Is Black Friday in the UK really a big deal?

David Buckingham
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Not too long ago, the last weekend in November was a date that US retailers (and indeed consumers) planned for the entire year. Black Friday, the biggest shopping day in the US, sets the scene for retailers and kicks off the holiday spending season. And it’s a big deal, with around one-third of annual sales taking place between Black Friday and Christmas Day. To put that into perspective, last year alone, US shoppers spent $655 billion over this period.

In 2010, Amazon brought the sales event to the UK and three years later, Asda took their lead and introduced Black Friday specials to its customers. The intention was, obviously, to ramp up sales, but also to deliver discounts and amazing deals to its customers, with a view to improving loyalty. And, the expectation was to add this brand new sales promotion to the calendar and reap the long-term benefits. Unfortunately for Asda, the reality was a little different. The media was filled, not with news of the amazing discounts on offer, but rather, images of customers physically fighting it out in store to grab hold of these bargains.

Four years on and the question remains: is Black Friday really such a big deal in the UK? Especially as the one-day promotion has branched out to include Cyber Monday, another US import, which takes place on the Monday after Black Friday. This is the day where consumers are lured online by retailers, with the promise of even bigger and better discounts. In 2016, UK shoppers spent £1.9 billion on Cyber Monday, and the discount day broke records in the US, where $3.45 billion was spent online, making it the biggest day in US e-commerce history, according to Adobe Digital Insights.

In recent years, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have morphed to include the weekend in between, as many retailers extend their promotions by offering them both before and after Black Friday. Retailers, including Currys PC World, are offering ten days of discounts and Amazon has also just announced ten days of deals starting Friday 17 November with the sale continuing until 23:59 on Sunday 26 November.

But interestingly, not all UK retailers are convinced by Black Friday. Asda stepped away from Black Friday deals in 2015, citing:

"Instead of the hustle and bustle and pressure of one or two day sales where customers typically push the boat out on high-value items, this year Asda customers say they’d prefer deals on value-for-money, high-quality products that all the family can enjoy."

And they weren’t alone. Other retailers such as ASOS, IKEA, Next and Homebase, also refrained, while others like M&S and Selfridges instead focused on their Christmas promotions. Taking it a step further, retailers like FatFace publicly abstained from the promotion and instead donated £100,000 of its profits to charity.

But putting all this aside, how does Black Friday / Cyber Weekend in the UK compare to other countries?

Not very well. It seems UK retailers don’t apply the same level of discounts as other countries. Compared to other European countries and our cousins across the pond, UK retailers cut prices by 9%, while those in Germany (23%), France (26%), the US (29%) and Canada (36%) reduced prices substantially more.

And, taking a wider view, how does Black Friday compare to other sales events? Black Friday doesn’t actually represent the biggest global shopping day. That honour goes to Singles Day, which takes place in China two weeks before Black Friday. Last year, Chinese shoppers dropped a whopping $17.8bn (£14.2bn) in just one day. In fact, it’s such a big deal, that Alibaba, the online marketplace giant, hired a Hollywood director to make a four-hour national television gala, especially for the event.

So while shoppers in the UK did spend £5.8 billion during the four days between Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year, will Cyber Weekend make way for another import like Singles Day? Or will retailers take a cue from the abstainers and focus on year-round value?


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