The Christmas frenzy is looming...
The fourth quarter of the calendar year includes a number of significant dates for companies eager to make the most of opportunities for increased sales and growth.
Two such dates are Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Many organisations will already understand the importance of these occasions, but just as many might be unaware of how to make the most of them.
So what exactly are Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and how can businesses ensure they take advantage of these opportunities?
What are Black Friday and Cyber Monday?
Black Friday has its roots in an American tradition, but the time of year is just as significant in the UK. It is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November in the US.
It has come to be recognised as the official start of the Christmas shopping season, when millions of Americans turn their attention from Thanksgiving celebrations to buying gifts and food for the next big holiday.
The date has become just as significant in the UK, marking the start of the last weekend before December, when Christmas preparations begin in earnest for so many people.
Cyber Monday is the Monday directly after Black Friday. A more modern phenomenon, it is a day that traditionally sees millions of shoppers heading online to make purchases and take advantage of limited offers available from retailers.
The term was invented by marketing companies and is promoted by retailers to encourage people to shop online, and the strategy is working.
Last year, Amazon UK announced that Cyber Monday was the busiest shopping day in its history, with 4.1 million sales. This exceeded the previous record of four million sales, set three days earlier on Black Friday.
This year, Black Friday falls on November 28th and Cyber Monday is December 1st.
How to make the most of these dates
For companies that stand to reap big benefits from Black Friday and Cyber Monday - most notably retailers, but also food manufacturers and delivery firms, for instance - it is crucial to plan your strategy in advance and be ready to handle the increase in trading activity.
One of the most obvious and widely used tactics is to introduce limited-time offers, which will lead to an increase in orders from shoppers who don't want to miss out on the chance to make big savings.
In a round-up of some of the best promotions available last year, the Telegraph pointed out that Amazon cut prices on some of its products by up to 70 per cent, while Asda offered discounts of up to £100.
Major retailers such as these have the scope to offer substantial price reductions, but there are several tactics smaller companies can use to claim their share of the Christmas shopping market.
It is important to engage with potential customers as early as possible, to boost awareness and engender familiarity with your brand.
Modern businesses have access to a tool that can prove invaluable in this regard: social media. Do everything you can to drive engagement through the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which can help you generate buzz about your products and gain some free word-of-mouth marketing.
Once you have started to lay the groundwork by building up relationships with customers, you can think about the best times to launch deals. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are big dates that should not be missed, but many people leave their Christmas shopping until later in December.
According to Viv Craske, head of digital at marketing agency Live & Breathe, one of the biggest ambitions for retailers should be to understand your customer.
Writing in the Guardian, Ms Craske divided Christmas shoppers into two groups: the risk-takers, who leave everything until the last minute, and the planners.
"The promotion-savvy shoppers are waiting longer to make their Christmas purchases, but while the planners may change which channels they shop through, they are unlikely to change when they buy," she added.
With the right combination of audience engagement, customer understanding and forward planning with a solid strategy, UK businesses can ensure they are on course to achieve their biggest and most profitable Christmas yet.