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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What does the future hold for Black Friday?

Is Black Friday still the biggest day on shoppers’ calendars or has the backlash begun? We take a closer look.

Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – has traditionally been the biggest shopping day in the US, when retailers slash their prices and consumers get a head start on their festive purchases. And in 2013, the phenomenon crossed over the Atlantic, when Walmart-owned Asda and Amazon launched huge Black Friday sales here in the UK.

The next year, Black Friday was adopted by even more big-name retailers, with John Lewis, Argos and among those offering huge discounts. The event also hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, with police called out to stores across Britain to deal with crowd control issues, and even assault, with retailers attracting criticism for not having sufficient security on standby.

Over the following years, Black Friday has well and truly established itself as one of the biggest days on both retailers’ and shoppers’ calendars.

How has Black Friday changed Christmas shopping?

Black Friday is often lauded in the media as a much-needed boost for retailers, but experts argue that rather than making us spend more, it has simply shifted festive shopping patterns. For example, the Visa UK Expenditure Report from 2015 showed that while spending jumped 2.1% year-on-year in November, it rose by just 1% in December, suggesting people are just doing their Christmas shopping a bit earlier to take advantage of bargains.

Retailers have had to change their approach to the already hectic festive shopping season, prepping for not just the pre-Christmas rush and Boxing Day sales, but Black Friday too.

The plethora of bargains and discounts on offer also means that retailers, particularly smaller ones, have to do something to attract customers or risk losing them to competitors. Price comparison sites, social media and email marketing all fuel this trend, making it easy for consumers to see who is offering the biggest and best deals in just a few clicks.

Black Friday is also credited with driving the evolution of online Christmas shopping – not only are more deals often available online, it’s easier to compare prices.

Black Friday backlash

Despite reports of rising sales, in 2015, some retailers including Asda started moving away from promoting Black Friday, focusing instead on offering pre-Christmas discounts over a longer period, while some retailers differentiated themselves by actively taking a stance against Black Friday. Outdoor retailer REI’s #OptOutside campaign which saw it closing all its stores on Black Friday won a Grand Prix at Cannes. 

And it’s not just retailers that are becoming increasingly wary of Black Friday. A survey by Dacia found that in 2017, 65% of Brits didn’t plan to buy any Christmas gifts on Black Friday, while 68% deemed the day a ‘marketing gimmick’[i].

Black Friday 2017

Now that Black Friday is over and done with for another year, it’s clear that the event still offers great opportunities for retailers, with spending up 7% on last year by 5pm, according to figures from Barclays[ii]. There was also a clear difference when between online and bricks and mortar stores, with a whopping £1.4 billion being spent on the web, up 11.7% on last year, according to IMRG. In comparison, footfall figures on the high street and in shopping centres and retail parks dropped by 3.6%, according to analysis from Springboard[iii].

Black Friday in the future?

While it doesn’t look like the Black Friday phenomenon is going anywhere soon, attitudes and approaches to it are changing. One of the biggest shifts is that rather than focusing on just one day of deals, retailers are increasingly spreading their offers out over the full long weekend, or even the whole month. Some experts have taken to dubbing it ‘Black November’ and advised that retailers need to start thinking about how to attract customers earlier in the month if they don’t want to miss out.

The other big change is that Black Friday is no longer the preserve of big retailers able to offer huge discounts. According to research by YouGov, a quarter of small and medium-sized retailers planned to participate in Black Friday in 2017, up from 14% last year[iv]. This trend is only likely to continue as smaller shops don’t want to lose out on a valuable pre-Christmas boost.

Last but not least, the shift towards Black Friday shopping online looks set to continue, with tactics like lightening sales helping to drive extra interest throughout the day. And it’s not just about offering deals online – websites need to be able to cope with demand. Some retailers lost out in 2017 due to their sites crashing or moving too slowly.

Online giant Amazon was among the biggest Black Friday winners in 2017, both in the UK and US, thanks to a 10-day run-up to the big day itself and effective marketing campaigns. Any retailers planning to make the most of Black Friday 2018 could learn a few lessons from its approach.