Black Friday was a “big surprise to everyone” and retailers who claim it went perfectly are “either lying or had a crap Christmas”, boss John Roberts has said.

Speaking at yesterday’s Delivery Conference, Roberts said the promotional event is now “locked” into the retail calendar and those who successfully navigated the period will continue to fuel it in future years.  

Roberts said: “Everybody knows Black Friday is bad for retailers. It’s like a drug - the drug of low prices for the rest of the year is a difficult one for people to wean themselves off.”

Dixon Carphone chairman Sir Charles Dunstone described the “irony” of the backlash against Black Friday in a later session at the conference.

He said: “Ever since I’ve been in retail, people have been trying to get Christmas shoppers to shop early, and now we’ve learned how to do it, everyone’s saying we want to stop them.”

Queued up for success

Dunstone highlighted the success of Curry’s PC World queueing system over Black Friday, which helped to manage the load on its servers while also having the added benefit of increasing spend.

He said: “During the main part of the day, there was a 40 to 45-minute wait to get access to the website. That drove some interesting customer behaviour, because they went to every single department before they were prepared to relinquish their spot. As a result, their basket size was far higher than normal or anything that we expected.”

However he slammed the supermarkets for offering “bait and switch offers”.

He said: “They put a small number of incredibly cheap items on display and hoped they would get customers into store, but they didn’t know what they would do with them once they had them there and couldn’t buy what they wanted. It was a disingenuous offer that was made.”

Ocado chairman Lord Stuart Rose described Black Friday as an “extremely bad idea”. He said that there now are a number of retailers that have decided that “their margins have not improved, they’ve been eroded. They’ve gotten themselves in a hole that they’ve got to get themselves out of this time this year.”

Metapack chairman and former Best Buy chief executive Bob Willett argued that Black Friday can be profitable as long as retailers are smart about it.

He said: “In my last year at Best Buy before I retired in 2009, we had a $1bn day. If you go back to Black Friday in 2002, when I joined the business, we actually lost money – we were just busy fools. It’s really about doing things differently to what others are doing.”