Despite UK retailers' best efforts, Black Friday appears to have failed to create anything like the spending frenzy that it is renowned for in the US after figures released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed that sales failed to even grow by 1 per cent compared to last year.
Any signs of momentum on last year’s Black Friday began to dwindle with early reports from retailers of shorter queues outside shops and fewer customers in stores.
The lethargic response appears to have been more than just anecdotal, however. The BRC described the month of November as “slow and distorted” as a result of Black Friday. The BRC KPMG Retail Sales Monitor for November 2015 reported that sales volumes rose just 0.7 per cent this year compared to a 2.2 per cent rise reported last year. Like-for-like sales, which excludes new store openings, fell 0.4 per cent in the year to November 2015, after a 0.9 per cent annual increase in 2014.
David McCorquodale, the head of retail at KPMG, described November’s relatively flat sales figures as a “reality check” for the retail sector. The failure can be described as a stand-off between consumers holding off for a Black Friday bargain and retailers determined to hold on to their hard-earned margins.
McCorquodale said that “despite the hype around Black Friday, there was minimal loosening of the family purse strings compared with last year and retailers, facing significant cost increases next year, will be striving to wean UK shoppers off the discounting drug”.
BRC chief executive, Helen Dickinson, said: “As consumers and retailers continue to adapt to the changing patterns of omnichannel shopping, where the lines between channels become less and less relevant, this build-up to Christmas is one of the hardest to read in years.
“The conversion of people’s higher disposable income into retail sales shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
Black Friday’s relatively placid UK bricks and mortar stores serve as a stark indication that retailers have failed in their attempts to drag consumers away from online shopping where £1.1bn of the day’s £1.6bn sales were made.
The failure to topple 2014’s figures can also be attributed to the strategies employed by many retailers. Argos, for instance, shunned the event in favour of spreading its sales across every Friday in November while Asda pulled out of promoting it completely.
Retailers’ reluctance to cut profit margins by joining in on the discount frenzy is largely responsible for the disappointing figures but it could be a reflection of what customers want. As Asda’s chief executive, Andy Clarke, says “customers have told us loud and clear that they don’t want to be held hostage to a day or two of sales”.