When shoppers burst through Asda’s shop doors on Black Friday in 2014, the US retail phenomenon truly arrived on our shores.
However, two years on and more and more retailers are distancing themselves from the discounting event.
Asda, one of the pioneers of the shopping extravaganza in the UK, opted out last year and other retailers such as Jigsaw and Made.com have taken an anti-Black Friday stance.
This year, Made.com has launched a pop-up showroom in London and is inviting shoppers to visit in order to “relax away from Black Friday chaos”.
Many retailers have expressed their dismay over the promotion.
Ted Baker boss Ray Kelvin told Retail Week last month that he would “rather not participate”, adding that “everybody else would rather not” as well.
This sentiment has been echoed by Fat Face boss Anthony Thompson, who launched a price promise across the retailer’s stores vowing not to lower prices on products before Christmas Eve.
“I’m putting my money where my mouth is … People should be able to buy their Christmas presents and be confident that it’s the right price and that price will not move,” he says.
Will Black Friday disappear?
With this in mind, is there a possibly that Black Friday will slink its way out of the UK’s retail calendar as abruptly as it arrived?
KPMG head of retail Paul Martin is doubtful. “I think it’ll change its shape to a degree over the coming years,” he says.
“It obviously originated in the online space with Amazon bringing it over.
Rightly or wrongly everybody tried to embrace it, which meant that a lot of the physical execution was pretty poor.”
Martin stresses that Black Friday will live on online, and adds that some retailers will be better placed to cash in on the phenomenon than others.
“It’s more category specific, specifically in the non-food space for consumer durables,” he says.
“You would argue that planning of the event would be easier for retailers selling those products because they can plan the type of stock they’re going to get on board months in advance with suppliers.”
Electrical retailers give it some welly
This sentiment is one that is echoed by the majority of electrical retailers participating in the event
Speaking to Retail Week this week, Ao.com founder and chief executive, John Roberts, says: “We’ve been preparing since last November.
There’s a vast range of predictions around Black Friday but the reality is no one knows what the scale is going to be.
“It’s a challenge for retail but amazing opportunity for consumers.”
Another retail leader that thinks that Black Friday is worth the bother is Dixons Carphone chief executive Seb James, who told Retail Week earlier this month that businesses that didn’t participate were “not giving it any welly.”
“Some shops just put on deals on the crap that’s been lying around, but with us you’re going to find quality and branded goods,” he said.
Black Friday marathon
A notable feature of this Black Friday is that retailers, including Amazon, Argos and Shop Direct, have elongated the Sales period with many running deals for a fortnight.
Martin argues that this tactic is intended to relieve pressure on retailers’ online systems and delivery services.
“There was a significant number of very well-known retailer brands in the UK who had significant website and delivery issues in early years and looking beneath the bonnet of a lot of those retailers, the capacity issues haven’t gone away,” he said.
“Extending the Sale period could take the strain off the actual back-end capabilities of an organisation and also has the advantage of looking great from a customer perspective.”
Richard Talks Retail founder and analyst, Richard Hyman, says that Black Friday may have peaked in the UK.
“Last year was much less impactful and this will be dialled down a little further,” says Hyman.
“That first [major] year  was before today’s rampant discount market really gained traction.
“As it is, Black Friday is just another in a never-ending stream of promotions.”
An end to the frenzy?
Martin believes that more retailers will stop participating in the discounting frenzy.
”It will polarise the industry – you’ll have some categories that will do really well and others will be able to quietly retreat,” he says, adding that the unpredictability in supply chain for fashion retailers is likely to make Black Friday less appealing in that sector.
But while the number of retailers that participate may reduce, it’s not a retail event that is likely to go away altogether.
“Black Friday offers significant saving at a costly time of year, and we can’t take that back now,” says Roberts.
It appears there’s little chance of putting this genie back into its bottle.
Have your say
Final question: is Black Friday on its way out or here to stay? #rwblackfriday— George MacDonald (@GeorgeMacD) November 24, 2016
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