20th November 2015

The End for Black Friday?

What a difference 12 months make.

It was only last year that Black Friday really took hold in the UK. Online and high street retailers promised us big savings across their product ranges, prompting apocalyptic scenes of overcrowded aisles and brawls over flat-screen TVs.

This November though, with the likes of John Lewis and Argos announcing that they are shunning the US sales phenomenon, as well as Asda – one of the brands responsible for bringing it to the UK five years ago – it looks like it could very well be the end for Black Friday.

But, with UK shoppers spending £1 million every three minutes on Black Friday in 2014, why have so many major retail brands decided not to participate this year?

Well, store traffic may have jumped 23 per cent and retailers may have pocketed a total of £800 million on the day itself, but the effects on the rest of the festive shopping period were not so positive. December sales grew just one per cent on 2013 – the weakest since 2008. It seems that, rather than being a money-spinner for retailers, Black Friday may well have suppressed consumption in what is normally the biggest shopping month of the year.

In fact, many commentators argue that, rather than increasing the number of purchases, Black Friday simply concentrates them into one hectic day. This can be immensely costly for businesses to manage, with many having to recruit more team members to staff the tills and watch the doors, as well as shutting their stores early in the days before to put enhanced security measures in place. Add to this sum the enormous discounts that have to be offered to compete on the day as well, and it becomes clear that Black Friday takes quite a bite out of retailers’ profits.

In addition to understanding the financial costs of Black Friday preparations, more and more retailers are coming to terms with the toll taken on the wellbeing of their team members. Handling so many customers in such a short space of time and working such long hours before, during and after the event, all conspire to increase stress levels in employees – not good for their health or their satisfaction at work.

On top of all this though, is a realisation of the impact on consumer behaviour of promoting a one-off sales extravaganza. Perhaps dreading the crowds and aggressiveness of fellow bargain-hunters, some 90 per cent of shoppers stayed home last year to shop online instead. This meant online retailers, like Amazon, benefited from custom that would, under normal circumstances, have gone to high-street shops already struggling to compete with the internet (although internet shoppers’ tales of late deliveries may well have provided traditional retailers with a crumb of comfort).

Despite these drawbacks, it is highly unlikely that, now it has built momentum, the Black Friday juggernaut will be stopped but, to me, it is clear why Argos and its fellows are right to try. Wild scenes in shops and reports of botched deliveries are hardly a ringing endorsement, and merely serve to tarnish the image of the stores involved – especially premium brands, like John Lewis. Ultimately, they have the potential to put consumers off engaging in Black Friday either on the high street or in the digital space.

Argos, John Lewis and its fellows are taking a bold and empowering step in shunning this particular sales event. By swimming against the tide, they not only ensure they stand out against their competitors, they also demonstrate a confidence in their products and their pricing that will chime with consumers looking for the latest quality goods to spend their hard-earned cash on, rather than end-of-line items.

Moreover, by spreading their discounts over the entire Christmas and New-Year period, these retailers can ensure their consumers don’t end up with shopping fatigue. They can make sure their customers keep coming back to their shops over the festive season, relieving the pressure on their stores and staff, as well as encouraging them to spend more than they perhaps would in a one-off hectic visit.

By Michael Wood, Senior B2B Copywriter