with some of the country’s most established retailers jumping in on the action.

Some, like online retailer Kogan.com, have had years’ worth of practice at developing an event-focused online strategy and is increasingly operating with a global mindset; chief executive Ruslan Kogan told the market earlier this week that the arrival of Amazon in Australia could only be a good thing for the state of e-commerce. Over the weekend, the retailer will bring shoppers discount deals on everything from dishwashing tablets to massage tables.

Meanwhile, brands known for their bricks-and-mortar offerings, including Peter Alexander, Just Jeans, Rebel Sport and Topshop Australia are just a few apparel companies looking to capture eager shoppers.

For global retailers, it’s not merely the idea of booking higher sales numbers. The weekend is now a chance to establish a brand identity while the spotlight is on the retail sector. For instance, activity clothing brand Patagonia has committed to donating 100% of its Black Friday retail sales to environmental causes, a figure it sales could be close to $US2 million.

The opportunity is also open to pretty much all product sectors, because the US sale event covers both physical products and the sale of “experiences”. Over the past five years plastic surgeons have even started their own Black Friday events, and at this point the sales extend to Botox, at home gym equipment, aquarium supplies, vitamins and home security alarm systems.

How to make the most of it

For shoppers in the US, Black Friday has always been a game of skill and strategy, with in-depth guides and tips from personal shoppers flooding the internet in the days before the sale. For retailers closer to home, some retailers have been watching the swell of interest over the past couple of years and are now ready to dip their toes in.

Melbourne-based homewares retailer Hunting for George is taking the plunge this year with a sale in its online store that kicks off today, in hopes of capturing both keen local shoppers and building upon an increase in online shopping traffic from US customers over the past year.

“Our audience is an older fashion design lover,” Hunting for George marketing manager Jonno Rodd told SmartCompany.

“Last year I think we saw a bigger trend of fast fashion brands jumping on board, and I think there’s definitely a bit more hype this year.”

With sales targets and forecasts in place, local brands are also seeing a strong opportunity to use the weekend as case study for other sales events, and track the interest received from overseas buyers.

For all the excitement about the scope of online purchases, the fact remains that Australia’s retail landscape is still 90% bricks-and-mortar. This is changing slowly, experts tell SmartCompany, but there are three key elements that will encourage shoppers to support local retailers during these big events, National Online Retailers Association executive chairman Paul Greenberg said earlier this month: 

“As long as it’s well run, cohesive, and the shopper gets put at the centre, I think everyone will get on board,” he says.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.