A British version of the American frenzy that takes place on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday is when retailers online and on the high street offer steep discounts that they hope will get us in a Christmas shopping mood – potentially resulting in the UK’s first ever £1 billion online shopping day.
Last year’s event was marred by ugly scenes of supermarket shoppers fighting over TVs, but retailers are adopting different approaches in order to avoid a repeat performance. Asda, notably, has decided not to take part at all this year, while Tesco is closing its usual 24-hour stores at midnight before reopening for ‘Black Friday customers only’ between 5am and 7am.
Among those retailers that are participating – and, to be fair, most big names still are – many have stretched Black Friday into a Black Weekend or longer.
Retailers such as House of Fraser, New Look and Topshop, for instance, have launched their weekend of offers a day ahead of time, on the Thursday. For online stores, spreading the load over more than one day is a sensible approach – reducing the risk of website meltdown and delivery companies buckling under the strain. After previous glitches, retailers realise by now that a stress-free customer experience and timely fulfilment are as important as the deals themselves.
Retailers remain divided, however, on how far Black Friday is a good thing, while customers are rightly sceptical about some of the ‘bargains’ on offer. For example, John Lewis boss Andy Street previously warned retailers to “rein in” their Black Friday promotions, highlighting the impact on margins, profitability, and trade before and after – though the chain’s ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ price promise means that it can’t really help but participate.
Others, like online furniture store Made.com, are gaining PR off the back of their ‘anti-Black Friday’ marketing campaigns, while independent bookshops, such as Stockton’s Drake, are celebrating ‘Civilised Saturday’ instead.
Of course, if you are a small, independent retailer, Black Friday is most likely a distraction. Happily, for those shoppers who want a less frenzied experience – and a chance to support their local high streets – there’s always Small Business Saturday on 5 December.
After all, as an antidote to the excesses of Black Friday, it’s only right that smaller retailers have their own day in the limelight.
Written by Graham Soult