Whatever you think of the UK’s recent adoption of the US’s Black Friday, there’s no denying that it’s fast becoming an established fixture on the UK’s Christmas shopping calendar.
The UK’s recent preoccupation with the sales that take place on a US public holiday is a strange one. For many Black Friday seems to have come from nowhere, arriving suddenly in the public consciousness fully formed with stories of online queuing and news images of shoppers fighting over wide-screen TVs.
Since Amazon introduced the concept of Black Friday to the UK in 2010 public interest has grown at a phenomenal rate, fuelled by stories of incredible bargains.
In 2012 Black Friday almost didn’t register as a search term on Google in the UK. 2013 saw a sharp spike with much of the interest after the event. But this year that spike trebled in size and started earlier as savvy consumers started hunting out the bargains early.
In 2013 Amazon had their busiest ever day in the UK with 4 million orders. This year the online retailer broke that record by achieving 5.5 million orders and exceeding all expectations. That equated to 64 transactions a second.
According to IORMA and eDigital Research, 72% of Brits were familiar with Black Friday before this year’s event. UK retailers also now recognise it as one of the most important days of the year with Dixons Carphone Warehouse saying they expect it to be their second biggest day of the year after Boxing Day. Argos also ran a “Get Set for Black Friday” campaign and went as far as running a countdown clock on their website.
Last year SalesGossip compiled data suggesting 142 UK retailers ran sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The figures aren’t in yet but that number is expected to be significantly up this year and Black Friday has also spread beyond the major retailers with smaller shops and even the farming industry getting in on the act. Feed merchants were offering discounts, and even a specialist in Tractor GPSs was cutting prices.
While the TV news was filled with images of shoppers, the real story was taking place online with many UK retailers struggling to cope with traffic.
Black Friday in the US has traditionally been all about Bricks and Mortar stores with Cyber Monday being the big day for online retailers but this year John Lewis, Argos and Tesco Direct all had issues due to high demand and on the Currys site shoppers were forced to join virtual queues for up to an hour before they could access the site as their traffic increased by 500% over last year.
Traffic to Johnlewis.com was up 307% compared to last year though about 7% of customers were unable to access the site first time. John Lewis also reported that mobile traffic was up a staggering 1,400% between the hours of 8am and 9am as shoppers researched and purchased online before a day at work.
What drove this year’s numbers?
There appear to be a number of reasons that Black Friday was such a success for retailers.
Huge discounts have clearly driven interest but the climate of falling fuel bills and cheaper shopping bills as major retailers cut costs to compete with the discounters has combined with the fact that many feel more secure in their jobs than they have in recent years – as evidenced by recent increases in household borrowing.
A final factor may have been that for millions of shoppers Black Friday was pay-day, the final Friday of the month.
US Black Friday slowdown?
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in the birthplace of Black Friday sales showed signs of slowing. Black Friday in the US is becoming a multi-day shopping event, rather than an intense one-day affair, which is spreading spending over several days.
Shops are opening earlier to get ahead of competition and this year there was a marked increase in the number of shops trading on Thanksgiving leading to the new term “Grey Thursday”. This is a trend to watch for as UK retailers look to catch-up with the US improvements on the format.
In the US Black Friday this year was also notable as a point where online sales came to the fore with footfall dropping for the first time. Like many UK online retailers, not everyone in the US was ready and BestBuy’s website went off line after a, “concentrated spike in mobile traffic”, another trend to watch.
With data from Adobe, Custora and Channel Advisor all suggesting increases on online spend of between 20.6% and 24% many are asking if Black Friday is the new Cyber Monday.
What about Cyber Monday?
The big question for the UK is: will today, Cyber Monday the first Monday of December, be even bigger? Last year Amazon’s Black Friday record was beaten a few days later on Cyber Monday and this year it’s predicted to go the same way. IMRG have predicted that £451,000 will be spent every minute.
Appliance website ao.com claimed that Black Friday was its best ever day but are predicting that Cyber Monday will be even bigger with the addition of 200 more deals today. Equally Amazon is releasing a new deal every ten minutes.
Argos is expecting 5 million site visits today, up from 3.6 million last year and importantly they are predicting that over half that traffic will come from mobile devices and tablets.
However, Amazon believe there may be a trend in shoppers buying later as they gain confidence in delivery services which may have an impact on Cyber Monday.
“Manic Monday”, a week after Cyber Monday, is predicted by some to be the really big day for sales. IMRG predict retailer site traffic to be up 26% and Experian are also predicting it will be bigger than Cyber Monday pointing at both better delivery services and increase in mobile usage as key reasons.
A poll of 500 shoppers run by Accenture also suggested that over 2/3rds expected to spend at least 50% of their Christmas budgets online.
Overall though, this year’s numbers are likely to be up with Deloitte predicting consumers will spend 42.4 billion pounds this Christmas, up 1.5 billion from last Christmas and online sales accounting for 13%, up from 12% a year ago.