Black Friday now firmly established as heavyweight champion of UK retail events

This article was first published in Marketing on 30 November 2015

If the £1 billion retail sales forecasts for Black Friday are confirmed, followed by the predicted £3.2bn for the weekend and Cyber Monday being met, we will have another heavyweight champion event in UK retail. And just like the Fury and Klitschko bout, 2015’s Black Friday will have been about going the distance and winning on points. And that’s going to be margin points.

Black Friday is about big discounts and even the most premium brands were in on the action to win a share of that shopper spend. This year it has been very clear that it is not about Friday, but a whole week of shopping hype, with more deals every day. TV ads, social media and a spamtastic amount of email told us all that it was time to buy. 2015 will see Black Friday firmly established in the British psyche as the official start of the Christmas shopping spree.

The import from the US always falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when most Americans take a day off. But I’ve struggled to rationalise the reasons for its existence in the UK, when no one is taking holiday and at a time of year when people have traditionally been happy to spend at full price.

Perhaps the US hype is what made its UK counterpart the success it is becoming. ASDA, which played a significant role in bringing it across the pond, was heavily criticised for allowing cameras into its stores last year to capture the shopping frenzy. This year it scaled back its involvement and, like many other retailers, increased its security. So what made Black Friday infamous – a good fight for a bargain – was missing this time around.

I’m certainly not condoning any fisticuffs in the aisles, but inspiring competition amongst shoppers with huge WIGIG (When It’s Gone, It’s Gone) offers is now a mainstay of retail promotion. This year the only knock-out blows involved retailer websites going down as shoppers punched into their keyboards looking for bargains.

The John Lewis site crashed mid-afternoon and Argos shoppers had to endure page load times of more than 10 seconds. Meanwhile, Amazon didn’t pull any punches with 0.5 second page load times and reported that more than 6 million items were ordered on its site, making Black Friday 2015 its biggest-ever sales day in the UK.

However, if the stores I visited are anything to go by, Black Friday was a bit of a non-event on the high street. It could have been any other Friday morning and I suspect all the action was on-line. Certainly my email and social feeds were full of offers, social media mentions of Black Friday rose 20 per cent over last year, according to data from Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and there were interesting Instagram campaigns from Game, JDSports, Liz Earle, New Look, and Victoria’s Secret among others.

I suspect that the final Black Friday sales stats will reveal Black Friday in the UK to not only be the biggest ever, but also the most digital. The big issue though, is how much profit retailers and brands will have made. Despite the critics, the “Buy Nothing Day” campaign included, 2015 has seen Black Friday firmly establish itself in the UK due to the strength of online sales. It is now the heavyweight champion that all other retail events will be measured by.



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