Black Friday has polarised retail. For some retailers, it’s the new Christmas; for others it is the worst thing that has ever happened to the sector.
M&S chief executive Steve Rowe explains: “It just sucked business out of the following weeks.
“Customers want to trust that the price they are paying will not change the following week. It’s full price all the way through. See you on December 26.”
Black Friday is equally divisive in the eyes of shoppers. According to PwC consumer research, 51% of UK shoppers plan to shop over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, while 34% say they are not interested and 11% will intentionally avoid it.
It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it gets people spending. PwC says shoppers plan to spend an average of £197 each, up 16% from £170 last year.
Dwain McDonald, chief executive of courier DPD, expects record parcel volumes this Black Friday weekend, and is predicting a 13% rise on last year.
Debenhams managing director for beauty and marketing Richard Cristofoli says: ”Black Friday is firmly established in the UK consumer’s mindset and for Debenhams last year it was our biggest day of trade ever.
”We expect our online trade to be 6.5 times a normal day and also expect customers will take advantage of our extended shopping hours in stores across the country to find the perfect gift with the day also driving six times the footfall.”
But does it create extra demand or, as Rowe says, is it just bringing forward trade from the following weeks when retailers would sell at full price?
PwC consumer markets leader Lisa Hooker claims that Black Friday does not actually cannibalise Christmas sales. “Black Friday is not yet threatening the Christmas shopping period, with our survey showing the majority of purchases made over the weekend will not be gifts,” she says.
Kien Tan, director of retail strategy at PwC, says the popularity of Black Friday with men, who now spend more than women over the discounting event and increasingly on products for themselves, is driving this trend.
But while it may not cannibalise Christmas, Hooker says it does have the potential to eat into Boxing Day.
KPMG head of retail Paul Martin agrees: “It’s bringing Boxing Day forward five weeks. It distorts the whole trading architecture.”
But is Black Friday – a shopping event geared around slashing prices – really bad for retail?
Hooker says not. “If well planned, it can create some post-October noise and can be favourable for retailers,” she says.
“It brings free footfall and traffic around the Black Friday fortnight. You get a halo effect.”
“For some businesses they will slash prices so much that they accidentally turn the day into their most disastrous day of the year”
James Brown, Simon-Kucher
Tan says retailers have learned vital lessons from previous years and are effectively managing margin around the discounting event by being “more selective” on promotions and buying in products specifically for Black Friday.
However, James Brown, head of UK consumer goods and retail at pricing strategy specialist Simon-Kucher, says that some retailers will make a loss from Black Friday.
“Black Friday is now a real retail experience and shoppers love getting out to find a bargain. But for some businesses they will slash prices so much that they accidentally turn the day into their most disastrous day of the year.”
Out of fashion?
It is in fashion that retailers have been most vocal in their criticism of Black Friday. Fat Face boss Anthony Thompson says: “If you are an electricals retailer, you’ve traditionally waited until Boxing Day Sales for a lift. Black Friday is a quieter period and you can get two bites of the cherry.
“If you’re a clothing brand or gifting retailer, you don’t want to discount at the wrong time. It’s ludicrous to suggest it’s a good idea in clothing.
“UK clothing is on its knees and it’s killing itself. We’re weakening our proposition and encouraging people to buy on price.”
Martin says fashion retailers were attempting to “deprioritise” Black Friday this year but sluggish sales in recent months has left “surplus stock in the apparel ecosystem”.
“[Fashion retailers] are using Black Friday as a markdown channel. This is artificially generating demand – it’s not going to be healthy growth,” he says.
Can retailers abstain?
Given the doubts over whether Black Friday actually boosts the bottom line, should retailers follow M&S’ lead and simply opt out? Or do they risk losing out on the busiest trading period of the year?
In some sectors, there’s no going back.
Tan says: “For electricals retailers, it’s the new Christmas.”
PwC’s survey backs this up. Half of the UK shoppers who intend to spend over Black Friday say they will spend most of their money on technology and electricals.
Martin says the fact that Amazon – which is viewed as the driving force of Black Friday in the UK – heavily promotes consumer electronics over the event means that electricals retailers will suffer if they do not take part.
But what about retailers in other sectors, such as M&S?
“Black Friday has certainly matured as a concept in the UK with a wider range of retailers involved and finessing it to match their own ends. I think it is still partly driven by the fear of not taking part, rather than it being genuinely embraced”
Dwain McDonald, DPD
Martin says if retailers manage their stock levels and margins in the run-up to Black Friday they should be able to opt out. But for those that have struggled on this front the temptation to jump on the Black Friday bandwagon may prove too much.
Tan believes that retailers that choose not to offer any discounts at all risk losing out on potential business as shoppers in search of a bargain will simply ignore such brands.
McDonald does not see the appetite for Black Friday waning anytime soon for this reason.
“We deal with the biggest UK retailers and online specialists and Black Friday has certainly matured as a concept in the UK with a wider range of retailers involved and finessing it to match their own ends. I think it is still partly driven by the fear of not taking part, rather than it being genuinely embraced,” he says.
Tan advises retailers to do some form of promotion to attract the 50% of shoppers interested in Black Friday to their stores and websites, without offering blanket discounts across all products.
For the time being it seems that Black Friday is here to stay, but Martin says we will see a greater polarisation between those that pioneer it and those that opt out.
And while the slow start to the season might have coerced some retailers to partake this year, it may be a different story next year.
Black Friday is still in its infancy in the UK and it is rapidly evolving. There are still many more twists and turns to be had from this shopping phenomenon that has turned UK retail on its head.