Black Friday or Bleak Friday: was it good or bad for UK retail?
Black Friday kicked off with a tidal wave of discounts in the UK with both online and offline retailers diving deep into the spirit of the event. But coming after an autumn season that has been characterised by markdowns, it seems that it might not provide the boost for their bottom lines that many stores hoped it would.
Interest was undeniably high though. Location intelligence and data specialist Loqate said that online transactions rose by 55% year-on-year between midnight and 10:00 on Black Friday, “despite fears around false deals and spending fatigue.”
Online shopping picked up in earnest from 5 a.m. onwards and online transactions grew 45% faster than last year, which is slightly lower than the annual increase of 50% seen from 2016 to 2017.
And spending accelerated as soon as consumers got into their offices with more transactions conducted between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. than in the hours before work.
Some categories soared. Shoppers on Amazon bought more than 60,000 beauty products from the point at which its Black Friday deals went live at midnight until 9 a.m.
But footfall tracking specialist Springboard said physical store visitor traffic was down 7% year-on-year by 1 p.m. with high streets falling a worrying 6.1% and shopping centres down a catastrophic 9.1%. Loqate added that online transactions had risen 47% by that time.
Barclaycard also released data that showed shoppers were buying more items but spending less. The company, which is a reliable source as it processes half of all UK card payments, said that by 3 p.m. it had seen 10% more transactions by volume year-on-year. But by value, spending was down 12%. Factor inflation into that mix (running a little below 3%) and you have a picture of consumers prepared to spend, but only when prices are as low as they can be.
The company added that spending hit a peak at lunchtime as office workers went shopping (either in person or online) with Barclaycard processing 1,087 transactions a second between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., which is the highest figure ever for the firm.
Barclaycard Payment Solutions MD Konrad Kelling said the spending pattern suggests "consumers are more likely to be purchasing smaller 'treat' products, rather than splashing out on high-end items.”
But what does that mean for retailers? Well, it’s not good news. While many retailers dislike Black Friday because of the need for heavy deals and the way it can dent December spending, many are trapped and almost have to take part or risk selling nothing.
Retail aggregator LovetheSales.com produced data showing that there were 26% more deals on offer this year. That’s no surprise as chains that had previously steered clear, such as Jigsaw, Whistles and FatFace, took part this year with discounts available even if the words “Black Friday” weren’t splashed prominently across their windows and websites. Even Selfridges had a “Christmas comes early” 20% off.
It’s also perhaps significant that some chains that used to issue early Friday releases saying how well their Black Friday sale was going kept quiet this year.
We heard little from fashion chains, although electricals retailers were more forthcoming. Currys PC World was ultra-busy selling items such as the Nintendo Switch Neon Red games console. And John Lewis shifted huge numbers of Apple Airpods and the Applewatch series 3.
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