This article was provided by Rachael Wornes, marketing manager at ARAG UK.
Every year, around this time in November, news pages, inboxes and search results are dominated by the words ‘Black Friday’.
Accompanying all the stories about how and where to secure the best deals during retail’s biggest feeding frenzy, are dire warnings to consumers about bogus offers and heightened security threats.
There’s very little advice, however, for businesses, despite the increased risks they face, no matter how they may engage with the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend, and through the rest of the holiday sales season.
Black Friday was once the preserve of the big retailers targeting consumers, but businesses in various sectors have joined the party, often with offers that are clearly aimed at SMEs.
Whether a small business is looking to snap up some bargain office furniture, the latest hardware or even a software subscription, they are clearly vulnerable to the same scams as consumers.
But these aren’t the only threats that SMEs face. ARAG has been sounding the alarm around three key areas that could expose businesses to serious legal and commercial risks.
Top of our list is the risk of breaking the laws around making misleading promotional offers to customers, especially for creating a false sense of scarcity or urgency.
Every year, businesses of all sizes are fined for tricking customers with too-good-to-miss offers and deals that turn out to be too good to be true. The competitive pressure that Black Friday creates can push smaller businesses into promoting offers that turn out to be illegal.
In 2019, a major furniture retailer was fined £6,000 when trading standards officers found that a Black Friday claim made on a poster displayed in a branch, was false. In 2016, a leading department store was fined a whopping £40,000 for misleading claims that it had made about discounts, in the run-up to the previous Christmas.
In March, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) took the step of issuing advice to businesses, which focussed on false discount claims and misleading time-limited offers.
The rules around honestly representing discounts and creating a sense of urgency can be complicated, and smaller businesses are less likely to have the skills and experience in-house to ensure that offers they make are compliant.
Businesses of any size need to approach Black Friday promotions with caution and should check compliance against the guidance issued by the CMA and Trading Standards.
A second area that we’ve identified as a key risk, especially for SMEs, is around cyber security.
Any business that trades online is vulnerable to having its brand and online platform hijacked, whether the purpose is to defraud customers immediately or simply steal their data, but smaller companies inevitably find it harder to protect themselves.
As recently as 2021, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) found more than 4,000 websites belonging to small businesses that were being used to steal payment details from customers. The NCSC took the step of issuing guidance to SMEs to help them stop their own websites from being used as ‘Black Friday cyber traps’.
Bigger online retailers should have the security and expertise in place to protect their websites and, by extension, their customers. Smaller businesses are more likely to use one of the major e-commerce solutions, but still need to ensure that cyber security is adequate and that patches for anti-virus software and e-commerce platforms are up-to-date.
Finally, we’re aware that small businesses are often looking for a bargain on Black Friday too, which exposes them to the same risks that consumers face, when shopping online.
Fortunately, the guidance for consumers is sound advice for people shopping for their business too. Staff may just need reminding not to let their guard down when making purchases online, at work, whether they’re shopping for the business or for themselves, during a break.
Whoever you’re shopping for, everyone should be cautious about making hasty purchases from unfamiliar suppliers and Black Friday doesn’t mean that normal purchasing protocols shouldn’t still be followed.