Online discount and deal events are now in full swing, with pre-Christmas campaigns being launched ahead of next week’s Cyber Monday.
US retailers such as Amazon and Gap have been holding Black Friday events all week, as they look to export to the UK a transatlantic tradition that sees US retailers offering deep discounts on the first shopping day after Thanksgiving – which this year falls today – in order to kickstart Christmas spending.
They have also been joined by a range of homegrown retailers offering discount events and special services ahead of Monday, expected to be one of the peak online shopping days of the year and dubbed ‘Cyber Monday’.
Debenhams launched a Christmas spectacular event on Monday, and shoppers can still buy for up to half price, while BhS followed suit with an event offering ‘buy one, get one half price’ deals all weekend. And Argos, the Early Learning Centre, Oasis, Coast, and Boots are all offering discounts on seasonal items and gifts.
Comet has been running its Five Day Frenzy of Christmas deals all week, offering discounts on electrical goods. Yesterday it was joined by Dixon Retail-owned competitors Currys and PC World, with their 100 hour online price crash, which promises more than £1m of discounted goods until midnight on Cyber Monday. Anina Castle, spokesperson for Dixons Retail, said: “Throughout the weekend we will be adding different deals at different times, from today at 3pm through to midnight on Monday night. Whilst there is plenty of stock we anticipate huge demand, so are strongly advising customers keep checking the site to get exactly what they want and not miss a great deal.”
Today iPhones-to-MacBook manufacturer and retailer Apple joined the fray with its on-day Black Friday event, offering discounted goods.
But Tristan Rogers, chief executive of ConcretePlatform.com, which advises retailers on international expansion, says moves to cut prices early in the shopping season are a gamble. He said: “The US and UK high street markets are so poor at the moment that retailers are looking at these rallies as a means of defibrillating the moribund market into life. The more reliant they are on the one market, the more stunts like this they need to pull. It’s a downward spiral.”
Meanwhile the Christmas season is also seeing innovation in services. Upmarket fashion retailer Karen Millen [IRDX RKMI] launches its Christmas campaign today, introducing a new Concierge service that it describes thus: “For when there is something from our collection you can’t live without, we’ll find it for you no matter where it is. Choose from a variety of delivery options from 90 minutes, next day or ‘Ship From Store’ all of which are tailored to suit your busy lifestyle.”
And John Lewis today announced its first 24-hour virtual shop, where shoppers can buy from its collection round-the-clock through QR codes displayed in the window of Waitrose in Brighton. The move recalls the eBay QR emporium announced last week and Ocado’s QR experiment in a London shopping centre this summer, and will display 30 top 30 Christmas buys for order via mobile phone for collection in store the next day or for delivery to home. The system is being trialled until the end of December.
Privately-owned John Lewis is also the only retailer to update the markets of its progress during the Christmas season itself. It said that in the week to Saturday November 19, total sales were down by 3.2% on the same week last year, but were ahead of the previous week by 11.6%. So far, it seems that toys are the focus of Christmas spending, while online is also faring well.
David Barford, director of selling operations for John Lewis, said: “With only four weeks to go until Christmas Eve shoppers are snapping up gifts for their children and everything they need to wrap them.
“Sales of toys and technology products for children are already strong and customers are snapping up woollen yarns, indicating that they are preparing themselves for the colder weather set to come our way this weekend.
“We have also seen strong sales growth on www.johnlewis.com this week as shoppers look to buy their Christmas products in the most convenient way to them including using our click and collect service which is up 70% on last year for the week to date.”
Emmanuel Hembert, principal at A.T. Kearney says online retailers are set to do very well this Christmas as internet shopping tools become ever more sophisticated. But he added: “As far as the general retail situation in the UK is concerned, the current market environment one man’s gain is another man’s loss, and much of the successes of online retailers will come at the expense of the high street.
“UK consumers are seeing their real incomes squeezed due to pay freezes, growing unemployment and rising living costs, and will remain cautious with their spending in the months to come.”
IMRG has predicted UK consumers will spend £7.75 billion online in the five-week period before Christmas, of which almost half, or £3.72 billion, will be spent in the first two weeks, in accordance with an earlier-observed pattern. Meanwhile, high street spending is expected to fall by 2.3% this year.