Shoppers were apparently reluctant to splash their cash on Black Friday this year, which also brought a polarised performance from bricks-and-mortar stores and online.

Barclaycard said that by 3pm on Black Friday itself – the most up to date period for which data was available at the time of writing - it had recorded transactions 10% up year on year but spending down 12% by value.

Barclaycard Payment Solutions managing director Konrad Kelling said: “Our data shows that people have been making a higher number of less expensive purchases.

“This suggests that, while Black Friday is clearly encouraging shoppers to buy, consumers are more likely to be purchasing smaller treat products, rather than splashing out on high-end items.”

An online event

Where they spent, as well as how much, was a sign of the times as online once again stole the show.

Footfall to shops in all types of location fell 5.4% versus Black Friday last year, Springboard data showed, while Loqate analysis showed online transactions climbed 46% by 4pm.

Shopping centres were the poorest performers by footfall on the day, when they suffered a decline of 8.3%. On high streets, footfall was down 4% and in retail parks the decrease was 5.3%.

“Online is open for business 24 hours a day and is therefore seen as a more convenient option for shoppers”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard

The pattern continued over the weekend, when overall footfall across all destinations declined by 5.6% on Saturday and 4.3% on Sunday.

Week on week, however, there was a footfall rise of 8.6% on Black Friday. Saturday was flat over that timescale but was ahead 2.2% on Sunday.

The picture may be more complicated than the stark numbers indicate, however. Springboard pointed out that shopping centres are typically home to the big chains, whose online presence and services such as free delivery mean customers do not need to visit branches.

Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle also observed: “The drop in footfall to bricks and mortar stores over Black Friday weekend is a reflection of the larger discounts offered online. Online is open for business 24 hours a day and is therefore seen as a more convenient option for shoppers.”

Bricks and clicks

However, the complementary roles of bricks and mortar and digital was evident in insights provided by Dixons Carphone. The retailer said that at its peak, 9.15am on Black Friday, its Currys PC World website processed 14 orders per second.

The retailer said that 46% of orders were for click and collect, while home delivery accounted for 54%.

Argos also anticipated that click and collect would prove popular – it opened 100 extra collection points in parent Sainsbury’s shops in time for Black Friday. Argos also saw a 13% increase in Fast Track orders for home delivery. 

The retailer had 1m visits to its website and apps on Black Friday but more than 1m customers came into its stores on the day.

“It’s not going to be a fantastic Christmas – it’s a ‘plodding along’ kind of Christmas”

Patrick O’Brien, GlobalData

Debenhams also sought to maximise all channels. Many stores opened longer: 133 opened at 8am, most stayed open until at least 8pm and a third stayed open to 10pm or 11pm.

Customers placed 181 orders per minute with Debenhams on the day, rising to 261 during its peak hour for orders and revenue of 9pm until 10pm.

Electricals and technology has historically been a strong category on Black Friday, and early indications from John Lewis are that it should have been again. The department store group said the most searched for items on the morning were Apple Airpods and the Apple Watch series 3.

While in electricals Black Friday promotions tend to be planned well in advance, in fashion, says GlobalData UK retail research director Patrick O’Brien, “we’re seeing panic and some really major discounting”.

He noted that in apparel blanket money-off deals – such as 25% off everything – were “really prevalent” and concludes: “That shows how difficult the fashion market has been this year.”

A prolonged promotion

The changing nature of Black Friday was evident in the extended nature of the promotions run by many retailers. Although there is still much excitement on the day, some Black Friday promotions began days beforehand and ran into Cyber Monday and beyond.

That may be having an impact on the numbers being reported for Black Friday itself this year.

Kelling acknowledges that the dip in spending recorded so far could be down to the fact that many retailers are offering their discounts throughout the week and into Cyber Monday.

“As a result, shoppers might be a little more relaxed about making big-ticket purchases on the day itself. We’ll also need to wait for some transactions to clear, which will no doubt boost the final figures.”

“A lot of people are cynical about Black Friday, but actually it’s a great thing for customers to be able to pick up a bargain in advance of Christmas”

John Rogers, Argos

Weekly figures from John Lewis perhaps typified how Black Friday played out. The retailer said that total sales for the week were up 7.7% on the same week last year, ”making it the biggest sales week in our history”. 

John Lewis reported: ”Both our shops and website traded well and a number of shops enjoyed a record week. Due to competitor offers and ours launching earlier in the week we saw sales up across the week and less concentrated on Black Friday itself, although that was still the busiest day of the week for sales.”

Argos chief executive John Rogers says: “A lot of retailers now are having Black Friday events that span 10 days or more. That is an attempt to spread the demand over a slightly longer period because it is easier as a business to fulfil orders when there is smoother demand. I think you’ll see more and more of that.

“If you look at Black Friday six or seven years ago, it was more of a one-day event when we saw scraps over products in physical stores. It has moved on a lot since then.

“Now it is much more of an online event, spread over a two-week period.”

O’Brien points out that as the promotion has changed, so has how consumers behave. He says: “People have got more used to the event so they’re planning for it. They’re doing online research and they know exactly what they want to buy.

“That’s had a knock-on effect on sales in the week leading up to the event. You can see some of that in the John Lewis weekly sales data, which in the past few weeks has been very negative.”

A ‘plodding along’ Christmas

Despite the scale of Black Friday, there is still hope for the rest of retail’s golden quarter.

O’Brien says: “Our consumer data shows there’s more impact on delaying spending in the weeks leading up to the event, rather than pulling forward spending.

This year, the timing of Black Friday came ahead of many people’s payday. That, O’Brien says, “means they might have some money to spend full price after the event”.

GlobalData predicts that fourth-quarter spending will be up 2% across the board but he cautions: “It’s not going to be a fantastic Christmas – it’s a ‘plodding along’ kind of Christmas.”

But he also says: “The whole event itself makes full price sales ahead of Christmas more difficult than ever. Although there will be a return to full price, there will be promotions in the lead up to Christmas. It’s a self-inflicted wound.”

Cyber Monday so far

As far as Cyber Monday is concerned, Springboard’s Wehrle said if previous years’ experience is borne out, footfall to shops is unlikely to have risen today.

She says: “Given that Black Friday discounts were made available throughout the week in advance of the day itself, and have continued over the weekend, it is likely that the impetus to make purchases will largely be over.”

Footfall was down 3.2% on Cyber Monday in the hours up to 2pm, according to Springboard data. Shopping centres were again the weakest spot, with footfall plunging 5.3%.

Argos said online was “really busy” between 5am and 9am as customers shopped on their mobiles during the morning commute and revealed that video gaming, toys, tech and Christmas decorations were “in high demand” today.

Rogers is confident that Black Friday is now a fixture in the UK retail calendar. He maintains: “A lot of people are cynical about Black Friday, but actually it’s a great thing for customers to be able to pick up a bargain in advance of Christmas.

“I think it’s here to stay and even some retailers who have historically exited the event now seem to be back into the event – sometimes calling it a different colour – but nonetheless I think it’s here to stay. As retailers, we listen to our customers, and customers seem to love the even