Comment: Black Friday is no longer just one day

This year’s Black Friday event was bigger than ever with initial data showing transaction numbers and sales both up. We expect that as well as Christmas buying, many shoppers would have used the event to buy general items for the household, as well as self-gifting. In 2016 our post-event research showed that 30% of shoppers who bought something on Black Friday bought no Christmas presents – rising to 55% among over 55s. We also know from last year, that younger shoppers are more likely to shop on Black Friday.  63% of those aged 18-25 bought something in 2016. For this group, the event has been in existence for pretty much all of their adult lives – for them Black Friday is well established and an expectation

A number of retailers have already reported strong trading during the event. While many retailers joined the event this year, there were notable exceptions including Marks and Spencer.

Black Friday was a multi-day event for most retailers that participated, spanning over the whole weekend – and beyond in certain cases. This year we also saw an early start to discounting with retailers including Amazon and Curry’s promoting lines in the run up to Friday. It was also notable this year that discounting was, in many cases, more like a blanket sale than a one-day spectacular. Retailers like Debenhams and House of Fraser offered between 20 and 40% off many lines, including major and highly desirable brands. With less emphasis on ‘when it’s gone, it’s gone’ promotions, shopper footfall was spread over a number of days and we did not see the heavy concentration of crowds and queuing experienced a few years ago.

While high streets and shopping centres were busy, we did see a further migration of Black Friday towards online. For retailers, online events are easier to plan and manage, help avoid any in-store disruption and security issues caused by crowds. With Black Friday becoming more of an online event, we saw a continuing decline in the relevance of Cyber Monday. We expect Cyber Monday is likely to disappear from the event calendar over the next few years, swallowed up by the extended Black Friday weekend.

The scale of the sale at many retailers this year highlights that weak October trading has shaken many retailers’ nerves. Shoppers benefited from great deals of clothing lines, with many retailers keen to ensure stock is cleared in time for the arrival of new season ranges in the New Year. Electricals was another focus category this Black Friday. With retailers worried about shaky consumer confidence, we saw some great discounts on big ticket items like TV. Amazon’s sale heavily promoted its recently relaunched range of Echo voice assistants.

In many cases we suggest Black Friday was pre-Christmas discounting by a different name and while there is no doubt that Black Friday stimulated sales growth, as ever, the question is how much erosion has been caused to gross margins and whether we should expect some retail casualties in the New Year. Sadly the signs are not encouraging.

Alastair Lockhart is the insight director at Savvy.