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Black Friday in France: a plea for a new "thanks & giving

Valérie Sabatier Vallejo, co-founder of Benu Blanc, spoke on the subject in the morning of 19/11/20 on LCI, on France 3 on 27/11/20. She is interviewed by La Tribune on 11/27/20 and CNEWS on 11/18/20.

For once, we are going beyond the usual themes of this blog to share with you our thoughts on Black Friday 2020 and engage in discussion. What is Black Friday? What about Black Friday in France in 2020? What impact for small web businesses? Can we still afford not to do Black Friday? Should we do Friday, weekend, Monday, weekdays? Ah, there is also a Cyber Monday? and then, where does Black Friday come from?

The origins of Black Friday: gratitude in the hearts of our American friends

Let's start by learning where Black Friday came from - this is important because it will influence our thinking in 2020.

Originally, Black Friday comes from a socio-cultural context: in the United States, the last Thursday of November is very important. It is Thanksgiving: thanks for thanks, giving for giving. In the 17th century, the life of the American pioneers was difficult and uncertain: the last Thursday of November was dedicated to gratitude to God for all the graces received during the year. This tradition has continued and Thanksgiving has become a highlight of the year where everyone gathers with their families, their hearts filled with gratitude. Over time, Thanksgiving lost its religious connotation and became a holiday rooted in American culture. This is where Black Friday comes in.

Black Friday would have originated from the annoyance of American bosses to see their employees call in sick on the last Friday of November: yes, since on Thursday, Thanksgiving encouraged family reunion, it was an opportunity to travel miles to see each other. And so, to call in sick on Friday. During the Great Depression, merchants would also have seen in this famous Friday the opportunity to boost their sales: the beginning of Christmas gifts with the merchandising and the animation of the points of sale that go with it. In the middle of the last century,Black Friday became institutionalized and became a day of huge sales .

The next step: Black Friday becomes not a day but a weekend of sales. Then some great marketers have the idea to create Cyber Monday. What is Cyber Monday? Literally: the Monday of the computer. Cyber Monday is dedicated to the promotion of electronic and computer products. In fact, high tech products represent the highest demand by sector for this period1 (13% for high tech, followed by fashion 11.1% and video games 4.9%, see chart below). Over the last ten years, Black Friday has thus become a big weekend in e-commerce and retail, and more recently a whole week of promotional offers.

Black Friday France made in France Benu Blanc

Why is Black Friday so controversial? Because of overconsumption and dubious commercial practices

This is what is blamed on Black Friday: overconsumption. Because this day becomes a crucial day of sales, concentrating all the hopes of end of year sales on a short period, with a sense of urgency. Since the 1970's, we have seen dubious commercial practices: sales of -70 to -90% during this period in order to destock and push the purchase of potentially useless and unwanted products by consumers. Commercial effect: -70% discount pushes a certain segment of customers to buy, not for the product but for the good deal!

This immediately raises a question: how do retailers manage to offer -70 to -90%? Does this mean that their margins are 90% the rest of the time? This is another dubious practice: raising prices before the Black Friday period in order to offer discounts while maintaining margins. As much as it could be possible before the Internet, it seems to us to be a madness today: consumers compare, information is available at any time, everywhere. Prices are traceable. When you see the energy and the investments it takes to establish a brand, it is just - in our eyes - an absurdity to take the risk of artificially raising prices before Black Friday (in addition to a problem of business ethics). The 2019 Yougov2 study shows that French consumers really do have a paradoxical relationship with Black Friday: there is a real sense of mistrust, even distrust, while the numbers are growing year afteryear.

In the background, we also see in some of our media a latent anti-Americanism. This is not new and goes back to the Second World War. But in a globalized world, where our children celebrate Halloween, global marketing matters. An anti-Black Friday movement has emerged and it is being emulated by different communities: the "décroissants", the supporters of slow consumption, etc. But it is clear that Black Friday has become a major commercial event of the year. The protest is changing this year: we are moving from anti-Black Friday to the call to consume French. The French Federation of Made in France (FIMIF), of which Benu Blanc is a member, is mobilizing to launch a call to consume French: at a time when the French economy is on life support, a pragmatic solution is needed: "buy French, whether it is direct sales, takeaway sales or online on the website of brands and retailers.

What about Black Friday in France? What did we observe last year during Black Friday in e-commerce?

Black Friday in France generates more than 19 million searches on the top 50,000 search engine keywords1. On the one hand, the big web players made big promotions. Why? Because the period is ideal for Christmas gifts, because the Christmas turnover depends for some on 60% of the Black Friday week.

For the smaller players, the small companies like ours, it is a hostage situation: last year, we were faced with a dilemma. On the one hand we had invested to have enough products for Christmas without knowing the volume of sales we were going to make. We only had projections (and all entrepreneurs know that projections are wrong). On the other hand, we needed to sell products to bring in cash. We had seen other start-ups launch an anti-black-friday by going as a team to pick up trash on the beach (nice publicity stunt) instead of doing promotions on that day. But it was a risk we couldn't afford at this stage of our development. For the record, our store was newly created since it went live in mid-October 2019...

Should you respond to anti-Black Friday messages on your ads? Haters are not your customers. They will hate you no matter what you do.

So we ran promotions and there the avalanche of haters ' comments on Facebook began. The anti-Black Friday movement is driven by many types of communities as we mentioned above, but there are also people who are just sitting behind their screens and will vent their frustration for free on the web. In this case, on companies - it doesn't matter which ones - that are running Black Friday promotions. When it's your company, when you go out of your way to make beautiful products, excellent craftsmanship, technological innovation, made in France, it can seem unfair. At the end of the Black Friday weekend we were still shaken. And then we looked at the comments under the Black Friday ads of the big French retailers: they had much worse messages than what we had received. And what did they do? Nothing. No response from the community managers. Here's the key: haters are not our customers. Our customers are shopping during Black Friday instead of distilling negativity. The big retailers don't respond: they make money!

What do we expect from Black Friday 2020? Can we afford not to run promotions for Black Friday?

For Black Friday, even if there is an anti-consumerist backlash, it's a perfect time for e-tailers to give Christmas gifts - shipping can be done on time. What is at stake is our waterline: the company's cash flow. For a French company like ours, the level of cash flow - that is, the money available to pay suppliers and partners - is what we have our eyes on in the short term. Companies have had a few months' respite from borrowing because of the health situation. Since September, loans that were on pause have started to be drawn down again. Like everyone else, from the beginning of the first containment, we have activated all possible levers to protect the activity and direct and indirect employment. Thanks to the support of the BPI, we were able to launch an R&D program and maintain the development program of a new product, which is already huge. Now, we know that this crisis situation will last, the world will not be what it used to be, our 2019 business plan with our 3 and 5 year projections is out of date. We have to redeploy, and fast. B2C companies can't miss out on Christmas 2020 because the waterline for 2021 depends on it.

In e-commerce, what are the web giants doing? Amazon has already launched its Black Friday period. A Statista study predicts that the number 1 in France in terms of product searches for Black Friday 2020 will be Amazon (forecast: 560 million internet searches), followed far behind by Cdiscount then Darty, Fnac, Boulanger and Sephora to give you the five leaders (see chart below). Amazon, hell for retail, purgatory for other e-commerce players. Yes, Amazon has created 400,000 jobs in 2019. But what kind of jobs? For how many small structures destroyed? For money that goes where? On our side, we will always refuse to distribute our products on this platform. However, it could represent a new opportunity to distribute our products but it would go against all our values.

Black Friday fabriqué en France Benu Blanc

Surprisingly enough, the expected winner in terms of global internet traffic in France is not Amazon1: it is fnac.com, leader in high-tech, ahead of cdiscount.com, rakuten.com and amazon.fr. This makes sense: we have seen above that the first category of products purchased over the period was computers. It seems that today e-retailers can't afford not to do Black Friday anymore because of the practices of the big competitors who are taking the traffic (and thus a good part of the generated turnover), but also because of the needs of the consumers.

What do consumers want for Black Friday? Save money on their Christmas gifts (that's our bet)

We are all consumers ourselves and are impacted by the crisis context: uncertainties and anxiety-provoking climate. But we want to celebrate Christmas - hopefully with our families, which is why we are doing this reconfinement. This is not about overconsumption. It's about arbitrating on the envelope that everyone has available to please themselves and each other. As the future is more uncertain, we want to spend more sustainably.

This is where we have looked for the most acceptable solution for the company and the customers. We do not believe in over-consumption. On the other hand, this is a good time for Christmas gifts for all the reasons we have mentioned. Perhaps you know this quote from Antoine de Saint Exupéry: "If you want to build a boat, don't gather your men and women to give them orders, to explain every detail, to tell them where to find everything... If you want to build a boat, make your men and women desire [the endless immensity] of the sea." (apocryphal quote). Black Friday in France does not have to be a replica of American Black Friday. It can be what we define as sustainable for businesses and consumers: a happy medium. For Benu Blanc, it will be a celebration of the Christmas gift, with a view to consuming better but consuming less: our translation of Thanks and Giving, so that at the end of November we start preparing the gifts we will give to our loved ones, in anticipation of seeing them all at Christmas. Over the Black Friday 2019 period French consumers bought more for themselves than for their loved ones2, we're betting on the opposite of that statistic this year. How about you?

Valérie Sabatier Vallejo & Fanny Redziniak

Co-founders of Benu Blanc

Valérie Sabatier Vallejo intervened on the subject in the morning of 19/11/20 on LCI, on France 3 on 27/11/20. She is interviewed by La Tribune on 27/11/20 and CNEWS.

  1. Statista study on Black Friday SEO statistics from November 20th to 30th 2020 in France https://smartkeyword.io/black-friday-seo/
  2. Yougov France survey for HuffPost https://www.huffingtonpost.fr/entry/black-friday-promos-sondage-yougov_fr_5dd67fc4e4b0fc53f20ec44d
  3. Open letter from the Independent Federation of Made in France, 2020.
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