Just 10 days ago, we waited with baited breath in anticipation of how the day we love to hate would pan out for retailers and shoppers. But Black Friday has been a very different beast this year.
Compared to the chaos of 2014, there was a pervading sense of consumer confidence, with a belief that once they’d found the item they wanted to buy, it would be in stock and delivered as promised.
Shoppers felt none of last year’s panic that if they didn’t buy their presents right then, they might as well cancel Christmas.
And despite dire predictions from top retailers, the News at Ten did not lead with pictures of desperate shoppers scrapping over a £150 TV. Discussions with our carrier partners show that although volumes have vastly increased, carriers have coped well.
Last weekend’s sales of £3.3 billion were uncharted, but though the day passed largely without incident, retailers should heed IMRG’s warning from Tuesday that the shopping event is ‘evolving rather than evolved’ and ‘was quite different in complexion this year’.
Even the name has started to change, with Curry’s dropping ‘Black Friday’ in favour of the ‘Black Tag Event’. Retailers made a sensible move by extending the sale period over the weekend, the week, and even the whole of November rather than just concentrating sales into that one day alone.
And though bricks and mortar sales suffered a 10% hit this year – due in part to the image of last year’s shop scuffles still fresh in shoppers’ minds – the bad weather definitely had a part to play too.
So looking ahead to next year, what can we expect? Well, shopper sentiment should be a big part of our predictions. This Black Friday, my Facebook newsfeed was filled with anti-American backlash and sarcastic comments calling out the event for not meeting our ‘British’ attitudes towards retail.
Colleagues noted the same on Twitter, and tellingly, those who braved the Trafford Centre didn’t face long queues.
Although UK retailers appear to have handled Black Friday far more successfully than last year, with sales booming and the supply chain rising to the challenge, does it need a rebrand to change the negative perceptions from some sections of the consumer market?
Lots of American ideas and events translate brilliantly to the UK’s consumer market – take Halloween, for example. But the same can’t be said for Thanksgiving.
The US public holiday equivalent of our Boxing Day sales is rooted in American history – not ours – and it simply hasn’t arrived on our shores with a valid raison d’etre. In these times of ongoing austerity, rampant consumerism is out of fashion. So what kind of makeover could work for Black Friday?
Looking to China, their almost anti-Valentines ‘Singles Day’ dwarfs Black Friday with Alibaba alone raking in over $14 billion. With the date 11/11 an ode to the loneliness of the number one, it’s a chance for retailers to tap in directly to the nation’s hundreds of millions of unattached people.
So perhaps our British equivalent could be a celebration of anti-socialness, for all of us who dread family get-togethers? After all, an estimated three quarters of Black Friday shoppers purchase for themselves.
Or how about ‘Christmas TV ad launch week?’ You know it’s Christmas when John Lewis, Aldi, Sainsburys et al launch their Christmas campaigns and start parodying each other!
Black Friday will need to see a change in nature as it starts to properly find its place in our retail culture. In years to come we’ll continue to see retailers stepping further away from last year’s chaotic scenes to position the shopping event more closely with British shopping attitudes.