This year’s golden quarter is set to be another nail-biter as Black Friday and last-minute shoppers make Christmas sales evermore uncertain.

Hopes earlier in the year that an improving economy would help neuter the nail-biting uncertainty that has characterised recent run-ins to Christmas have proven wishful thinking.

As a number of retailers are reporting, turbulence remains in great supply as we wait to understand the success or otherwise of this golden quarter.

That’s not to say that there isn’t already much to learn from emerging patterns this year. Neither does it say there isn’t still all to play for in the final few shopping days that remain.

Most predictably, ecommerce has had a festive season to remember. Figures from IMRG show online sales were up 20% year on year in November and mobile commerce surged 80%.

Meanwhile, Black Friday has been one of the most significant developments in British retail in recent years and has changed the shape of Christmas shopping.

At its best, it has added theatre and sparkle to the start of the season. But its emergence, with such force, has posed questions that retailers must answer fast.

As it grows in significance, sucking spend out of following weeks in its wake, retailers can ill afford not to perform at their very best over the key four-day period between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The litany of failures this year simply cannot be repeated if consumers are to maintain trust in individual retail brands.

Retailers now have 11 months to confront these challenges. Most notably, retail bosses must interrogate whether they have the right infrastructure to service such a massive peak in trading.

And they need to work out how to flex up in a cost-effective way, because building an infrastructure that runs anywhere near capacity only a few days a year can have huge cost implications.

Moreover, retail chiefs must decide how to strike a balance between how fast they want to ride the Black Friday roller coaster and how much they want to exacerbate this new peak in trading with all the challenges that brings.

However, for all the noise around Black Friday, there should be no sense that Christmas is already done.

Confidence in delivery as well as an array of more sophisticated fulfilment options – especially click-and-collect – are persuading consumers to leave shopping later than ever.

Once again this will create bigger peaks at the start and end of the season that retailers must now gear up for.

And while ecommerce may have grabbed the headlines it will be store staff to the fore in this last rush to win spend, whether in fulfilling click-and-collect or by more traditional means.

And as those last few days take shape, everyone at Retail Week wishes you a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

  • Chris Brook-Carter, Editor-in-chief