27th November 2014

Black Friday; the annual festive price war begins!

The 28th November is known globally as Black Friday. This is the day when retailers rub their hands and start to count the festive pounds. But where did it come from, and why is it so important to the UK economy?

The phrase “Black Friday” was originally coined in the 1950s by the Philadelphia Police Department to describe the madness of the sales on the day after Thanksgiving. The annual US consumer chaos that ensues has been well documented in the UK media, with women tearing wedding dresses out of each-others hands and families fighting in the aisle over the latest TV.

There’s a great report by Adobe, Shopping in a Digital World, charting hour-by- hour Black Friday sales, year-on-year, which illustrates that in the US alone, there were $1.93 billion of online sales in 2013 (a Year on year increase of 39 per cent). Those are figures that British retailers cannot afford to ignore.

So with the influx of US retailers, like Amazon, Walmart (ASDA owners) and Nike, all spreading their Black Friday joy on this side of the pond, the UK has set about joining in on the fun. 2011 was the year when Black Friday really started to make an impact over here and since then, high street stalwarts John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and Argos have all been getting in on the action.

For many retailers this is big – the start of a profitable season that will set them up for the year ahead, the ability to trade, gain footfall over competitors and build a brand. And for those that fail to capitalise, the New Year usually starts with a bump and some awkward boardroom discussions.

But creating standout in this often cluttered, price-driven season is where many big brands face a challenge. How do you differentiate and still maintain your brand essence?  Well this year Amazon has really got the media talking, garnering coverage across all broadcast channels five days before by announcing it is starting its Black Friday offers early. It has committed to listing more than 3,000 deals across its website at 10 minute intervals, encouraging regular and repeat traffic to ensure all its customers can bag a bargain. What a unique, yet ingenious idea, fostering brand loyalty, media coverage and reward all at the same time.

Equally, it will be interesting to see how uber retailer John Lewis competes this year, as it is clearly taking a more analytical approach to Black Friday. The company has stated that, from 2013 data, it can see an upsurge in mobile and tablet shopping, and identified peak trading times between 7am-8am. Will its mobile and tablet offers be different to those on the web? Will it put more offers out during the morning commute? All of this remains to be seen.

So what does this all mean for business and the overall economy? Well, it shows that consumers have an appetite for a deal, that you can still cultivate brand loyalty in a cluttered, price-driven market, and above all that the online revolution continues to challenge traditional shopping habits. Black Friday is set to test British retailers like never before, and the value of getting consumers spending has a serious impact on the country’s balance sheet, so we should all get out there and spend. Having said that, many analysts will tell you that,  if you miss Black Friday, you can play catch-up on Cyber Monday (the Monday after Black Friday), or Manic Monday (the second, more last minute Monday in December), at the Boxing Day sales (yet to be renamed)… the list goes on!

One thing is for sure, any tactic that encourages a more positive movement of monies within the economy is good, and for many businesses it’s their chance to start flexing the power of their brands in an even more creative way. I for one can’t wait to see who wins the war on festive spending! Let the sale commence!