Do Black Friday and Cyber Monday create additional risks for retailers and consumers?

The Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping period is now firmly established as a highlight in the calendars of both retailers and shoppers. While the nature of the event has changed over the years, an increasing number of retailers continue to get in on the action, shaping how, where and when we shop during these four days.

For all the changes and reports of waning consumer interest, it’s clear that we still plan to spend – a lotWhile neither day on its own can match Alibaba’s Singles’ Day in terms of revenue, Adobe is predicting that sales in the US on Cyber Monday alone will top $9.4bn, with a total $29bn spent over the entire four-day period.

In the UK, meanwhile, a survey carried out by PwC found that, this year, the average consumer planned to spend £224 between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The study also showed that men intend to spend more than women, and that those between the ages of 25 and 34 would have the biggest budgets. It also noted that 77% of transactions would be carried out online rather than in person, with many other European countries also showing a strong bias towards online sales.

Whether we end up getting genuinely good deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, or whether the frenzied nature of the event clouds our decision making, is something that’s debated every year. But when it comes to the risks around counterfeit goods, should we be more or less concerned?

Strengthening the new with the old

Regardless of when it is that we choose to shop online, there are always certain risks, the sorts that were all but absent before online retailing. We can never be entirely sure that what we’re being shown in an image online is what we’ll end up receiving, or that we’ll receive it in the condition expected.

And the risks vary across categories: at best, you could end up with a perfectly convincing item of clothing that’s almost impossible to tell from an original piece; at worst, you could purchase something that doesn’t conform to the necessary safety regulations, which may then cause you or others harm.  

Not everything bought online is delivered to our door, of course. The principle of purchasing an item online and picking it up in a retail store has gained popularity over the years, marrying the convenience of locking in a seeming bargain with the option to collect the item at our leisure. This is one way in which retailers with physical stores maintain an advantage over online-only retailers, and this gives shoppers more protection, not least because they can examine the purchased or reserved product before it’s taken home. 

Black Friday

Even so, as fraudsters understand consumers’ buying habits and the products they’re most likely to be drawn to, they can calculate how best to target them. Given that electronics, technology and clothing tend to be the main spending areas for consumers over this period, extra attention should be paid to suspicious marketing in these categories. In some ways, a relatively niche product with a high price tag is a safer bet for the consumer; fewer people will be drawn to it, so there’s less likelihood of counterfeit copies being produced, and in turn, fewer people being deceived.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals vary from retailer to retailer, and across product categories. The secrecy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals prior to the event taking place means that fraudsters have little chance of responding on this level, and manufacturing copies of those specific products. Instead, they’re more likely to go to the effort to create a website that either aims to replicate a better-known site, or that simply appears as a genuine website under its own brand with its own ‘deals,’ as well as infiltrating legitimate supply channels with perennially popular products.

This works because the ways in which shoppers find specific deals during this period is likely to be different from the norm. Whereas many shoppers’ first port of call may ordinarily be a Google Shopping result, or a direct visit to a specific retailer’s website, the Black Friday period sees many websites aggregate deals and redirect the user to all kinds of external sites, and some of these sites may be unfamiliar.

Social media sites are also typically awash with posts promising all kinds of time-limited deals, and if the shopper does get drawn into comparing deals across many sites, it might be easy for them to forget where they first found a link, or just how legitimate it appeared to being with.

Checking needn’t be time-consuming

As Black Friday revolves around time- or supply-sensitive deals, it’s easy for consumers to forget the usual checks they should carry out when buying from an unfamiliar website. Furthermore, as many shoppers expect steep price drops during this period, the maxim about something appearing too good to be true often being just that becomes easy to forget.

But even just a few seconds of checking can make a difference. Checking the toolbar for an address that begins in https:// for example, takes no time at all. Searching for the company’s presence on review sites is also worth the effort. Fraudulent websites often give themselves away with little or no detail on their Contact, About Us and Terms and Conditions pages, and a dead link to any of these should be taken as a warning sign.

Another risk is pharming, which sees fraudsters redirect traffic from a genuine website to their own, either by installing malware on the user’s machine or by infiltrating a DNS server. This is sophisticated and much harder for the consumer to spot, but the same checks as above can protect them against this kind of activity.

Headache for retailers

It’s not just consumers that miss out by buying counterfeit products, but those selling genuine articles too. Retailers should take steps to protect themselves from fraudsters, not least by safeguarding their websites and images from theft and bot attacks; it is, after all, much harder for a fraudster to sell a product online if the image they need is sufficiently protected.

Spotting and reporting any suspicious sites, and taking prompt action over phishing emails designed to encourage users to submit financial details, should also help them to maintain both their sales and reputation. 

The Black Friday shopping period is a key opportunity for many retailers to balance the slump felt at other times of the year, and a well-coordinated sales and marketing strategy can make a vital difference to revenues. But both retailers and consumers should be wise to how attractive that spike in online retailing appears to fraudsters, and the necessity for vigilance in the face of constantly changing threats.

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