Isn't it interesting how Black Friday went from something Americans do locally to a world-wide sale campaign? Big e-commerce players of Czech Republic and Slovakia are also playing this game once a year. And ever since 2017, a group of data enthusiasts from Apify, TopMonks and Keboola teams up to monitor the chaos, deceptive tactics and machinations taking place on the Czech online markets in late November. The good news is that the situation is generally improving. This is happening not in the least due to the unsleeping eye of the Shop Watcher (price monitoring extension) and public callouts of the rigged prices and their setters. But there's still a lot of space for improvement.
This is a translation of our 5th annual analysis of Black Friday's biggest e-commerce campaigns, summed up and written by Jakub Balada. You can read the original Czech version of this article as well. You can also track the progress for yourself in our Black Friday analyzes from previous years: 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
- General overview
- Courageous trend-setters with real prices
- Same old tricks
- Some new kind of magic we came across
- Shop Watcher News
The whole year-round, our Hlídač shopů (Shop Watcher) keeps an eye on the discounts of the largest Czech e-commerce retailers, registering their every move. As always, we pay special attention to their discount tactics around the time of Black Friday (let's just call it BF from now on). Since this biggest discount event of the year is already over, here's a traditional analysis of how Czech (and Slovak) online stores choose to approach the sale season.
Let's take a look at three types of e-shops tactics we encountered this year:
- the ones trying to fix the current distorted discount environment,
- the ones still trying to resist the change,
- and the ones that are coming up with (old) new deceptive tactics.
We have quite a lot of examples to go through, so here's a quick recap for starters:
- Alza.cz and CZC.cz were pioneers in introducing real transparent discounts, calculated from product prices before the sale campaign and using clearly defined methodology.
- The biggest discounts of this year’s BF were at KnihyDobrovsky.cz, with a real price reduction for books of around 60%. Their e-shop is fresh on our monitoring radar given the type of assortment.
- Unfortunately, we still found lots of examples of deceptive tactics such as increasing the crossed-out price tag before BF or increasing the price of products so much that even after the declared discount, the product costs more than before BF.
- We came across a couple of new tricks such as tagging more than half of the entire assortment with a BF discount, while in actuality most products did not become cheaper (AAAauto.cz); or offering a 20% discount coupon for BF with a 23% increase of the product price before BF (Notino.cz)
- The Shop Watcher list has been extended with new e-shops. We also launched a 3-star rating evaluating the transparency of the shop's discount policy (calculation and implementation) and a redesigned Top discounts dashboard. And last but not least - the Shop Watcher Firefox extension is available again.
Here are our statistics on the monitored online shops that launched a BF discount campaign this year:
From this overview, we can make the following conclusions:
- For planned BF campaigns, most shops normally included only a small fraction of their products.
- With a few exceptions, the average discount ranged between 15 and 35%.
- Alza.cz and CZC.cz were listing real discounts corresponding with their stated calculations. In the vast majority of cases, their declared discounts coincided with our calculated real discounts.
- In most cases, all other online shops still calculated discounts from general retail prices; the real price reduction was on average half of the claimed discount.
Compared to last year’s BF analysis, there were fewer products included in the campaign this year (despite the larger offer of e-shops overall). The listed discounts were on average smaller, while the real discounts were similar to last year. The whole BF campaign lasted longer, with some online shops deciding to run it in a couple of stages.
Let’s take a look at the three online shops we have been following for four years now. First of all, let's give some deserved praise to the big Czech retailers Alza.cz and CZC.cz, which decided to break the traditional Czech approach of calculating discounts from retail prices and chose to offer discounts based on the prices at which they sold the product prior to the promotion.
Alza.cz offers a 15% discount calculated from the price just before BF (CZK 19,990) - which is consistent with our findings. By comparison, in August the price of this TV set was CZK 32,990. Most other e-shops would use this price difference to offer a 49% discount.
Here, the real discount of 22% is properly calculated from the crossed-out price of CZK 15,390. The price has been reduced according to a new transparent discount policy. In 2018, they used the general retail price of CZK 19,990.
By the way, starting from May 2022, Czech Republic will see the new EU directive on consumer protection come into force. Among other things, it defines the rules for online shops for calculating discounts within the promotion campaigns. One of the rules defines that the lowest price at which the product was sold at least 30 days before the sale will have to be used as the crossed-out price from which the discount can be calculated. Alza.cz and CZC.cz are already ahead of the game and are practically in line with this EU directive. Other online stores will have to use their time well to prepare for the changes to come. In terms of transparency, it's also important to mention that all the discrepancies found between our calculations and the calculations declared by Alza and CZC were quickly explained or corrected.
Interestingly enough, the introduction of real discounts is not as easy as it may seem at first glance. Even the simplest case of a one-time discount raises the question of how long a discount can be offered. Furthermore, there may be several more complex cases, such as multiple discounts within a short time period, dynamic pricing which will change the price by a minimum amount each day, etc. For this reason, the calculation of the real price reduction may still differ between the e-shop and Shop Watcher. It is important for us that the online shop transparently states its discount policy and tries to comply as much as possible with the new EU directive. For that, the shop will receive a three-star rating out of three from us.
On the other hand, out of the original three longest monitored online stores, Mall.cz still calculates the discount from general retail prices.
Here, the stated discount of 83% is calculated against the original retail price of CZK 7,002. Looking at the price history of this product, the price never exceeded CZK 1,490 since 2019 - the real price reduction was therefore only 11% (compared to the stated 83%). Specifically, with this product, we also observed a slight increase in the stated retail price from CZK 6,864 to CZK 7,002 - this could be explained by the manufacturer's choice to increase the retail price. Which made it interesting to notice that on the Vivantis.cz e-shop itself there has been no increase in the crossed-out price:
After we pointed this out, Mall.cz withdrew the Vivantis products with this problem. In the words of their spokesperson, they are currently preparing for the EU directive and will implement its policies in time.
We found the biggest discounts, both declared and calculated, on the online bookshop KnihyDobrovsky.cz. Discounts are still calculated from retail prices and the discounts are most probably determined by the type of assortment. For example, within a year, this book's price varies between CZK 89 and 399:
Same old tricks
Unfortunately, among the many BF offers of Czech online stores, we found a lot of products with a, dare we say it, misleading declared discount. A couple of examples will follow. The TSBohemia.cz online shop states the current price of CZK 3,690 for this cookware set was discounted from CZK 6,490 (crossed-out price). So they claim a 43% BF price reduction:
However, looking at the price history provided by the Shop Watcher, it becomes clear that the crossed-out price appeared on the website before BF (and was not even listed before Black Friday). Interestingly, the set now costs even more than before (between July 2020 and October 2021) and the current price reduction amounts to only 2%.
On the other hand, we registered some effort from TSBohemia to introduce transparent discount policies with several other products listed. Unfortunately, we do not have enough data to calculate the average real discount - TSBohemia applied anti-scraping measures, partially disabling our price scanners.
Another Czech online electronics store, Datart.cz, offered a discount of around 10% of its assortment (over 4,500 products). However, we spotted a couple of interesting items among them. For instance, this HyperX case mentioned in BF campaign without any discount with a subsequent price increase of 91% during Black Friday:
Or the price of this Headset iPega PG-R015, which gradually decreased by CZK 412 every day before BF (presumably, due to competition between pricing bots) but suddenly rose by 45% to CZK 600 on the day itself. So instead of the declared 39% discount, you get a "great deal" price increase of 45%.
If we take a look at its conditions, Mironet.cz has also begun introducing transparent discount policies:
2.1. Within the campaign, Mironet uses the term "original price", meaning the original price valid on October 1, 2021, used for selling the goods by Mironet.
Unfortunately, the reality looks quite different. For example, this phone case was marketed on Mironet.cz on October 1, 2021 for CZK 120, but the original price on Blue Friday was stated as CZK 540. There was a reduction indeed, though only by 14%, not by the declared 83%:
Pilulka.cz, a Czech drug store, partially scored at this year's BF list as we recorded quite a lot of real discounts on most products within the BF offer, calculated from the price before the campaign. On the other hand, Pilulka decided to keep some products in its BF campaign even after their price became higher, for example by 81%:
Unfortunately, we recorded some wildly fraudulent schemes on the Slovak version of the e-shop. For instance, making the original price much higher to keep the difference between the crossed-out price and the original price just enough so that a proclaimed discount is still maintained:
Another online drug store, Benu.cz, included over a thousand products in their BF campaign, but we could not confirm a real discount for 55% of them. In addition, we registered an increase in the crossed-out price as in this case:
Some new kind of magic we came across
The BF deal offered by Notino.cz, a Czech online cosmetics store, looks fair - a coupon for a 20% discount (or 30%, 40% - depending on the brand) for selected products. It is much less fair that the price increase just before Black Friday is practically the value of the given coupon and an increase in the crossed-out price.
For example, this Prime Youth 24K Gold serum:
Price just before BF - CZK 1,809, crossed-out price - CZK 1,994. Exclusively for BF, the price increased by 26% to CZK 2,298, but no worries - after using the BF coupon the price came down to CZK 1,953 (still a bit more than before BF). In addition, we noticed an increase of the crossed-out price to CZK 2,553 so that the online shop can offer an additional 9% discount.
And don't forget - if you land on Notino.cz from a comparator website (e.g. Heureka.cz), you'll see 25% lower pricing:
We also found an interesting concept of a Black Friday Sale on AAAauto.cz, which we've been monitoring for the first time this year. Their BF sale list included 7,080 out of approximately 13,000 cars - quite generous don't you think? (besides, their banner promised the price reduction for 2,000+ cars):
Unfortunately, we only found a discount on 466 of them. Let's take a look at the first offer (Škoda Karoq) - selling price CZK 760,000, discounted from CZK 780,000. According to the discount history on this item, there was none. However, a week before BF, you could notice an increase of CZK 20,000:
Some sort of explanation for this magic can be found at the bottom of the AAAauto.cz website. If we understood it correctly, AAAauto.cz only created the BF category on their website that included all the cars that are currently discounted. BF then describes the "discount" as follows:
"Black Friday discount" - for each car it is the difference between the price originally offered and the price currently valid.
However, if we look at the price history (for example, the above-mentioned Škodas), AAAauto.cz never sold this car for the stated CZK 780,000 which should be this "price originally offered".
Okay.cz, a smaller e-commerce platform, did not do very well in last year's analysis, and unfortunately, things do not look much better this year either. For example, this refrigerator Bosch KAD93AIEP. Sold for CZK 34,990 in April, but its price increased by 40% to CZK 48,990 particularly for the BF campaign.
Okay.cz has also prepared a VAT promotion for Black Friday (November 26). They sent us the following explanation:
For the real Black Friday, on 26.11, we are preparing our traditional VAT sale campaign. The price reduction for the products nominated within this promotion will be calculated from the original sales prices, and not from the prices within the discounts from Black Friday.
If we look at one such product within the VAT promotion, we see the following price development:
- 24/11/2021: selling price CZK 349, crossed-out price CZK 499
- 25/11/2021: selling price CZK 549, crossed out price not specified
- 26/11/2021: selling price CZK 453, crossed-out price CZK 549 (VAT promo)
- 27/11/2021: selling price CZK 349, crossed-out price CZK 499
Thus, during this one-day VAT promotion, the product has been offered at the highest price in the last year. Well, except for the day before, when the "preparation" for this price cut happened.
Okay.cz does receive one positive point for efficient communication with Hlídač Shopů, since they removed problematic products from the BF promo after being notified.
Shop Watcher News
For this year's Black Friday, we have introduced an online store rating, which accounts for how transparent the e-shop's discount policy is, how real their discounts are, and how quick the response to spotted problems is. The proposed rating scale goes as follows:
⭐⭐⭐ The online store transparently calculates discounts using prices before the discount promotion. It quickly responds to our notifications and tries to correct detected errors.
⭐⭐ The online store transparently calculates discounts (mostly from retail prices). If we do come across artificially increased prices, these are typically pricing errors and the online store tries to correct them.
⭐ The online store does not seem to aim for real discounts, listing too many problematic products.
Our goal is to help online shops take that annoying step from artificial 80% discounts to real 20% ones - we believe that their customers will appreciate it. At the same time, we will be happy to consult (and check) the methods for calculating real discounts with individual online shops (as we already do for some). We know from experience that it is not as easy as it seems. That is why we are introducing a Shop Watcher rating, which we will continuously update as e-shops change their approach to this issue.
Since the last BF, we have also started monitoring new e-shops. You can find a complete list of them on our website, or in the description of the extension.
As for the browser extension (thanks to which you can see the Shop Watcher chart directly on the website of the online shop, like on the screenshots), we've finally re-launched a version for Firefox, which has just finalized the approval process.
The latest update is the Top Discounts Dashboard for monitored e-shops, prepared by Ája and Verča from the Czechitas Digital Academy of Data. As soon as we test it sufficiently, we will integrate it into the Shop Watcher website.
This analysis has been prepared for you by the Shop Watcher team: Apify, TopMonks and Keboola. Special thanks this year goes to Marťa, Zuzka, Rarouš, Honza, Lukáš and Kuba. There's already over 30,000 of us! Thanks for the trust!
At Apify, we believe that armed with data, you can change the world for better. For this reason, we've been initiating many other research and non-profit projects, including but not limited to:
- Fighting child traffickers with technology.
- Bringing IT opportunities closer to women.
- Finding lost dogs.
- Helping the planet with data.
- Tracking COVID-19 statistics.
Need another idea of how data can have a big impact on the decisions in the e-commerce world? Here are other ways of how web scraping can supply you with retail data and how retail enterprises can fuel and improve their strategies with it.