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Thumbs down for Black Friday in UK

News, 13 January 2015

LONDON: After all the hype, the transatlantic import of Black Friday appears to have been a less than resounding success in the UK, as new data shows it made little difference to overall sales, but simply brought them forward in the final weeks of the year.

According to Visa Europe, retail spending rose 2.1% year on year during November but slipped back to 1% during December. The contrast was even starker when considering the high street: November sales were up 3.1%, December's down 0.3%.

"The latest data perfectly encapsulate the retail phenomenon created by Black Friday," said Paul Smith, senior economist at Markit, which complied the report for Visa.

"The heavy discounting seen over that weekend led to a shift in spending into the back end of November and early December at the expense of trading in the immediate run-up to Christmas," he added in remarks reported by Marketing Week.

The figures add statistical weight to what retailers have been saying in recent days as participants, from supermarket chain Asda to department store John Lewis, expressed reservations about taking part in the event again in 2015.

Andy Street, chief executive of John Lewis, went so far as to call for fashion stores and other retailers to play down Black Friday in order to avoid eroding traditional Christmas shopping patterns.

"From a customer point of a view it is a good deal," he said. "The question is for retailers – is it in our interest to have that peak?"

The Financial Times noted how businesses had ended up shifting goods at sales prices which in previous years they would have expected to sell at full price in the run-up to Christmas.

"The whole retail industry has found it hasn't been particularly helpful to have so much trade in such a short period of time and at such high discounts as well," said said Neil Catto, finance chief at online fashion retailer Boohoo.com. "We'll all learn our lessons this year."

Or as the FT observed, piling high and selling cheap on one day is a not a strong long-term strategy.

Data sourced from Marketing Week, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff