Black Friday hits the British Aisles

World Retail Voice Blog Post

Black Friday hits the British Aisles

Black Friday hits the British Aisles

Guest post by Natalie Berg, Global Research Director, Planet Retail

A fond but fuzzy memory for me: as a college intern for a Connecticut shopping mall operator, I was tasked with a handing out coffee and donuts to mall tenants at 5am – yes, 5am. The caffeine and sugar provided a much-needed boost for retailers to cope with the Black Friday chaos that was about to ensue.

Having now lived in the UK for almost a decade, I have witnessed a number of American traditions subtly permeate British culture with Halloween being the most prominent. But, if I had been asked five years ago whether Black Friday could ever play a significant role in UK retail, the answer would have been a resounding no. It takes place the day after a US holiday which isn’t celebrated here, on a day when most US consumers are off work but is just another Friday here. So why is it becoming so rapidly popular?

Well, the main reason is down to timing. It just about always coincides with the last pay day before Christmas. Case closed. Retailers don’t need much convincing beyond that.

This year is set to be the biggest Black Friday in UK history (its four-year history to be precise). Here’s why:

  • More retailers are taking part – Sainsbury’s, for example, is joining the party for the first time this year and Asda is adding nearly 100 extra stores to its Black Friday event. Meanwhile, many retailers are extending opening hours and, for those 24-hour stores, the deals will start soon after midnight.
  • Discounts are deeper and more widespread than ever before.  In previous years, Black Friday events in the UK have been quite small in scale and more or less limited to the electronics category. That’s no longer the case. Amazon is offering 3,000 lightning deals - 50% more than last year and 10x more than when the retailer launched Black Friday in 2010. Asda meanwhile has increased its Black Friday stock by 40% this year.
  • Retailers have finally invested in proper marketing of the event in order to generate both awareness and excitement. Countdown calendars, product teasers and engaging with customers through social media have all helped to build genuine excitement around the event. Asda is even leveraging its parent’s US roots, apparently the only time of year that the Walmart name is used in UK advertising.

  • Pent-up demand: An unseasonably warm start to autumn has meant fairly subdued spending thus far. The weather seems to have turned just in time for Black Friday, the combination of which will most certainly kickstart Christmas spending.
  • Retailers are ready: Tesco is expecting Black Friday sales to surpass Boxing Day sales for the first time ever while John Lewis is expecting Black Friday to officially “come of age” this year. The rise of alternative collection points means that shoppers don’t need to camp out the night before or “camp in” on the day of delivery. Instead, we will see more shoppers utilising the many click & collect options available through retailers participating in Black Friday. Tesco is expecting two thirds of Black Friday online shoppers to collect their own parcels.

The only problem? Many UK shoppers have no idea what Black Friday is or why we’re “celebrating” it. Nevertheless, we’re still expecting them to gobble up the bargains.

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