Can Irish businesses win this Black Friday?

We look at ways Irish businesses can maximise not only Black Friday but play to win in the surge of online spending leading up to Christmas.

The first time I ever heard of Black Friday I was walking through Macy’s store in New York in 1999 the day after Thanksgiving and being a little nonplussed about the apparent big deal. It just seemed like our own January sales in Ireland.

Zoom forward a few decades and Black Friday is now a big deal among consumers in Ireland mainly thanks to tech retailers importing the US shopping festival and making it a pivotal point in the calendar on 26 November.

“That’s when business owners’ eyes really light up and they realise that once they get online the are not only serving local consumers but international as well”

But where it becomes a key concern for Irish retailers is the reality that many Irish consumers are being tempted with online bargains, many from overseas retailers. It is estimated that around 70pc of Irish spend annually goes overseas.

A season of goodwill toward Irish retailers

The Covid-19 crisis led to an upsurge in goodwill by Irish consumers last year with Visa research that showed 76pc of consumers making an effort to shop local. Not only that but because of restrictions and the need to keep selling, many Irish retail businesses finally took the plunge into e-commerce.

“I believe passionately that it is really important for the Irish economy and Irish society that every effort is made by Irish consumers to support local retailers, through either buying online or in-person with them, this Christmas”

A recent report commissioned by Sligo-based digital company Dmac Media, examined the Christmas shopping habits of 1,000 Irish consumers. It revealed that an average of 58pc of Irish adults are planning on gift shopping with Irish retailers this year.

The Champion Green movement, a partnership of trade bodies and businesses aiming to support local SMEs, is similarly calling on consumers to ‘go green’ this Christmas, beginning with support for ‘local’ during November’s newly dedicated ‘Green Friday’ retail bonanza.

Economist Jim Power encourages Irish consumers to heed ‘a call to arms’ to help rebuild local economies and jobs by directing a chunk of the excess household savings of €16bn, accumulated during Covid, to local businesses.

“Many of those retail and other businesses have a legacy of accumulated debt as a result of the pandemic, including bank debt servicing costs and revenue liabilities. Many will struggle to survive, so it is really important that we all continue to support them with our business.”

But it is definitely online where the battle lines are forming. “I believe passionately that it is really important for the Irish economy and Irish society that every effort is made by Irish consumers to support local retailers, through either buying online or in-person with them, this Christmas,” said Power.

According to new data released by .IE, the managers of Ireland’s trusted online .ie address, the number of Irish SMEs that have invested money in their online presence has grown significantly: 55pc have invested since the beginning of the pandemic, up from just 21pc in 2020. Because of this investment, 78pc of SMEs say they have been able to sustain pre-Covid levels of business or are busier than before, up from 46pc in the summer of 2020.

Overall, the number of Irish businesses with an active .ie domain has increased by 6pc year-on-year showing the continued focus on online trading in 2021 as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The .ie domain is the preferred choice for Irish businesses and now accounts for 53pc of all active domains hosted in Ireland, up two percentage points since 2020.

For our part at ThinkBusiness, we have compiled a guide to 190 Irish businesses who are selling goods online. In this series we rounded up Irish food, drinks, fashion, beauty, sports, toys and health retailers selling online for Christmas 2021.

As Black Friday approaches, Anna Grant from wrote this indispensable guide to getting your business ready for Black Friday.

Digital Business Ireland, a group representing 5,000 Irish online businesses, has warned that non-EU online rivals are already eating Irish retailers’ Christmas lunch. By not paying applicable taxes, rival retailers from overseas are able to offer goods at lower costs than Irish firms, warned Lorraine Higgins, secretary-general of Digital Business Ireland.

Higgins said that this is not only a danger to businesses but it also represents a safety threat for consumers who may buy inferior and, possibly in the case of electronics, dangerous products.

“There is a lack of digital systems that allow for a comprehensive verification of all imports. Despite best efforts, hundreds of thousands of packages remain uncontrolled which means the applicable taxes are not paid. Furthermore, some products are not of merchantable quality, or contain harmful ingredients, incorrect labelling and are guilty of brand piracy, and this must be counteracted with effective market surveillance.

“In online trading, we do not have a regulatory problem, but an enforcement problem. It’s time to implement digital tools and recruit more staff to effectively control non-EU e-commerce. Without the necessary checks and balances this has ramifications for businesses, jobs and the safety of consumers,” Higgins warned.

Be proactive and win sales

But to win online, Irish retailers need to step up to the mark.

Speaking with ThinkBusiness, Alice Mansergh, director for Small Business at Google, explained that searches for the term “Black Friday” by Irish consumers are up 138pc year-on-year while searches for “Christmas” are up 41pc.

There is some silver lining, or tinsel, in the wrapping of Google’s results in that searches for “Near Me” increased 50pc year-on-year, which Mansergh says indicates that Irish retailers who are visible and accessible online will reap the rewards, especially among early, organised shoppers.

One driver of shoppers starting earlier is the ongoing supply chain disruption which is causing logistical challenges that savvy consumers want to avoid. 

“Searches for ‘gifting’, for example, are also up 40pc year-over-year. This is fascinating when you consider last year non-essential retail was closed and everything was extremely digital, whereas this year shops are open. It indicates people are seeing the convenience of shopping online that they discovered last year and they are sticking with it.”

This Mansergh, believes, does not mean people are abandoning physical stores for online, but rather that they are opting for the best of both worlds. “Searches for stores ‘Near Me’ are up 50pc, so that suggests that people are researching online and then are wandering into the stores.”

This could result in sales in those stores or in some cases people might wander in to look at a product and may buy it online later.

“It’s important if you are a bricks and mortar store that you are thinking about how you can make it easier for consumers to be found online. And you can do that bit for free. Just claim your Google My Business listing, get yourself seen on search and perhaps then go a step further and create an e-commerce site and then hopefully you not only will have local consumers buying from you but you could start to see orders popping in from Australia or America or elsewhere.

“That’s when business owners’ eyes really light up and they realise that once they get online the are not only serving local consumers but international as well.”

A recent example of a business that used its Google My Business profile to good effect is Laois-based Flavour Safari which found its listing served as a means to further develop a presence in local SuperValu stores across Ireland but also to crack the UK market.

“There are many online businesses to have done this. Take Rackwood Furniture in Carlow which moved online and is now shipping all over the world. Or Gym+Coffee. Once they move online to reach local customers better they realise that the world is their oyster and they can sell to customers anywhere.

Another tip for Irish businesses that want to stand out online is to sign up for the Local Opportunity Finder, a new free online tool that is part of the Google for Small Business platform and offers personalised help to businesses to enhance their visibility and reach new customers.

Retailers can simply enter the name of their business into this easy-to-use tool, and Google will provide customised solutions to enhance their presence on Google Search and Maps — all in under five minutes.

Crucially, Mansergh explained, having a Google My Business profile means that businesses will show up not only in searches but also with their own presence on Google Maps as well as host customer reviews.

“It then becomes more and more likely that people are going to come and visit your store in the offline world too,” she said.

Main image at top: Alice Mansergh, director of Small Business at Google

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.